Immigration court experience a game changer
Shahar Ben-Josef has been an attorney advisor for the Executive Office of Immigration Review in Detroit since 2016, and recently moved to Boston to work with the eight judges at the Boston Immigration Court.
A 2016 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, she manages the court’s internship program, drafts decisions and orders for the judges and prepares memoranda on various immigration law issues.
The work has proved to be “an amazing experience,” she said, and comes after years of working and volunteering for nonprofit groups and NGOs — organizations that some would consider to be on “the other side” of the government in the nation’s controversial immigration issues.
Ben-Josef earned her bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern and North African studies from the University of Michigan. She spent a year after graduation interning at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Social Justice in Ann Arbor, spent a summer with the International Conflict Resolution Program in Geneva and London, and worked as a volunteer for Detroit-based Freedom House, a temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada.
She lived for a summer with her grandparents in Israel and volunteered there with an organization helping Sudanese refugees. While attending Wayne Law, Ben-Josef also earned a master’s degree in dispute resolution at WSU, and a graduate certificate in peace and security studies from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. Through a Wayne Law Public Interest Law Fellowship, she also worked as a law clerk at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, helping file asylum applications for Syrian refugees, and attended The Hague Academy of International Law’s prestigious summer program.
Ben-Josef is still interested in working for a nonprofit or an NGO someday, but the work she’s doing now for the government truly fits with the goals she had as a law student to practice public service law, she said.
“The Department of Justice Honors Program is an amazing opportunity to continue my path of public service while gaining invaluable knowledge and experience,” she said. “I do see this work as fitting with the goals that I had as a law student, it just wasn’t necessarily the path that I envisioned. I’m learning that it’s difficult to plan exactly what path your career will take, as you never know what opportunities may present themselves.”
Working for an immigration court has changed some of her beliefs and opinions for the better, she said.
“One thing that has surprised me is how much non-traditional litigation experience I have had,” Ben-Josef said. “The judges are very open to discussing legal issues and hearing my opinions, and I often find myself advocating for my position on different matters. This has really expanded my ability to communicate and advocate in a way that I did not expect when beginning my clerkship. I have also had the opportunity to observe what types of advocacy and techniques are most successful in a courtroom.”
She is inspired by her supportive family members and coworkers, and by both refugees and the judges who adjudicate their cases.
“There are so many people who inspire me, most of whom I don’t even know, including immigrants and refugees who are courageous enough to share their stories, and attorneys and other professionals who fight on behalf of human rights and civil liberties around the world and in the United States every day — and this includes several of my Wayne Law classmates,” Ben-Josef said.
“The judges sitting at the Detroit Immigration Court inspire me every day without fail. They fairly adjudicate each case that comes before them, and consider all legal advice and/or factual issues that come before them, while balancing the competing needs for due process and judicial efficiency. Despite their incredibly busy schedules, they make time to give unending advice and support to everyone around them. I have been lucky enough to supervise interns at the court, and they have inspired me to be a better teacher and have taught me the importance of sharing my knowledge with others.”
She advises law students who want to practice immigration law to get as much experience as possible.
“And this includes interning with the Detroit Immigration Court,” Ben-Josef said. “It’s a stellar internship program and a summer at the court really is like a crash-course in immigration law.
More advice: Gain internships at nonprofits or NGOs; at other government agencies, or at private immigration law firms.
“Also, I think participating in a moot court team is critical for law students, as it makes you a more confident speaker,” Ben-Josef said.
And work as a research assistant for a Wayne Law professor, she advised. During law school, she worked as an assistant to Associate Professor Rachel Settlage, director of clinical education; and for Professor Peter Hammer, director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. She also worked as a research assistant for Professors Gregory Fox, Brad Roth, and Paul Dubinsky on a book they recently published.
“Working as a research assistant for professors, whether or not regarding immigration law, provides a chance to develop an important relationship and improve upon various legal skills,” Ben-Josef said. “I feel that this option can be easily overlooked, but my research assistant positions were wonderful experiences and arguably taught me just as much, if not more, than regular coursework.”