King’s appointment as a George Barrett Social Justice Fellow was announced by Dean Chris Guthrie and Assistant Dean and Martha Craig Daughtrey Director for Public Interest Spring Miller. “Allen is determined to use his legal education and training to serve under-represented immigrants and refugees. We look forward to the contributions he will make to Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors and its clients as a Barrett fellow,” Miller said.
King is one of two 2021 George Barrett Social Justice Fellows whose appointments were announced this month; his classmate Vel Lewis will work as a Barrett Fellow in 2021-22 for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
King plans to spend his one-year fellowship developing an automated online system that uses a simple questionnaire to guide prospective clients through the JFON intake process. The information provided will help JFON legal staff determine eligibility for immigration relief. “The questionnaire will be translated into several languages so clients get the benefit of working in their native tongue,” King explained. “The goal is to allow JFON to screen many more people without significantly increasing the intake workload of the legal staff.”
King entered law school knowing he wanted to practice in the public interest. He found himself drawn to immigration law while taking the Immigration Practice Clinic with Professor Karla McKanders. “I really enjoyed the work and learned a lot,” he said. “Helping people navigate a really complex process successfully is exactly the kind of work I want to do.”
King also had firsthand experience with the American immigration system. His parents moved to the U.S. permanently from China’s Guangdong Province when King was four. The family settled in Florida and became naturalized American citizens. “Even as a child who didn’t have to deal with the immigration system directly, I could see that the immigration process was a struggle for my parents,” he said. “Immigration forms are complex even for native English speakers, and many immigrants arrive here with very limited English skills.”
King got the idea for his Barrett Fellowship project while working as a volunteer at a TN JFON Woodbine Clinic, where JFON staff attorneys and student volunteers screen prospective clients. The clinics are normally held at a Nashville church located in a neighborhood with a high immigrant population; during the pandemic, they were conducted by phone. King was taking Professor J.B. Ruhl’s Law 2050 course and realized that JFON could screen many more potential clients by using an automated intake questionnaire.
Over the next year he plans to develop and deploy a simple online questionnaire that will allow immigrants to create their own profiles to help JFON legal staff determine their potential eligibility for immigration relief. “Some attributes might completely block an individual from legal immigration, while others increase their eligibility,” King said. “With immigration law, much of the work involves gathering information to assess eligibility. Integrating this sort of screening tool into JFON’s website, where lots of people can use it, increases access by identifying potential clients.”
King had studied computer science as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. “This project was a great way to meld my legal training with my training in computer science,” he said. He worked at the Woodbine clinic as a volunteer throughout his 3L year after taking the Immigration Practice Clinic in spring 2020.
“We are thrilled Allen will be joining Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors. His commitment to serving our clients as demonstrated through his work in our legal clinic coupled with his previous experience may help TN JFON increase the number of clients we are able to serve,” said TN JFON Executive Director Tessa Lemos Del Pino. “Our first full-time attorney, Adrienne Kittos (’09), was a Vanderbilt Public Service Initiative Fellow. She eventually became our legal director and still serves as a volunteer attorney. We are so very thankful that Vanderbilt has been instrumental in growing our organizational capability.”
“I am very happy that a former participant of the Woodbine Immigration Clinic will continue doing great work for the immigrant community through the George Barrett Fellowship. We welcome Allen to the team and look forward to working with him to provide legal services to those in need,” said Alvaro Manrique Barrenechea LLM’19, a staff attorney at TN JFON.
Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors was founded in 2008 and is a member of the National Justice for Our Neighbors network, which includes 18 legal services organizations hosting 50 legal clinics in 15 states.