Thursday's event, 21st Century Refugees – Seeking Protection in America, showcased the work of the Immigration Clinic at USC Gould School of Law. The clinic is directed by two Gould law professors, Niels Frenzen and Jean Reisz, and since its inception in 2001, they have resolved 200 cases in U.S. Immigration Court.
The event opened with the clip of a local news broadcast, which explored the extreme violence committed against people with albinism. Witch doctors in Tanzania believe the limbs of Albino people have magical powers, and compensate those who can obtain them, ABC 7 reported. Amputations are rife among certain communities, and the clip featured two teenage sisters with albinism, Bibiana and Tindi Mashamba, who had been hunted by witch doctors. At 9, Bibiana's leg was amputated and two of her fingers removed.
Students at the USC Immigration Clinic helped the sisters escape the violence in their native Tanzania and to seek asylum in the U.S. Frenzen lauded the result of the students' pro-bono work—in the clinic's most publicized case yet.
"Students helped these two young women were granted asylum. Asylum is the equivalent of refugee status, and they are now entitled to remain indefinitely in the United States," Frenzen said. "We haven't solved all their problems, we haven't made up for what has happened to them, but we have definitely taken the threat of deportation away from them."
The immigration clinic also saw the case of a 4-year-old boy who reached the Texan border after traveling through Central America from El Salvador. The boy was detained by border security and had his mugshot and fingerprints taken. Frenzen described the boy's dire familial situation before he journeyed over the continent.
"He was conceived by a gang rape so it's unclear who the biological father is, and the mom was forced into prostitution for an extended period of time by a criminal organization. That's a family unit seeking asylum here in the United States, because of this violence," Frenzen said.
Franzen himself was personally exposed to the realities of displacement. Of Finnish descent, his mother fled to the United States during the Russo-Finnish conflict, and he has found himself drawn to immigration issues because of his family's history.
"My mom was not technically a refugee but her father and pretty much every adult male in her family were killed in the late '30s, early '40s during the two wars between Finland and the Soviet Union. So, immigration and human rights were always something on my mind," he said.
Frenzen noted that the U.S. was doing a lot to receive migrants. Since 1975, over 3 million refugees have been resettled in the US. But he noted with the current Syrian refugee crisis, in which 20 percent of the population has been displaced, more action needed to be taken by the current U.S. administration.
"To put it in context of our population in the U.S., 20 percent of our population is 70 million people. Imagine a crisis in this country that would require 70 million Americans to flee the United States to Canada, to Mexico," Frenzen said.