As published by Yahoo Finance
For many refugees, making it out of Syria often is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of a new life. A few John Marshall Law School students recently had the opportunity to help a refugee family in Chicago make their new lives in the United States a little less stressful.
When John Marshall student Ronay Betouni first came across the case of the Ali family through the law school’s Pro Bono Program this summer, the family was on the verge of eviction from their Chicago apartment. They had been in the United States for about six months after fleeing Syria, and the father of the family had been unable to find steady work. Especially for refugees, adjusting to a new life, with a different language and foreign customs, can be difficult. To make matters worse, the Ali family’s apartment building was plagued with bedbugs and an unsympathetic landlord.
“They really just couldn’t make payments and there was nothing they could do,” Betouni said. Much of the money the Ali family had went to treat their four young children’s bedbug bites and to extermination efforts. They were then ill-equipped to handle an uncooperative landlord who threatened to seek their deportation if they didn’t pay.
Fortunately, when Betouni took the case, she brought more than her legal expertise: she brought the ability to communicate. Having grown up speaking Arabic with her parents, Betouni was able to talk with Ali and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the family’s situation.
Through a partnership with the Heartland Alliance and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Betouni helped work out a settlement.
“Ronay jumped right into the middle of the case, providing assistance to both the client and to LCBH staff,” said Samira Nazem, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee. “Her language skills helped her develop a relationship with the client that allowed the team to more effectively advocate on his behalf.”
Betouni drafted an answer and counterclaims against the landlord for negligence in managing his property. Ultimately the eviction case was dismissed. Betouni was also able to ensure that the court records were sealed, so that the case would not negatively impact the Ali family’s credit or future house-hunting efforts. The family also moved into a nearby apartment building.
Betouni is finishing her last year of law school and hopes to go into general practice. However, the Ali case opened her eyes to the different ways in which she can use her law degree to help others. “I never thought I would be interested in evictions,” she said. “Now it’s definitely something I’d think about doing in the future.”
John Marshall offers several clinical experiences through its Community Legal Clinics, including the Pro Bono Clinic and the nationally recognized Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic and the Fair Housing Legal Clinic. John Marshall’s clinics offer law students the opportunity to work on real cases, like the one involving the Ali family. The experience students get in John Marshall’s clinics helped the law school earn a top ranking in Chicago for practical training from the National Jurist Magazine.