Student Spotlight: Helina Meressa ’24

Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar

Helina Meressa ’24
Helina Meressa ’24

Tell us about your experience in the Immigrant Rights Clinic.

The Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) has been the most formative part of my law school experience thus far. As student advocates, we each represent one client in removal proceedings and work on one campaign case to support broader advocacy challenging the U.S. immigration system. Working in pairs under the supervision of our professors, IRC students take the lead on every aspect of our case work. For me, this has included client counseling, conducting interviews, drafting motions, negotiating with opposing counsel, and developing legal and non-legal strategies with a defense committee and coalition. 

The clinic has helped me understand what it means to do client-centered work, and see a client and their support system as leaders and collaborators rather than passive recipients of legal assistance. It has highlighted the ways in which the immigration and criminal legal systems have become increasingly intertwined, and operate together to target poor Black and Brown folks in particular. I've seen the power of aligning legal work with broader movements, and the importance of demanding attention and accountability outside the courtroom. 

In many substantive ways, IRC has prepared me for a career as an immigration attorney, but more importantly, it has helped me develop a vision of what kind of lawyering I hope to do, and how to ground my work in the belief that the institutions that confine, surveil, and deport immigrants must be abolished. 

What lessons or takeaways have you gained from your experience as a Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar?

I'm learning new lessons through the Root program every day. I've been pushed to interrogate my values and beliefs, and the ways I will use the knowledge I've acquired here at NYU. Before making decisions, whether it be about classes, internships, etc., I look to my peers and the Root faculty who have an incredible wealth of knowledge. I've developed a support system I know I'll look to for advice, support, and mentorship far beyond law school. I feel so grateful and humbled to be in community with my fellow Roots.

Favorite place to relax in New York City? 

I love a good walk along the water, especially at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. On days when school feels especially tough, I'll sit in Washington Square Park and remind myself that there's more to life than law school. 

Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?

I think I eat some form of chocolate every single day! 

Posted on April 24, 2023