News

Anna Welch excited to lead new Refugee and Human Rights Clinic

July 16, 2012

When Anna Welch was a practicing immigration lawyer and adjunct professor at Maine Law in the late 2000s, she was impressed by the dedication, intellect and critical thinking skills of her students.

That’s a major reason why she decided to accept a fulltime position at the Law School, helping to launch the new Refugee and Human Rights Clinic.

“I was born in Maine and have always considered it my home,” Welch said. “I became really attached to Maine Law during my time as an adjunct professor. I felt the culture here was really a good match for me. People are collaborative, supportive and friendly.”

Maine Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, under the auspices of the larger Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, will start up this fall with six students. Welch, whose appointment as Libra Visiting Professor began July 1, is leading the program.

Student attorneys, supervised by Welch and other Maine Law clinical faculty, will represent clients on a variety of immigration matters. Initially, the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic will have space for six law students each semester. Each case is unique. One situation might pair a student attorney with a man seeking asylum because he was jailed and tortured in his home country due to his political beliefs. Another case might involve an immigrant woman who is a victim of domestic violence.

The need for refugee and human rights lawyers has been rising throughout the U.S. in recent years, including here in Maine. The need is particularly acute in the city of Portland, home to relatively large immigrant communities from many nations, including people who have fled war and persecution in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A native of Machias, Maine, Welch spent her childhood in Maine, Florida and Colorado. She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, studying journalism and Spanish. Welch then went to the Washington College of Law at American University. She participated in the school’s International Human Rights Clinic, which had a major impact in setting her career path. Welch graduated summa cum laude, and then went to Peru for a year, beginning in August of 2005, as a Fulbright Scholar. In Lima, Welch worked with a non-profit organization to establish a public water management system in Chosica, one of the shantytowns known in the city as “pueblo jovenes.”

From 2006 to 2010, Welch practiced at the Verrill Dana law firm in Portland, where she was head of the firm’s Immigration & Global Migration Group. She also served as a volunteer lawyer for the non-profit Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) in Portland. Welch was instrumental in helping to expand ILAP’s roster of pro bono lawyers for asylum cases. In 2008 she earned ILAP’s “Attorney of the Year” honor.

During her time at Verrill Dana, Welch taught immigration law at Maine Law, as an adjunct professor. She also helped supervise student attorneys at the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic. In 2010, Welch spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, where she handled more than 100 cases as a human rights attorney at Refugepoint (formerly Mopendo International).

For the past two years, Welch was the Cooley Godward Kronish Fellow at Stanford Law School, where she taught and supervised students at the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic.

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Media contact: Trevor Maxwell, communications director at Maine Law
Office: 207-228-8037/ Cell: 207-286-4431/ email: trevor.maxwell@maine.edu