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Student Spotlight: Michael Hoyt ('20)

Michael Hoyt
The co-president of the Public Interest Law Association, Michael Hoyt ('20) serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Social Justice and participates with DePaul Law's Asylum & Refugee Clinic. Judge James Fujimoto of the Immigration Law Clinic says, “Michael possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area of immigration law.  We relied on him not only for direct services but also for technical assistance to our partner organizations on more complicated issues. What sets him apart, however, is his exceptional dedication and commitment to his work."

Director of the Third Year in Practice (3YP) program and Visiting Assistant Professor of the Civil Litigation Clinic David Rodriguez adds, “Michael is one of those unique students who comes to law school with an unwavering commitment to using his law degree to advocate for a very specific and very vulnerable group—unaccompanied minors seeking to emigrate to the United States. His affable personality, evidenced by his most welcoming smile, has made him a joy to work with; he has a wonderful way of making people feel right at home."

Q. What inspired you to go to law school, and what did you do before law school?

I wanted to pursue a law degree to become a professional advocate for immigrants. Growing up in rural Iowa, I developed an interest in immigration issues, as my grandparents told me about taking in refugees on their farmstead in the 1970s. Also, there were large ICE raids in other small Iowa communities when I was at a formative age. The devastation those communities faced stuck with me going forward and helped me develop more of an interest in immigration injustices.

Because of my interests, I spent a term studying social change throughout Central America as an undergraduate at Drake University. The privilege of hearing firsthand from grassroots actors about the historic and continued role of the US in destabilizing the region instilled in me a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of international policy and immigration injustices back home, and a strong sense of responsibility to take action. I quickly became involved in immigration activism and worked with unaccompanied minors both in Des Moines and Washington, DC.

Before law school, I sought to further understand the roots of immigration and deepen my solidarity with oppressed communities from where immigrants are often forced to flee. I became a human rights accompanier in Guatemala, lending my international presence to carve open a space for threatened activists and witnesses in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. Accompaniers raise the stakes for potential aggressors—carrying out violence in front of international witnesses dramatically increases the perceived political costs. Having witnessed the physical and structural violence often propelling migrants towards the US in search of protection, I entered law school with an enduring fire to advocate on behalf of asylum seekers fleeing these conditions.

Q. Was there any specific reason you went to DePaul Law?

I came to DePaul specifically to develop the tools to become an immigration lawyer. DePaul was the right fit for me in light of its Vincentian mission, reputation for excellence in public interest law, and its respected Asylum & Refugee and Immigration Law clinics.

Q. Why did you get involved in public interest? What interests you the most about this field?

I have been most interested in asylum law, particularly due to asylum seekers' need for legal counsel and the Trump administration's relentless attacks on the asylum system and its disregard for its legal obligations to protect refugees. More specifically, I have focused on the representation of immigrant youth. I enjoy working with children and am often struck by their resilience and perspective. The vulnerable situations in which they find themselves—subject to a confusing, often dehumanizing legal system—only intensifies my commitment to advocate on their behalf.

My passion for working with immigrant children has deepened during law school thanks to DePaul's clinical programs and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). I have worked with unaccompanied minors through DePaul Law's Asylum & Refugee Clinic and the Spring Break Border Project at the Port Isabel Detention Center. Meanwhile, I have completed internships with NIJC's Immigrant Children's Protection Project and its Asylum Project, and I am currently completing an intensive externship with the Children's Protection Project where I represent unaccompanied minors detained in local shelters.

Q. What have been some of your most notable accomplishments?

At DePaul, I have received funding as a Center for Public Interest Law Fellow for a summer internship with NIJC's Children's Protection Project. The following summer, I was a Public Interest Law Initiative intern with NIJC's Asylum Project.

Before DePaul, DREAMER classmates and I organized the first-ever student referendum on my college campus, which was committed to supporting undocumented students. We built on this momentum by creating a new student organization focusing on immigration activism and bridging the gap between the local Latinx community and the university.

Q. What can you tell us about the work the Human Rights Practicum is doing?

This year, the International Human Rights Law Practicum is building off the work of last year's practicum students. Students last year traveled to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to take testimonies from women of the Anuak ethnic group. These women were the victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Ethiopia at the hands of military officials and civilians from the majority ethnic group in 2003.

Practicum students this year are drafting a complaint regarding these international crimes to eventually file with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. Students also traveled to The Gambia in January to meet with legal assistants at the Commission and with nonprofits that litigate before the Commission. While there, we also met with many civil society organizations engaged in international human rights; the office of the Minister of Justice who recently brought the genocide case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice; and the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission addressing the harms perpetrated throughout The Gambia's previous dictatorship.

The practicum has allowed me to collaborate with classmates regarding litigation strategies while acquiring a better understanding of enforcement mechanisms of international human rights law. The experience also has highlighted for me the important interaction of human rights documentation and analysis work with legal theory development, which is similarly at the heart of my asylum work.