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 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 2014-2015, students have been litigating his case on several fronts, including seeking settlement of a petition for coram nobis (challenging his underlying conviction) in federal district court in New Jersey and briefing his petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Students are also pursing working with a committee of activists and organizers to resolve his case. This case was referred by Families for Freedom, of which our client is a member and activist.
  • 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 only a five day sentence of jail time. IRC students filed, briefed and argued a petition for habeas corpus with the federal district court, which resulted in a successful decision ordering a bond hearing for our client. We are now working with his immigration attorney to secure his release on bond following a bond hearing in immigration court. This habeas action was referred by Bronx Defenders.
  • Representing a longtime resident of the U.S. who was facing 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.  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. They will be refiling the mandamus petition if CIS fails to adjudicate the application. This case was referred by the American Friends Service Committee – Newark.
  • Representing an unaccompanied minor from Honduras who is seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) due to the abandonment and neglect he experienced by his mother. IRC students submitted a petition for joint guardianship to family court by his father and his partner, and will present testimony at a hearing on guardianship and a motion for a special findings order so we may terminate his removal proceedings and file a SIJS application. This case was referred by The Door.
  • Representing a long time New Yorker who immigrated from the Dominican Republic based on a marriage that turned abusive. Despite filing necessary paperwork, our client was not scheduled for an interview to adjust her status permanently for over a decade. By then, she had moved, missed the interview and was thrown into removal proceedings.  We are seeking relief based on her mental condition, the serious needs of her children and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her US citizen husband. This case was referred by The Legal Aid Society.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident who was detained and placed in removal proceedings due to a conviction for petty larceny.  ICE students argued to the immigration court that our client’s conviction did not match the federal standard for removal.  The immigration judge terminated the removal proceedings.  Our client was able to leave detention and return to his family. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defenders.
  • 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.  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 seeking vacatur of our client’s criminal conviction.
  • Representing a young mother married to an American who was denied adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence because of a youthful offense in Canada. IRC students researched the youth justice system in Canada and prepared a brief to the Immigration Court explaining why our client’s youthful offense does not stand in the way of her request for permanent residence. The government ultimately backed down and allowed out client to have a hearing on the merits of her case.  In 2014-15, our client was granted adjustment to Legal Permanent residence.  This case was referred by The Legal Aid Society.

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 the 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, athe scope of mandatory detention laws, and challenges to state anti-immigrant laws.
  • Representing the New York State Youth Leadership Council in their campaign to enact the New York Dream Act, to ensure greater access to opportunities for undocumented youth in New York State. In 2014-2015, students are conducting research to help the group and their allies with their campaign, and and to increase the profile of their campaign in the media.
  • 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 and Immigration Incarceration, focusing on conditions and access issues in New Jersey jails. This year, a student is continuing to work on a telephone justice campaign to lower phone rates in New Jersey facilities while another team of students is advocating to limit the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey facilities.
  • Representing the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the Immigrant Defense Project in preparing a report on the practices surrounding home raids in which immigrants are arrested and place into detention and removal proceedings.  In 2014-15, IRC students have interviewed affected persons, gathered documents and are working on issuing a report to reveal illegal practices.
  • Representing the Immigrant Defense Project in its campaign to limit the scope of drug offenses that place a lawful permanent resident at risk of deportation. In 2014-15, students are developing an amicus brief for submission to immigration courts in New York City.
  • 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. This year we have submitted circuit level briefs seeking a revision of precedent on the standard for stays in light of the Solicitor General’s admission and are working to increase attention in the circuit courts to the implications of the Solicitor General’s misrepresentation.

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 2014-2015 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2014-2015 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2014-2015 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Juan Caballero
Frances Davila
Elizabeth Davis
Alejandra Feuerman
Kathleen Kavanagh
Martin Kim
Molly Lauterback
Andrew Lyubarsky
Amelia Marritz
Eva Yung
Tsion Gurmu
Antonia House
Rebecca Hufstader
Jehan Laner
Nunu Luo
Hannah McDermott
Juan Camilo Guzman Mendez
Etan Newman
Luis Angel Reyes Salvaza

* 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.