Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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To help unaccompanied minors, UNLV Immigration Clinic launches program

In 2014, the UNLV Immigration Clinic received a grant to provide legal assistance to unaccompanied young immigrants who have fled abuse and gang violence in Central America.

On Nov. 1, that funding dried up.

But thanks to a $250,000 donation from Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, the program at the UNLV Boyd School of Law will continue without interruption — for the next five years.

On Thursday, the Edward M. Bernstein & Associates Children’s Rights Program was formally launched. The project, staffed by law students and pro bono attorneys, will work closely with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to represent unaccompanied children in family court and in their immigration cases.

“We’ve been so honored to partner with the law school since the first day they opened the doors, but one of our most critical and important partnerships has been in the area of immigration,” Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said. “The need is so stupendous, as we have folks in this community who prey on the immigrant population when it comes to legal assistance — they sell them broken promises and broken dreams.”

Bernstein has a personal stake in the venture, as his wife, Claudia Noriega-Bernstein, emigrated from Peru 25 years ago.

At 11 years old, Noriega-Bernstein saw the devastating effect of terrorism on a community. A bomb planted by a terrorist group had exploded at a playground, leaving a 5-year-old girl with a disfigured face. During a visit to her grandfather, Noriega-Bernstein saw the young girl as she was being adopted by an American couple in her home country.

“It’s one thing to hear what places with violence and terrorism are like and another to experience it yourself — unfortunately I have,” Noriega-Bernstein said. “I know what it’s like to live with armed people outside your door for security. I know how it is to walk looking over your shoulder because you don’t feel safe and I know how it feels to have a loved one killed. I never forgot that little girl.”

The Bernsteins also help with Kids Court, a national organization that helps educate child witnesses about court procedures and coping methods for anxiety.

“I am proud of our UNLV Boyd School of Law, which has taken a leadership role in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable of our society and ensuring that justice is available to all of us,” Ed Bernstein said in a news release.

Several dignitaries were on hand for the event, including former Sen. Harry Reid, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, law professor and Immigration Clinic Director Michael Kagan, Nevada Regent Sam Lieberman and Tom Thomas of the Thomas & Mack Co.