Clinics

Immigrant Rights Clinic

LW.11134 / LW.10586
Professor Nancy Morawetz
+ Co-teacher TBD
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 14 students
Year-long course
14 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites**

Introduction

The Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) is a leading institution in both local and national struggles for immigrant rights. Our students engage in direct legal representation of immigrants and community organizations in litigation at the agency, federal court, and where necessary Supreme Court level, and in immigrant rights campaigns at the local, state, and national level. Each student, along with a student partner, will typically have the opportunity to represent both an individual or a set of individuals in litigation (such as a removal proceeding or appeal, detention litigation, or a civil suit) as well as a community or advocacy organization in a campaign (such an organizing project or legislative campaign). We choose our docket in consultation with our community partners and engage in work that is responsive to community needs. Students have direct responsibility for these cases and the opportunity to build their understanding of legal practice and the field of immigrant rights law and organizing.

Our individual litigation work generally focuses on three main areas: (1) deportation defense, (2) detention challenges, and (3) affirmative immigrant rights litigation. Under current immigration law, thousands of noncitizens face exile and permanent separation from their families through deportation and detention policies every day, and the numbers are increasing. This is largely a result of an expanding interconnection between the criminal and immigration systems—where even a misdemeanor conviction may lead to mandatory detention and deportation, even for someone with lawful permanent resident status (a “green card”) and U.S. citizen family members. Moreover, federal agencies have been aggressively targeting individuals who lack status—in their homes, workplaces, and communities, often by turning police officers into immigration agents. As a result of these policies, immigrants have been targeted, racially profiled, criminalized, and subjected to draconian deportation and detention policies. Our individual litigation work, in immigration and federal court, pushes back against unjust interpretations of the current law and pushes forward to create systemic change.

Our community campaign work generally focuses on three main areas: (1) representing organizations engaged in drafting legislation and legislative campaigns, (2) developing organizations’ community education, reporting, and/or Know Your Rights work, and (3) spearheading amicus briefing or other forms of group-centered litigation on behalf of community organizations. As social justice lawyers in the immigrant rights struggle, we recognize that traditional litigation practices are only one small part of a larger movement. New York and New Jersey in particular are home to scores of amazing organizations that are engaged in immigrant organizing, public education, and legislative campaigns to fix our broken laws. Our clinic supports these efforts by representing these organizations in their work, much of which operates at the intersection of immigrant rights and labor rights, access to justice, criminal law reform, equality, and a number of key social justice issues.

Course Description

Fieldwork

Each student in our clinic, along with a student partner, will represent two clients: an individual (or set of individuals) in individual litigation, and an organization (or set of organizations) in a community campaign. Students serve as the lead attorneys for both their cases and campaign projects.

This means that students have direct responsibility for all aspects of their individual case and community campaign work. In individual cases, this may include client interviews, fact development, legal research, pleadings/complaint drafting, motions practice and briefing, negotiation, discovery, witness preparation, trial, and/or oral argument. In community campaign work, this may include legislative drafting, development of media strategies, planning for meetings with legislative or administrative officials, public education, amicus briefing and/or report documentation. In this way, the clinic gives students the opportunity to have their own cases and experience what it means to be a social justice lawyer.

We finalize our docket of cases/campaigns each summer prior to the start of the new academic year. Students have the opportunity to rank their preferences and we balance everyone’s interests and goals in assigning student teams to each case/project.

To give you a sense of what our docket typically includes, here are examples of past/current individual cases:

  • Representing a woman from Ghana who is the wife and mother of U.S. citizens but has faced mandatory detention and is facing deportation based on a past criminal conviction.  In 2016-17, students successfully represented her at a bond hearing, securing her release, and filed an application for adjustment of status on her behalf. They are currently preparing for her immigration court hearing.  This case was referred by Bronx Defenders.
  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from the United Kingdom who faced mandatory detention and is facing deportation based on past criminal convictions.  After representing him in successful federal habeas litigation and securing his release at a bond hearing, the students in 2016-17 have been preparing for his hearing to cancel his removal based on his positive equities, including his longstanding ties to the community. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident and community activist from Trinidad and Tobago who is facing mandatory deportation and permanent separation from his family due to his one-time fraud conviction. In 2016-17, students sought a Presidential pardon, prosecutorial discretion from the Department of Homeland Security, and have been conducting research related to pending litigation including a petition for coram nobis (challenging his underlying conviction) in federal district court in New Jersey. Students pursue this work with a committee of activists and organizers to resolve his case. This case was referred by Families for Freedom.
  • Representing a longtime resident of the U.S. who was facing prolonged mandatory detention (detention without a bond hearing) based on prior convictions for which he received no sentence of jail time. After successfully representing him in the Second Circuit, students worked on an opposition to certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court, which is holding our client’s case pending its decision on related issues in Jennings v. Rodriguez. Students will be working on his case following an expected Supreme Court decision in this case in 2017. This habeas appeal was referred by Brooklyn Defenders.
  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic who faced removal for two convictions that are over ten years old and for which he served a total of nine months in prison.  Students gathered extensive expert evidence on the equities counseling against removal, and the hardships that our client and his children would face were he removed.  The students conducted a full evidentiary hearing in which the Immigration Judge granted our client relief from removal. This case was referred by Bronx Defenders.
  • Representing two long time New York residents who immigrated from Mexico and who face removal after a previous lawyer provided them with shoddy representation. The students are gathering extensive evidence on the extraordinary hardships that these clients’ three United States citizen children will face if they are deported.  The students will conduct a full evidentiary hearing this Spring.  This case was referred by Make the Road New York.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a challenge to his removal order. Our client faces removal for a single conviction from 2014 for which he served no time in jail.  Our client also has extremely compelling equities due to medical mistreatment while he was in immigration detention, and which present additional claims for his case to be reopened. Students are preparing full briefing in the case before the Court of Appeals. This case was originally handled by the Legal Aid Society.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic who faces removal for a single offense. Students worked on all aspects of this case including: fully briefing the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; briefing and arguing for release from detention before the immigration court, federal district court, and the Board of Immigration Appeals; and assisting appointed counsel on post-conviction proceedings.  This case was referred by Brooklyn Defenders.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from Honduras who was placed in removal proceedings after traveling to visit his ill grandmother.  Students handled a full hearing seeking relief from removal and obtained a ruling that protects our client from removal. This case was referred by Bronx Defenders.  

