Immigrant Rights Clinic

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


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


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 longtime lawful permanent resident from the United Kingdom who faced mandatory detention and is facing deportation based on past criminal convictions.  In 2015-16, students sought his release from detention through immigration court and habeas corpus proceedings in federal district court, successfully ensuring his right to a bond hearing.  After representing him at the bond hearing and securing his release on bond, the students have been preparing for his hearing to cancel his removal based on his positive equities, including his longstanding ties to the community.
  • 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 2015-16, students have filed an application seeking prosecutorial discretion from the Department of Homeland Security, have been preparing a presidential pardon application, and 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. Prior to referring this case to IRC, Brooklyn Defenders won a favorable ruling before a district court judge in a habeas action.  IRC was asked to defend the decision in the courts of appeals. During 2014-15, IRC students briefed the issues and will argue before the Second Circuit, and in late 2015, we received a favorable decision providing all noncitizens subject to mandatory detention in the circuit with the right to bond hearings within six months of their detention. This habeas appeal was referred by Brooklyn Defenders.
  • Representing an asylee who is seeking to adjust his status to a lawful permanent resident but is facing a possible “terrorism-related” hold in his case.  As a young student, he had participated in nonviolent pro-democracy protests in the Republic of Congo (and fled after being persecuted).  He was granted asylum status, but when he applied for a green card in 2011, his case never was adjudicated.  Instead, because the leader of the political party he was involved in had a private militia (despite our client’s lack of any interaction with the militia), the “terrorism-related” hold was triggered in his case.  IRC students submitted extensive documentation to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) documenting why an exception applies to this hold, and filed a writ of mandamus in federal court, and representing him in an adjustment interview as part of settlement negotiations. In 2015-16, students refiled the mandamus petition in federal district court and entered in negotiations with the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, culminating in our client receiving his green card.  This case was referred by the American Friends Service Committee–Newark.
  • Representing a long time resident of New York who was convicted of passport fraud when she sought to obtain travel documents to visit her sick mother.  After she served a criminal sentence, our client was detained and placed in removal proceedings.  Students in the 2014-15 clinic persuaded Immigration and Customs enforcement to release our client based on her health condition and the health conditions in detention. In 2015-16, the students have been preparing for an individual hearing on her applications for relief from removal in immigration court.  This case was referred by Immigration Equality.
  • Representing the son of a Vietnamese mother and an American servicemen father who is developmentally disabled.  Our client was arrested by immigration authorities two years ago based on a drug conviction for which he did not serve any jail time.  Past students have argued that our client is a United States citizen, and that in any event his proceedings should be terminated because of his serious mental disability.  In 2014-15, IRC students prepared a motion for post-conviction relief and obtained a revision of our client’s sentence leaving him eligible to seek naturalization and other forms of immigration relief. In 2015-16, students also obtained a favorable decision on the motion to terminate our client’s removal proceedings based on the government’s failure to prove “alienage.”  This case was referred by the Legal Aid Society.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic who is being detained and faces removal based on a single conviction for participating in a fraud on phone companies.  In 2015-16 students worked on all aspects of this case including: briefing grounds for a stay of removal in 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 are preparing a motion to terminate proceedings on the ground that our client’s two alleged convictions from the 1980’s do not provide grounds for deportation. 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 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, and 23 Hours in the Box, focusing on conditions and access issues in New Jersey jails.  This year, students are working on a telephone justice campaign to lower phone rates in New Jersey facilities and a campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey facilities.
  • Representing the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) in its campaign to limit the degree to which minor New York offenses bar noncitizens from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the companion program for parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents. This campaign seeks to mitigate the disparity between how offenses are classified under New York law and how they are treated under federal policy.  In 2015-16, students analyzed options for local laws to avert unintended consequences, drafted testimony, and developed proposed legislation for the New York City Council.
  • 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. For the last two years students worked to change the policies of circuit courts so that they provide for greater fairness in the adjudication of stay applications and to provide advocates with model papers for seeking stays of removal.  Last year this effort led to a new temporary stay policy in the Third Circuit.
  • 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.  This report will expose the lack of an adequate and transparent process for court review of prolonged detention.
  • Representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration to research the impact of criminalization and immigration enforcement on black immigrants. This year students are compiling their research into a 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.

2015-2016 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2015-2016 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Jahnavi Bhaskar
Sonya Chung
Zahrah Devji
Olivia Gibbons
Frances Hartmann
Juliana Morgan-Trostle
Andrea Savdie
Astha Sharma Pokharel
Nina Sheth
Rhidaya Trivedi
Mariel Villareal
Allison Wilson
Kexin Zheng
 Juan Caballero
Frances Davila
Elizabeth Davis
Kathleen Kavanagh
Molly Lauterback
Amelia Marritz
Eva Yung

* 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.