Shelby Scibetta standing outside a government building.

Law student receives prestigious fellowship to help her launch public service career

It was during her 1L summer, while working with the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project in Buffalo, that Shelby Scibetta ’20 discovered how lawyers could make a real difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees.

Now, as she completes her legal education, she is ready to use her legal skills to continue to make an impact. With the support of a prestigious national fellowship, she’ll return to VLP to advocate for the same group of clients.

Scibetta is the School of Law’s latest student to receive a Justice Fellowship from the Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), providing full salary and benefits for two years. Each year, the fellowship is awarded to 25 recent law graduates and law clerks from around the country – “individuals,” the organization says, “with tremendous talent, promise, and a demonstrated commitment to providing legal services for low-income people and for immigrants.”

Emma Buckthal ’10, Shelby Scibeita ’20 and Kerry Battenfield ’17 at the Volunteer Lawyers Project’s 2018 Champions for Justice Bash.

Emma Buckthal ’10, Shelby Scibetta ’20 and Kerry Battenfeld ’17 at the Volunteer Lawyers Project’s 2018 Champions for Justice Bash.

Fellows can request a match with a particular program, and Scibetta says the Volunteer Lawyers Project was her first choice. “VLP has been such a wonderful experience for me,” she says, “and I’m so happy that I’m going to be able to help immigrants, which is exactly what I came here to do.

“These clients clearly don’t have a lot of money, and most of the time they come from traumatic experiences. They’re the most vulnerable yet resilient community. It’s just such a joy to help them in any way I can, especially when they’re not guaranteed an attorney in immigration court and would otherwise lack access to legal services.”

Scibetta, who grew up in Western New York, studied international relations at SUNY Geneseo, then spent 6 months as an intern with the International Institute of Buffalo, teaching English and working with refugees on their resettlement issues. “I really loved working with them,” she says, “and I started to think about applying to law school. I really thought that I would graduate and leave Buffalo, but during that internship I realized how much need there is. Buffalo thrives on immigrants, and that’s what got me to stay.”

This past summer she was in Washington, D.C., working with asylum seekers through the Refugee Representation Department of the nongovernmental organization Human Rights First. In addition, she has continued with Volunteer Lawyers Project as a volunteer.

In her new role under the fellowship, she’ll mostly represent immigrants who have not been detained but who face removal from the United States; work on appeals; and do some asylum work as well. One of her co-workers there will be Kerry Battenfeld ’17, whose own Justice Fellowship has been extended to a third year.

“To have two of our students win the fellowship this close together is quite remarkable,” says Lisa Patterson, vice dean for career services. “It’s a tribute to our excellent students that they’re able to win this prestigious award. And with Buffalo’s status as a border city with a vibrant immigrant population, it is fitting that we would have an active presence in this program.”

The fellowship also includes a mentoring component through the national organization; Scibetta praises the guidance she’s received from VLP supervising immigration attorney Emma Buckthal ’10.

For Scibetta, the fellowship represents an opportunity she’s been aiming for throughout law school. “I wanted to go into an area of law where I had purpose and where I was helping someone else’s life every day,” she says. “I really feel like I am.”