White House honors Angela Onwuachi-Willig, fellow law school deans for helping avert deportation crisis | UB today

Speaking to senior Biden administration officials at the event, the BU LAW Dean speaks about the cost of losing “your home, your community, your stability – everything you’ve known, all at once ”

When U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland called on the legal community last fall to help prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes in a nationwide eviction crisis, Angela Onwuachi -Willig, dean of the Boston University School of Law, was one of the first law deans. to meet the challenge.

On Friday, Jan. 28, Garland and other Biden administration officials paid tribute to Onwuachi-Willig and the small army — 99 law school deans and more than 2,000 law students — whose efforts, said Garland, had helped keep deportation records below 60% of historical averages nationwide. , and well below the 3.7 million evictions filed in a typical year. Invited to speak at the virtual event, Onwuachi-Willig described the emotional, psychological and financial toll an eviction takes on a person’s life.

“You lose your home, your community, your stability — basically, with an eviction, you lose everything you’ve known, all in one fell swoop,” she said. “Eviction affects your mental health and well-being, even when you’re not in the middle of a global pandemic. And it’s a hundred times worse when you are. Eviction starts a cycle of hardship economic opportunities from which it is often impossible to get out and, for some, deportation can become a death sentence.

Onwuachi-Willig, who joined BU LAW as Dean in the summer of 2018 and was named the first Ryan Roth Gallo and Ernest J. Gallo Professor of Law in 2021, was invited to the event after speaking out in last September on the deportation crisis. She said UB today: “For some people, [eviction] carries a certain death sentence, and for no reason other than poverty or the fact that they have lost their job or day care.

In her remarks on Friday, she said: ‘I know these pains from personal experience because I have seen family members suffer the sting of eviction, including illegal tactics like lockouts. .”

In a LAW conference room on Friday, a small group of faculty and students, who had tuned in to watch the event on the big screen, cheered Onwuachi-Willig as she spoke and took selfies with their Dean, who was appearing virtually at the White House and was sitting at her desktop computer a few doors away.

Garland’s call for law firms, legal aid groups and law schools to help fight evictions came after a divided U.S. Supreme Court lifted the administration’s moratorium on evictions , claiming it was causing the owners “irreparable harm”. The moratorium was intended to protect more than six million tenants who had fallen behind on rent payments during the pandemic. Half of those tenants thought they could be evicted within two months, Garland wrote in her letter to the legal community.

“Eviction demands were expected to increase and millions of Americans were expected to lose their homes,” Garland said at Friday’s meeting, addressing Onwuachi-Willig and other deans and law students who joined the event. “I have asked you to use your skills, your education or your experience and your time to help the most vulnerable among us. Today we celebrate how you have answered the call. You have helped customers and communities at a time when they needed it most, when our country needed it most.

Senior White House adviser Gene Sperling, who organized Friday’s event, said law deans began offering help immediately. An initial phone call took place with William Treanor, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, and Trevor Morrison, dean of the New York University School of Law, Sperling said. “They said, ‘Well, one partner we’re going to have is Angela Onwuachi-Willig, the dean of BU Law School. She’s awesome, inspired and ready to go.

It was a Friday. “We were hoping to have 10 or maybe 15 deans join us by Monday,” Sperling said. “We were absolutely overwhelmed – 99 schools responded to the call to action.”

At Friday’s event, Onwuachi-Willig said BU Law School, “with its history of pro bono representation to families facing eviction, beginning with the founding of the first legal aid clinic in LAW more than 50 years ago, now known as the Civil Litigation & Justice Program – was ready to answer the Attorney General’s call.

In Boston, pandemic-induced court and counseling closures, along with COVID mitigation protocols, have made access to legal representation for low-income families more difficult than usual. So, under the supervision of Naomi Mann, LAW Associate Professor of Clinical Law, Executive Director of the Civil Litigation & Justice Program, Jade Brown (LAW’16), LAW Lecturer and Clinical Teacher, and students turned to the platforms technologies, launching a pro bono project using the online defense protocol MA Defense for Eviction, available through Greater Boston Legal Services. This helped connect law students and trained translators with tenants who needed help drafting and filing court documents quickly to avoid immediate eviction.

“For the students who have been inspired to action during the eviction crisis, I hope they have learned how rewarding it can be to help others, to help give voice to the voiceless “, Onwuachi-Willig said. “I hope they learned that many landlords don’t obey eviction law because their tenants often don’t know their rights and often don’t have lawyers to represent them.”

However, she was quick to recognize that tenants were not the only ones facing the difficulties of the crisis. “I don’t want to discount the owners’ financial losses in any way,” she said. “Their losses are very real, and contrary to popular belief, some landlords only have one salary in advance of their tenants. Because a global pandemic is driving the current eviction crisis, we must seek a solution that both protects tenants’ rights and reimburses landlords for their losses.

Sperling credited law students and clinicians at law schools across the country with serving more than 10,000 families at risk of losing their homes during the eviction crisis. Students have helped families apply for federal emergency housing assistance, volunteered with legal aid providers, and helped courts implement eviction diversion programs, among other services, a- he declared.

Sperling, Garland and the other speakers, including First Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, stressed that there was still a lot of work to do for the US Department of Justice and the legal community. “One hundred and fifty years after the Department of Justice was established, the promise of equal justice under the law remains our most urgent and unfinished mission,” Garland said. “We know that without equal access to justice, families are fractured, tenants are evicted, jobs are lost, veterans and immigrants are left homeless, children lose support, victims of domestic violence lose their safety.

“It’s a simple fact that legal services are financially out of reach for many middle-class, working-class, and low-income people,” Onwuachi-Willig said. “Around 80% of people who would be entitled to free legal aid cannot get it. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that law schools play a role in expanding access to legal representation for underserved populations, both directly through our clinical work and indirectly by instilling in our students and alumni the responsibility to serve the most vulnerable among us.

Explore related topics:

Nancy I. Romero