Human Rights/Human Wrongs

Course Description:

This course is a senior seminar on human rights. Students will be introduced to the theory and practice of human rights through the examination of human rights documents, key theoretical readings in the field and special guest lectures by human rights activists. A major component of this course will involve community-based learning (CBL). Students, with the help of our community partner, PIRC (Pennsylvania Immigrant Resource Center), will be required to work on a real asylum, Withholding of Removal, or Convention Against Torture (CAT) case. Students will work in teams of two.

In the first week of the semester, students will be introduced to their asylum/withholding of removal or CAT case, which will focus on either a detainee at York County Prison, or an asylum seeker who is being represented by a local law firm. PIRC attorneys will help train students on how to put together an immigration court-ready document for their detainee. Each team will need to travel to York County Prison or Washington D.C. as the case may be, on their own to interview their detainee and gather evidence for their case.

Course Objectives:

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify and explain the legal basis for asylum, withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture claims
  2. Interpret and summarize an asylum seekers story of persecution and determine whether he/she qualifies for relief of removal
  3. Demonstrate active listening skills when interviewing asylum seekers
  4. Locate and critically evaluate evidence from various sources (international newspaper articles, human rights reports, U.S. State Department reports) that is relevant to the asylum seeker’s story of persecution
  5. Produce a well-written reflection journal that collects their thoughts and links their field experience with the theoretical
  6. Assess the strength of a relief claim by producing a legal memorandum that synthesizes the strengths and weakness of a case
  7. Collaborate successfully with other team members to produce a court-ready document
  8. Demonstrate their competence in asylum law in a mock court trial

Required Texts:

Bohmer, Carol and Amy Shuman (2007) Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century. (London and New York: Routledge).

Dicklitch, Susan, PIRC, et al., (2008) Helping Asylum Seekers: A “How To” Guide for Student Activists. Gov425: Human Rights/Human Wrongs (Franklin & Marshall College) (to be distributed on the 1st day of class)

Germain, Regina (2005) AILA’s Asylum Primer: A Practical Guide to U.S. Asylum Law and Procedure (4th Edition) (Washington, D.C.: AILA).

Kassinja, Fassiya (1998) Do They Hear You When You Cry? (New York: Random Books)

Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) Guidebook

Other assigned readings available on Gov425 edisk

Course Requirements

Asylum Project (60%)
Affidavit/Narrative………………………………….. 10%
Case Evidence……………………………………….. 25%
Legal Memo…………………………………………… 15%
Asylum Mock Court………………………………… 10%
Participation & Blogging…………………………….. 20%
Reflection Journal……………………………………. 20%

Asylum/Withholding of Removal/CAT Project (60% total):

Students will work in teams of two (2). Each team will be required to work on one asylum/withholding of removal or CAT case (based on availability) with PIRC, a BIA accredited non-profit, organization based in York, PA. Students will be required to interview detainees at York County Prison (YCP) to help complete the I-589 form (United States Department of Homeland Security) application form for asylum/withholding or removal and CAT, in addition to helping write the detainee’s affidavit.

Students will work in teams of two (2). Each team will be required to work on one asylum/withholding of removal or CAT case (based on availability) with PIRC, a BIA accredited non-profit, organization based in York, PA. Students will be required to interview detainees at York County Prison (YCP) to help complete the I-589 form (United States Department of Homeland Security) application form for asylum/withholding or removal and CAT, in addition to helping write the detainee’s affidavit.

Affidavit (10%)
This will require several trips for interviews with the detainee to get his/her story. A good affidavit will tell the detainee’s story with plenty of detail. Description and detail are crucial to a strong affidavit – therefore several visits to the YCP will be necessary.

Case Evidence (25%)
Each team must also engage in country condition research and in case law research to gather evidence to support the detainee’s application for relief. This will require evidence gathering from multiple sources, including foreign newspaper articles, notarized affidavits from witnesses, Amnesty International publications, Human Rights Watch publications, the Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Immigration Case Law, etc. These sources must be properly documented, as they will be presented in Immigration Court (see Gov425 student manual).

Legal Memo (15%)
In addition to the evidence and legal table of contents, each team will also be required to write a legal memo on their case, based on the evidence presented and their detainee’s affidavit. Sample legal memos will be available in the Gov425 student manual, as well as on the Gov425 edisk.

The final product should consist of a well-polished, professional, document that presents the strengths and weaknesses of the detainee’s case and relevant case evidence to support it. These documents will be due fifteen (15) days before the detainee’s merit’s hearing (dates will vary according to cases). If the hearing occurs after classes are over, all the material will be due as indicated on the syllabus.

Three copies must be submitted by each team — (one for the professor, one for PIRC, and one for the Immigration Court). Submission dates for evidence packets and briefs for this class are absolute and non-negotiable (just as they are for Immigration Court). Properly filled out Certificates of Service must accompany all submissions.

