Director of Immigration Law Clinic lends hand to 'vulnerable population'

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Veronica Thronson has devoted her law career to helping immigrants.

"Because they're a vulnerable population, immigrants often are a target for scams or are ripped off by people claiming to know the law," she says.

Thronson, assistant clinical professor at Michigan State University's College of Law, co-founded the Immigration Law Clinic with her husband David, serves as its director, and teaches Immigration Law Clinics I and II.

"Our work follows us home to the point that our 10-year-old daughter, Emma, refers to immigration as 'the I word,'" she says

Thronson enjoys working with students and having the flexibility to create a program that is responsive to community needs, national issues, and student interest.

"We wanted to be able to give students a challenging educational experience while at the same time, being a resource for the community and the state. The students learn to work with clients, as they are in charge of their cases, while being closely supervised. Clients get quality immigration services at no cost and students learn," she says.

The clinic engages students with immigrant communities through direct client representation and systemic advocacy. Since its inception in Fall 2010, the clinic has provided legal representation to people from 43 different countries.

"It's very satisfying seeing our students grow as future attorneys and becoming more confident as the semester progresses. While we know that many of them won't become immigration attorneys, it's good for them to see that they can make a difference in someone's life."

Before joining MSU Law in 2010, Thronson was the Directing Attorney of the Domestic Violence Program at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, where she developed the overall vision of the program. She provided direct representation to victims of domestic violence primarily in divorce petitions, custody issues, immigration, and protective orders. She supervised other attorneys and support staff, directed outreach efforts, provided training programs to domestic violence shelter staff and volunteers, supervised law student externs and coordinated the program's involvement with the community service program at William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV, where she taught as an adjunct professor.

"I enjoyed being able to obtain relief for my clients in Family Court while at the same time exploring immigration relief for some of my undocumented clients who were victims of abuse," she says. "This work was very fulfilling -- and sometimes frustrating when some of my clients would go back to their abusers."

As Vice Chair of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, Thronson in 2006 was honored by the Southern Nevada Domestic Violence Task Force with its S.T.A.R. Award, for stellar work on behalf of victims; and in 2009, received the Louis Wiener Service Award, for substantial contributions in representing victims.

She previously served as Director of Training and Legal Services at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), a nonprofit umbrella advocacy organization for more than 200 groups working on behalf of immigrants and refugees, and asylum seekers.

"I enjoyed being part of the staff that advocated for change in policies affecting the immigrant community and creating a statewide training program to educate attorneys on key issues affecting the community at large," she says. "It was very satisfying being on top of every piece of legislation introduced at the federal level affecting the immigrant community and being able to advocate for better policies."

A native speaker of Spanish, she served as the NYIC spokesperson to ethnic media, including bi-weekly appearances on the national Spanish-language TV network Univision; she has also been a regular commentator for local and national newspapers and radio programs.

"I liked being able to use the media to convey accurate information and dissipate fear among the immigrant community," she says.

Thronson earned her bachelor's degree in International Studies from the City University of New York, where she also earned her law degree, and gained experience at the New York Immigration Coalition, Travelers Aid Immigration Legal Services, and the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic at the City University of New York.

She serves on the MSU Violence Against Women Research and Outreach Initiative, and on the Advisory Board of the Migration Policy Institute, National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

"My former boss at the NYIC co-directs the Center and asked me to serve on the advisory board. The Center seeks to address issues of immigrant integration, such as language access and better educational programs to help immigrants become fully integrated in society."

The Thronsons are enjoying life in Michigan and on the MSU faculty.

"After living in Las Vegas for eight years, life in East Lansing has been a change, to say the least," she says. "I really enjoy being in a college town and being around people who are interested in improving their community.

"In my spare time I love reading good books, and listening to classical music, and I recently became a board member of the Michigan Committee for Refugee Resettlement."

Published: Wed, Mar 7, 2012