Immigrant Rights Clinic
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 16 students
The Immigrant Rights Clinic 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 set of individuals in litigation (such as a removal proceeding or appeal, detention litigation, or a civil suit) as well as a community 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 the direct responsibility for these cases and the opportunity to build their understanding of legal practice and the field of immigrant rights law and organizing.
The work of the clinic centers on three major areas. First, since the overhaul of the immigration laws in 1996, all noncitizens face a vastly changed system for detention and deportation. For noncitizens who have been accused of crimes, there is a de facto dual system of criminal law in which a misdemeanor conviction can lead to mandatory detention and deportation, even for persons who have been legally present in the United States for most of their lives and who have United States citizen spouses and children. In addition, various provisions of the laws have created hurdles to judicial review of the rights of noncitizens. The clinic represents individuals facing detention and deportation and has developed theories to protect immigrants from expansive readings of these laws and to protect access to the courts. It has also worked with immigrant community organizations on a variety of strategies to revise these laws and change the way that they are enforced in practice.
Second, in recent years the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has greatly increased arrests, detention and removal under existing law. Under a blueprint to “remove all removable aliens,” DHS has initiated a wide array of “enforcement” programs. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, these enforcement efforts placed particular pressure on Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities, through specific programs for registration, arrest and detention. The clinic worked with groups challenging these programs, to document abuses, to counsel immigrants, to represent individuals who face deportation as a result of these initiatives, and to develop theories to combat discriminatory programs. More recently, enforcement has spread fear in immigrant workplaces where the very immigrants who are the subject of bi-partisan efforts to create a new “path to citizenship” are at risk of arbitrary detention and deportation. DHS engages in home and worksite raids in which persons are arrested whether or not they were the targets of the raid. In addition, DHS has an increased presence throughout the criminal justice system and uses that system to target people for deportation regardless of their immigration status or whether they are in fact convicted of a crime. The clinic represents persons identified through these raids, and works with community groups to combat the increased melding of immigration and criminal enforcement.
Third, New York is a center for low-wage immigrant organizing. The clinic provides non-litigation support to these groups' various campaigns to secure rights and achieve dignity and respect in the workplace. The clinic also works with grassroots immigrant organizations on a variety of other issues around which they are organizing. The clinic also represents low wage immigrant workers faced with deportation.
In the fieldwork component of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, students provide direct legal representation to immigrants and immigrant organizations. Students have direct responsibility for all aspects of their cases and projects.
In litigation matters, students enrolled in the clinic handle cases at all stages of legal proceedings, from initial client interviews through fact development, interviewing witnesses, drafting pleadings, counseling, negotiation, discovery, motion practice, trial, appellate brief writing and argument. The litigation docket includes both defensive cases and affirmative litigation on behalf of immigrants. The clinic appears in immigration courts as well as federal district and appellate courts.
The clinic's non-litigation work arises out of the campaigns of community-based immigrant organizations. These campaigns may involve legislative drafting, development of media strategies, planning for meetings with legislative or administrative officials, public education or documentation. Through the clinic's work with organizations, students explore a range of ways of being a social justice lawyer. The students act as the lawyers for groups in these various advocacy efforts. The non-litigation docket will reflect a range of issues around which there is local activism and there are groups whose work we can support.
Each student in the clinic will handle at least one individual and at least one group matter. The individual cases all involve litigation. The group cases will typically involve non-litigation advocacy. Cases and projects are distributed to the extent possible, according to student preference, within the basic parameter that every student will work on an individual and a group matter. The following examples of fieldwork from the Immigrant Rights Clinic docket from the past several years are illustrative of the individual case work that we do:
- Representing immigrants who have been cut off illegally from Temporary Protected Status on the basis of non-criminal violations and traffic infractions. These immigrants have been left in limbo and are vulnerable to arrest and detention due to their lack of documentation. In 2008-2009, the clinic successfully resolved litigation for a client to require continued provision of documentation of TPS status. The clinic is continuing to represent other immigrants with the same legal problem in an effort to get a systemic solution to the unlawful termination of Temporary Protected Status. The original case was referred by Central American Legal Assistance.
