Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Siderman Fellow Delves into Human Rights and Refugee Law at Southwestern March 28, 2012
Siderman Fellow Delves into Human Rights and Refugee Law at Southwestern

Juan Mondelli loves studying law in the United States. As a Siderman Fellow pursuing an LL.M. degree, he admires the devotion of his Southwestern professors and the opportunity to delve deeply into the subjects of immigration and asylum law. Mondelli started his year-long fellowship last August, which lasts through the current academic year, followed by a three month externship with the ACLU.

Since 2003, the Argentine lawyer has worked for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As a protection officer and a legal advisor for the U.N. agency, he works on issues related to refugee protection at a regional headquarters that serves Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru. His main responsibilities entail supporting national governments and non-governmental organizations that assist refugees in their local integration process in the asylum country. His goal is to ensure that refugees' rights will be implemented and sustained. Additionally, he works on migration issues.

In Argentina, Mondelli regularly participates in the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) in charge of adjudicating asylum claims and conducts training and workshops for governmental officials. He also provides support to international workshops dealing with refugee protection. In 2009, he taught the 52nd Course on International Refugee Law in San Remo, Italy. He also supported as facilitator many of UNHCR Latin American courses on refugee protection.

At Southwestern, in addition to Legal Writing for LL.M. students with Professor Paul Bateman, Mondelli has taken courses in Evidence with Professor Caleb Mason, Constitutional Law and Human Rights with Professor Jonathan Miller and Immigration Law with Adjunct Professor Veronica Jeffers. He is taking asylum law with Adjunct Professor Gembacz, Constitutional Criminal Procedures with Professor Cammack, American Legal History with Professor McEvoy  and Constitutional Law II  with Professor Jonathan Miller, with whom he is working on an independent study on the right to asylum in the Inter-American Human Rights System.

"There is a huge difference between studying law in Argentina and the United States. It's wonderful to focus on the topics I want for an entire year," Mondelli explained. "Because of my experience working for the U.N., I know a lot about refugee and human rights law, but studying the U.S. system for immigration and asylum is important because it is so developed."

He also notes the big differences in the learning process. He explained, "The University of Buenos Aires Law School where I studied has more than 30,000 law students. The intimacy of smaller classes at Southwestern allows for more individual attention and focused learning. In Argentina, we didn't have access to programs such as WestLaw to look up precedent and cases. In Argentina we don't have casebooks but handbooks and treatise and the focus is on the statutes. Here, you are always thinking in terms of case law. The American way of approaching legal education is different, and there are a lot of clinical and externship opportunities."

Mondelli has also enjoyed getting to know other Southwestern students, including others who are studying in the international LL.M. program. He appreciates having had the opportunity to contribute to the drafting of an Amicus Curiae brief for Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Costa Rica, which is going to deliver  an advisory opinion about migrant children and refugees. He has also taken advantage of the opportunity as a student to attend the mid-year meeting of the American Association of International Law, which was held at UCLA.

After completing his ACLU internship in August, Mondelli, his wife (who practices property law) and son will return to Argentina, and he will go back to his U.N. agency with knowledge and ideas for change. "This whole experience will help me when I'm back in Argentina," Mondelli said. "I always had the desire to work for justice. Refugee lawyers are a very particular specialty, and there are not very many of them. We have many human rights lawyers and some immigration lawyers but not lots of refugee lawyers. I see the good things you have here and will try to implement them in my country."