Here are examples of past/current organizational campaign case work from our docket:

  • Representing national immigrant advocacy groups and community organizations in amicus filings before immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, circuit courts and the Supreme Court on issues related to detention and deportation. In recent years, the students have filed amicus briefs before the Supreme Court in cases involving the scope of the “drug trafficking aggravated felony” label, the availability of discretionary relief, the scope of mandatory detention laws, and challenges to state anti-immigrant laws.  Last year students prepared an amicus brief and supporting documents that were submitted in many cases in New York City to terminate removal proceedings in cases of low level controlled substance offenses.
  • Representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration to research the impact of criminalization and immigration enforcement on Black immigrants, and more recently, on youth of color. In 2015-16, students published a report about the state of Black immigrants, and in 2016-17, students are working on a report about the school-to-deportation pipeline for youth of color.
  • Representing Brooklyn Defender Services in a project to obtain adequate safeguards for clients who suffer from mental illness or intellectual disabilities. Students are working with mental health and psychological experts to develop expert materials that can be used by immigration lawyers in individual cases to obtain a fairer hearing process for their clients.
  • Representing Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) in a communications campaign about the harsh impact of prolonged detention on immigrants and their families. In 2016-17, students created a website and worked closely with media to educate the public about prolonged detention.
  • Representing Families for Freedom, a grassroots organization of people directly affected by deportation policies to prepare an in depth report on what happens to detainees who file petitions for habeas corpus to be released from detention.  In 2016, students published a report will expose the lack of an adequate and transparent process for court review of prolonged detention.
  • Representing the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) in its efforts to educate the community about detention practices and methods of seeking release on bond. In 2016-17, students are working on a report and guide to help individuals seeking release from detention.
  • Representing the Immigrant Justice Network, a coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations that focus on the intersection of immigration and criminal law, in their campaign to fix the 1996 deportation and detention laws.  Students have developed a guide to the 1996 laws and their consequences in support of a campaign to dismantle and not expand those laws.
  • Representing Make the Road New Jersey, a grassroots organization of immigrants, in developing an immigrants rights platform for New Jersey.  Students participated in meetings with Make the Road members to develop an agenda that matches the concerns of the community and have researched possible policy proposals for the members’ consideration.
  • Representing the National Immigration Project and a coalition of other groups in Freedom of Information litigation to achieve greater accountability from the federal government on its policies to return immigrants who prevail in their cases before the courts of appeals.  In 2012, this litigation led to a groundbreaking admission by the Solicitor General of the United States that his office had misrepresented facts to the Supreme Court.
  • Representing New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, a coalition of organizations that cares deeply about immigrants detained in the expanding patchwork of immigration jails in the state. In past years, students worked on groundbreaking reports, Locked Up But Not Forgotten, Immigration Incarceration, 23 Hours in the Box, and Isolated in Essex, focusing on conditions and access issues in New Jersey jails.  This year, students are working on a campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey facilities and an anti-detainer campaign.report.

The Seminar

The seminar component of the Immigrant Rights Clinic is a practice-oriented examination of advocacy on behalf of immigrants. The seminar meets twice weekly and covers both substantive and skill-based issues that arise in our fieldwork. Students have the opportunity to learn about immigration law and, where it arises in our cases, the intersection of immigration law with criminal, international, civil rights, labor and employment law. Students learn from their fellow students’ cases and campaign work, and have the opportunity to explore what it means to be a social justice lawyer.

Application Procedure

Students should submit the standard application, resume and transcript online via CAMS. Applicants should submit as lengthy a response to Question 4 of the standard application as they feel necessary and may ignore the 300 word limit. Applicants invited to interview will be contacted by email. The clinic accepts 2Ls and 3Ls. If you have any questions regarding the application process, please contact Noelia Rodriguez at 212-998-6459 or by email.

Students who enroll in the Immigrant Rights Clinic as 2Ls may have the opportunity to join the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic in their 3L year. There is no formal application process for the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic. Those students will be contacted about the application process in the Spring.

Student Contacts

We recommend that students interested in the clinic speak to members of the 2015-2016 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2016-2017 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2016-2017 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Sarika Arya
Antonio Changanaqui
Terry Ding
Zoe Engberg
Angela Galdamez
Ilana Herr
Robert Hunter
Nora Kirk
Rachel Levenson
Samah McGona
Eugenie Montaigne
Dami Obaro
Sarah Thompson
Victoria Yee
Sonya Chung
Olivia Gibbons
Frances Hartmann
Juliana Morgan-Trostle
Rhidaya Trivedi
Mariel Villareal
 

* 14 credits include 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits per semester.

** Courses in immigration law, administrative law, federal courts, public benefits law, evidence, and civil litigation may be helpful.