- Representing a young man who was placed in removal proceedings after complying with the Special Registration Program, which targeted men from 24 predominantly Muslim countries. Past IRC students succeeded in having the removal proceedings terminated by the immigration judge. This year, we defended the immigration judge’s decision before the agency’s appellate body while developing strategies to resolve our client’s immigration status. This case was referred by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
- Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from Trinidad and Tobago who is facing deportation and a permanent bar to returning to his family in the U.S. due to his one-time fraud conviction. This year, we filed a motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit seeking termination of the case under favorable Second Circuit precedent. This case was referred by Families for Freedom, of which our client is a member and activist.
- Representing a young woman who was arrested when traveling cross-country on a train. Our client was racially profiled and arrested by Border Patrol officers. We are seeking termination of her removal proceedings. This case was referred by LatinoJusticePRLDEF.
- Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic with no criminal convictions who is facing deportation and a permanent bar to returning to his family in the U.S. due to dismissed drug charges that the government has argued still constitute a “conviction” for immigration purposes. This year, we filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit seeking to vacate the decision of the agency in his case. This case was referred by the Immigrant Defense Project.
- Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from Barbados who was illegally held in New York City jails without legal authority when his immigration detainer expired. Our client filed a damages action in the Eastern District of New York pro se. The clinic took on the case, amended the complaint, and is now engaged in discovery. This case was referred by The Legal Aid Society.
- Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from Haiti who is facing deportation and a permanent bar to returning to her family in the U.S., including her U.S. citizen infant, based on a drug possession conviction for which she served no jail time. This year, we represented her in immigration court and prepared her applications for relief, including cancellation of removal and asylum, withholding, and Convention Against Torture – the latter of which is due in part to the policy in Haiti of detaining people labeled as “criminal deportees” in “slave-ship conditions” indefinitely and targeting some of those individuals for persecution and torture. This case was referred by the Immigrant Defense Project.
- Representing an immigrant arrested in a home raid in which DHS agents violated a host of agency regulations. Our client was asleep in his bed when DHS agents came his home and obtained entry through deceptive tactics. Students in the 2007-2008 clinic have filed a motion to suppress the government’s evidence and to terminate proceedings. In 2008-2009, students prepared an extensive appellate brief. This case was referred by Catholic Charities of New Jersey.
- Representing a long time lawful permanent resident from Nigeria who is facing deportation based on a 1983 drug possession conviction and who was detained on that basis for three months in the nearby Varick Street Detention Facility. This year, we prepared parole requests and filed a habeas action, which ultimately secured his release. We also prepared documents in support of his application for 212(c) relief in immigration court. We began representing this client after meeting him in one of our presentations at Varick.
The following examples of fieldwork from the current Immigrant Rights Clinic docket are illustrative of the group case work that we do:
- Representing Families for Freedom (FFF), a multi-ethnic organization of families fighting detention and deportation policies. In 2007-2008, students have worked with the FFF’s International Deportee Justice Committee to urge consulates to better protect the rights of their nationals. Students are also working with FFF to develop a handbook to assist families who face deportation in preparing for the financial havoc caused by deportation. The 2006-007 students drafted an amicus brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on how the mandatory deportation of parents fails to provide protection to American children and provided support to FFF’s campaign with consulates of countries with significant New York immigrant communities to reduce deportation of members of those communities.
- Representing the Immigrant Defense Project of the New York State Defenders’ Association (IDP) in a litigation campaign to limit overly broad application of mandatory deportation rules in cases involving misdemeanor drug convictions. In 2007-2008, student drafted an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to limit application of the mandatory deportation rules to low level marijuana offenses. In 2006-07, students drafted amicus briefs to both federal courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals advocating that multiple state misdemeanor possession convictions do not constitute a “drug trafficking” aggravated felony. The Board of Immigration Appeals ruled en banc in our favor.
