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A clinic opening this fall at the University of Texas School of Law will give low-income immigrant workers in the Austin area a new place to turn for help if an employer stiffs them on their pay. The new Transnational Worker Rights Clinic also will give students an opportunity to participate in advocacy projects asserting the rights of workers elsewhere in the world, says Sarah Cleveland, a UT law professor and coordinator for the clinic. Funding for the clinic comes from a $100,000-per-year grant that the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation awarded to the law school for the next five years to create the Human Rights Center. Cleveland says that the law school is in the process of searching for additional funding to keep the center open after the grant expires. “Our hope is to come up with a permanent endowment for it,” she says. “The clinic will be the first in the country to allow students to explore the linkages between the rights of workers here and abroad and place their advocacy efforts in a global human rights context, while helping to fill a very pressing need for immigrant workers here in Texas,” Cleveland says. The clinic will operate in conjunction with the Equal Justice Center (EJC) of Austin, which has assisted transnational workers since the fall of 2002 through its Central Texas Immigrant Worker Rights Center (CTIWoRC). “It is a shockingly common experience for transnational immigrant workers to work for two or three weeks or a month and not get paid,” says Bill Beardall, EJC executive director and instructor for the clinic. According to Beardall, an employer’s refusal to pay can take several forms. He says an employer may pay workers less than minimum wage or promise a worker $300 a week for a three-week job but pay only $300 for the entire three weeks. Another tactic, he says, is to pick up workers to perform day labor over several days and then not show up when it comes time to pay them. Until the EJC opened its immigrant worker rights center, many of the workers believed there was nothing they could do about such abuses, Beardall says. Unless the workers are U.S. citizens, they are ineligible for legal-aid services, even though they are in this country legally on a work visa, he says. But Beardall says a worker has a right to be paid for work performed and can bring a claim against an employer. “The problem is, the workers don’t know they have employment rights,” he says. Calling the clinic “a huge step forward,” Beardall says it will expand significantly the access to legal representation for immigrant workers in Central Texas. ‘BEING REAL LAWYERS’ The clinic also will benefit the students. Beardall says students will be able to do intake and interviews with immigrant workers who have wage claims. Under supervision, they will be able to handle all aspects of cases, including client counseling, investigation of the case, preparation of documents, negotiations with employers and their attorneys, and pursuit of legal remedies, he says. The students will have a chance to represent immigrant workers in litigation and administrative actions. If a case goes to litigation, a student who has completed the second year of law school will sit as second chair to an experienced attorney, Cleveland says. “They’ll be being real lawyers,” she says. In some instances, the students will be working with clients who may be outside of the country while their case is in progress, Beardall says. That might require students to work on adapting the discovery procedure so that the client can continue to participate even though he or she can’t be in court, he says. Beardall says students in the clinic also will help immigrant workers in Austin to acquire the skills, knowledge and resources the workers need to protect their own employment rights. At the same time, the students will be grounding their representation efforts in the broader contest of transnational and international labor rights advocacy. “Students will have opportunities to learn about and participate in the evolution of a new global framework of employment rights and human rights that, in the long term, is the appropriate response to protecting a global work force,” Beardall says. Cleveland says the students will have opportunities to submit employment rights complaints before entities such as the International Labor Organization. They also will have opportunities to bring petitions under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, better known as the North American Free Trade Agreement Labor Side Agreement, she says. The clinic will begin with five students this fall but is expected to expand its numbers. “I think it’s a very exciting and unique opportunity,” Cleveland says. “A lot of clinics out there allow students to do fairly discrete, limited representation. This tries to bridge the gap between local and international.”

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