Attorney guides students in immigration work at MSU

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Elly Jordan’s passion for humanitarian immigration work has its roots in El Salvador, where she and her husband Marty worked for nonprofit organizations attempting to address the root causes of poverty. 

“While living in El Salvador, I was able to learn from ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary bravery despite past atrocities and ongoing, systematic abuses of human rights,” she says. “Their stories helped me to better understand the so-called ‘push factors’ that make people flee to the United States.”  

After returning to United States, Jordan – who now works as a supervising attorney in the Immigration Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law – spent two additional years with the SHARE Foundation in Washington, D.C., as an advocate and grassroots organizer for human rights in Central America. 

While Jordan and her husband loved their time in El Salvador and in the nation’s capital, eventually they chose to return to their native Michigan, to build a life near family and friends.

“I was beginning to think law might be one good fit for me,” she says. “Then a crisis struck in which several peaceful Salvadoran protesters, some of whom I knew, were arrested and held under trumped-up allegations.

“Through advocacy efforts and the help of some excellent attorneys in El Salvador, my organization was able to help secure their freedom. I was really taken with the attorneys’ commitment to justice and how important their skills were to solve the problem. I was hooked!”

Jordan went on to graduate summa cum laude from MSU Law, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review, and obtained a certificate in trial advocacy. She then spent a year clerking for the Hon. David W. McKeague of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Jordan subsequently joined the firm of Warner Norcross & Judd as an associate and litigated criminal and employment matters before returning to work for her alma mater in October 2013.

“I hope I can live up to the high standards I experienced while I was a student at MSU Law as I interact with would-be lawyers in the clinical setting,” she says.

Humanitarian immigration work is the field in which Jordan feels she can be most useful. 

“It’s one intersection between my passion and skills and the world’s needs,” she says. “I think of this as a way I can be a welcoming face to people who are rarely treated with kindness. I also enjoy complex legal puzzles, and there is no shortage of them in immigration law.” 

Along with colleague Joanna Kloet, Jordan’s work at the MSU Immigration Law Clinic includes a special focus on the unaccompanied minor aspect of the docket at all stages, from legal screenings to Know Your Rights presentations to representation before the Immigration Court and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

She particularly enjoys the opportunity to work with teenage clients.

“High school was difficult for me, particularly because my mother passed away when I was a freshman, so I feel I can relate to their struggles,” she says. “When I’m able to procure positive results, then I know that my clients will get past this difficult chapter in their lives and will be contributing to my community for decades to come. Many want to have careers that give back to others in need, which is admirable.”

Over the course of the semester, Jordan is pleased to watch her law students come into their own.

“At the outset, they might be timid and seem to lack confidence, particularly in our niche subject matter,” she says. “By the end of the semester, I like to watch them get to the point where they feel they can offer critiques of the system and step up to the plate in ways you would not have imagined at the beginning.

“It’s also fun to watch seemingly stoic students engage with our kid clients and warm to them,” she adds. “The clients go from a number and a file to a face and story; and the students are less concerned with whether the client checks all of the prongs for a particular test and more concerned about how we can help.”

The Pinckney native, who now makes her home in Lansing with her husband and two-year-old daughter, Gracie, enjoys hiking, running, and getting out in nature in her leisure time.

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