- Representing Domestic Workers United in legislative advocacy before the New York State legislature to improve conditions for the largely immigrant domestic work force. This advocacy that follows on the clinic’s past assistance to DWU in its successful campaign before the New York City Council for a law requiring businesses that refer workers to jobs to take measures to ensure compliance with established labor standards.
- Representing Wind of the Spirit (WOS), a grassroots group in New Jersey in its campaign to stop Morristown from entering into a “287(g)” agreement that would allow local police to act as immigration officers. In 2007-2008, students prepared advocacy materials and met with local officials in support of WOS’s ongoing campaign.
- Representing Immigration Equality in a campaign to limit the expansion of HIV bars to legal immigration status and to roll back antiquated restrictions on the immigration of persons who are HIV +. In 2006-07, students drafted proposed legislative language, prepared background materials, and participated in legislative visits.
- Representing the New Sanctuary Coalition, a coalition of churches and faith groups, in its campaign to raise awareness of local government complicity with an inhumane system for detention and deportation. In 2007-2008, students worked with the coalition to educate members, provide public education materials and launch this campaign.
- Representing the New York Civic Participation Project (NYCPP) in its campaign to obtain recognition of major Muslim holidays in the New York City public schools. In 2007-2008, students worked with NYCPP in framing its campaign and negotiating the legal issues surrounding changing school holidays.
- Representing national immigrant advocacy groups in amicus filings before the circuit courts and the Supreme Court on issues related to the standards for detention and deportation. In 2007-2008, the clinic submitted a brief on the consequences of prolonged detention to the Ninth Circuit. In previous years, we have submitted briefs to the Supreme Court mandatory detention, prolonged post-removal detention, and standards for determining whether deportation is mandatory.
- Representing Make the Road New York (MRNY), a grassroots organization with a strong involvement in immigrant communities, in a campaign to protect immigrant New Yorkers from illegal inquiries into their immigration status. In 2007-2008, students worked with MRNY to develop practical strategies for immigrant New Yorkers who face improper police questioning.
- Representing with PROBAR, a nonprofit group providing legal services to detainees in Texas, to provide support for New Yorkers who are detained in Texas facilities following their arrest in New York. In 2007-2008, students conducted a bond hearing, prepared briefs on complex legal issues and will conduct a full hearing on behalf of a New Yorker arrested in a raid on Long Island.
- Representing the Council of People’s Organizations in a campaign to assist Muslim community members whose citizenship applications have been delayed, and to raise public awareness of the discriminatory treatment of applicants from Muslim communities. In 2006-07, students interviewed community members, researched litigation options, and drafted materials for media coverage.
The seminar component of the Immigrant Rights Clinic is a practice-oriented examination of advocacy on behalf of non-citizens and the different roles that can be played by a social justice lawyer. The seminar focuses on issues that arise in our fieldwork and builds classes around the clinic's case work. The seminar allows students an opportunity to analyze the legal, social, political, and other obstacles to achievement of their clients' goals, as well as a chance to reflect on the strategic choices they face. The problems of non-citizens frequently arise at the intersection of multiple and conflicting legal regimes, including immigration, criminal, labor, employment, and civil rights laws. Students grapple with the dramatic changes effected by the recent legislative changes, developing case law, and subsequent legislative and administrative developments at the federal and state level. The seminar will also consider the impact of those changes on individuals, families, and communities, and the role of race, class, and other factors in shaping national and local policy toward non-citizens.
The clinic will be taught by Professor Nancy Morawetz and Alina Das, the clinic's Immigrant Defense Fellow.
Students who are interested in applying to the Immigrant Rights Clinic should submit the standard application, résumé and transcript online via CAMS. 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. There is no formal application process for the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic, which is limited to students who enrolled in the Immigrant Rights Clinic in the previous year.
We recommend that students interested in the clinic speak to members of the 2008-2009 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.
|2008-2009 Immigrant Rights Clinic||2008-2009 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic|
|Kelli Lyn Barton
Laura St. John
* 14 credits includes 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.