Material MUST be hand delivered to Professor Dicklitch AND to PIRC ON or BEFORE the due date or it will not be accepted. This will, of course, result in a failing grade for the students involved.

NB: Students will be reimbursed for photocopy costs associated with submitting the 3 copies of case evidence.

Mock Court (10%):
Each student will be assigned a role in the Mock court that will be held on April 22nd. Professor Dicklitch in consultation with PIRC will select the immigration case to focus on. Mock Court will be video-taped.

Reflection Journal (20%)
Students are required to keep a HR-HW journal documenting their activities as well as their perceptions, experiences and concerns regarding their experience with community-based learning and asylum. Each student’s journal should also reflect on the broader issues of asylum in America, and human rights in general. Students will be given a weekly question to reflect upon. These questions should be integrated into the students’ weekly reflections. Reflection journals entries will be due weekly (submitted via the drop box of the Gov425 e-disk folder). No one else will be able to read the reflection journals except for Professor Dicklitch. Professor Dicklitch reserves the right to read reflection journals on a weekly basis if appropriate. In addition to a reflection journal, students will be required to keep a weekly time log of the amount of time they have spent outside of class working on their asylum project. They are required to submit an electronic copy of this time log into the Gov425 E-disk as well as a hard copy at the end of the semester. A final grade will only be assigned at the end of the semester when a complete, bound, hardcopy of the reflection journal and a separate time log are submitted on the last day of class.

Some suggestions on how to keep a great journal, from Mark Cooper, Coordinator, The VAC, “Reflection: Getting Learning Out of Serving”:

  • Journals should be snapshots filled with sights, sounds, smells, concerns, insights, doubts, fears, and critical questions about issues, people, and most importantly, about yourself
  • Honesty is the most important ingredient to successful journals
  • A journal is not a work log of tasks, events, times and dates
  • Write freely. Grammar/spelling should not be stressed in your writing until the final draft
  • Write an entry after each class/interaction with asylum seeker. If you can’t write a full entry, jot down random thoughts, images, etc. which you can come back to a day or two later and expand into a colorful verbal picture

Participation & Blogs (20%)
Because this is a seminar course, active participation is essential. This means that you must read the assigned readings before class to allow for rich discussion and debate. Unannounced quizzes on the reading material may be held periodically at the instructor’s discretion. Students will be allowed one excused or non-excused absence. Any absences thereafter will result in a 5% grade point drop in your final grade.

In addition to active class participation, students are also expected to participate on the class blog: This will include frequent blog postings (each student will be made a blog member so that they can submit a blog entry onto the blog site, independent of the professor). Your overall participation grade will be dependent upon your active in-class participation as well as active blog participation. Students will be required to contribute regularly to the blog HRs4All? Each student will be assigned to post at least one blog each week. Students who have posted blogs or comments should be prepared to discuss them in class, and other classmates are required to check the blog frequently to ensure they know what is being discussed on the blog. The blog will act as a virtual discussion board, which will be open to all students enrolled in Gov425 as well as anyone else in the blogsphere. Students will be required to print out their blog postings as well as comments and hand in the entire semester’s worth of blogging on the last day of class.

What is a blog?
For an excellent overview of what a blog is, see: For some “how to” tips on blogging, see: (

Policies and Procedures:

As a student in HR-HW, you have a unique responsibility in this class: not only are you serving as a representative of F&M to the wider community, but you have another human being depending on your conscientious work.

Students are responsible for reading and compiling with the F&M Vehicle Safety policy. This policy is available on the F&M website as well as the Gov425 e-disk.

Because of the serious nature of the cases we are working on, students must adhere to an oath of confidentiality. Enrolment in this course constitutes adherence to confidentiality requirements. Details of asylum cases can be discussed in class, between partners, the instructor and the class assistant, as well as PIRC staff, but must not be discussed with other members of the college community or wider community. Students will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement with PIRC.

Students accept responsibility for following all policies and procedures set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for inmate visitation and by Franklin & Marshall College. Students accept responsibility for reporting any situation in which they are threatened, feel at risk, or are endangered in any way to the proper authorities.

Academic Integrity
Academic integrity will be strictly enforced. Enrolment in this course constitutes acknowledgement by the student of his/her awareness of all definitions, rules, and procedures relating to academic integrity. Students are responsible for ensuring that they review the College’s policies on academic integrity.

NOTE: Read this syllabus like you would read any contract: it specifies what can be expected from the course and the obligations of each student taking Gov425: Human Rights-Human Wrongs. I expect students to be aware of all information contained below. My expectations may be different from other professors you have had. I will make every effort to adhere to all aspects of the syllabus, and I will give ample warning when changes are made. I will announce all changes in class, so failure to attend class could be especially costly.

School: Franklin & Marshall College
Professor: Susan Dicklitch
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