Crimmigration Clinic

LW.12871 / LW.12872
Professor Nancy Morawetz
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Not offered 2024-25
Fall semester
7 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.

Course Description

Immigration law has long been intertwined with criminal law, and thereby intertwined with criminal legal system practices that target immigrants of color. The law ties deportation, detention, and other immigration consequences to technical issues about the structure of state laws and state criminal court outcomes. The current immigration system manages to make the state/federal relationship even more complex by ignoring many state efforts to ameliorate unjust outcomes in the state criminal system. The federal immigration law generally treats state classifications as dispositive for immigration purposes, depriving noncitizens of any ability to say they were wrongfully arrested, convicted, and sentenced. But when the state criminal law courts seek to remedy wrongful outcomes by revising convictions and sentences, the immigration system refuses, in many cases, to honor those changes. This bizarre interplay of federal immigration law and state criminal law has only gotten worse with an Attorney General decision from 2019 that requires heightened scrutiny of state court decisions to alter prior sentences, and thereby alter their immigration consequences.

Lawyers, advocates, and communities affected by the intersection of immigration and criminal law have pushed back with a wide range of strategies. These include legal arguments about immigration law, arguments about the requirements for state convictions, strategies to better advise criminal system defendants so that they can avoid extreme immigration consequences of convictions, post-conviction strategies that navigate the intricacies of existing case law, and mobilization and advocacy to alter the opportunities for corrective action in state courts.

These multiple advocacy strategies have had mixed success and are ongoing. For example, after a campaign by immigrant communities and advocacy groups, the New York State legislature passed a law that alters the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor by one day, thereby changing how such a conviction maps onto federal deportation categories. But a state campaign to assure stronger immigration advice protection for those facing criminal charges was vetoed by the Governor, despite strong support in the legislature. Meanwhile, two years into the current federal administration, the Attorney General has not reversed the precedent decision issued in 2019 which limits to effectiveness of state changes to sentences. Thus, in addition to providing legal services to noncitizens seeking to work with existing laws, advocates continue to be engaged in broader campaigns to obtain greater recognition for state court decisions.

The Crimmigration Clinic (offered for the first time in Fall 2023) will explore the highly technical but highly consequential interplay of federal immigration law and state criminal law. It will do so by immersing students in the issues as they arise in a range of practice settings. Through the seminar and field placements, the clinic will explore how lawyers and advocates can effectively advocate for clients and communities. We will consider how immigrant defense lawyers can argue to minimize the implications of past convictions both in agency courts and in the federal courts. We will look at how a criminal record can be developed to avoid immigration consequences or to maximize defenses at the immigration stage. We will consider how lawyers can use post-conviction remedies to revise criminal records to ameliorate these consequences, and the changing immigration law regarding respect for state court changes to a conviction or sentence. We will work with campaigns seeking to alter laws to better protect noncitizens from the cascading consequences of the criminal system. Each of these practice and advocacy settings will provide us with an opportunity to think through best practices for core lawyering activities: including interviewing, counseling, strategic planning, research, and written and oral advocacy. 


The Crimmigration Clinic will co-counsel with several offices in New York City that work at the intersection of immigration and criminal law. The specific offices and supervisors will be arranged before the start of the semester with a focus on lawyers who approach their work creatively and who have a genuine interest in mentoring new lawyers. Expected placements may be with (1) immigrant defense offices practicing in immigration courts; (2) criminal practices engaged in Padilla advisal work to obtain criminal law outcomes that are more favorable for immigration purposes; (3) appellate defense offices engaged in post-conviction practice; (4) back up centers or units engaged in appellate immigration practice; and (5) offices engaged in campaign work at the state and federal level to alter laws that harm noncitizens. We will seek arrangements where the supervising attorney in prepared to work during the semester on a co-counsel basis with the clinic, and in which students have an opportunity to engage in substantial work on cases and meet with and advocate on behalf of clients. We will also seek placements in which students are paired with another student for their field work. Students will also have regular meetings with Prof. Morawetz to discuss and review their case work.


The seminar will explore basic issues in crimmigration practice including: grounds of  deportability and inadmissibility; eligibility for forms of relief from removal; categorical and modified categorical analysis of statutes of conviction to determine whether they match federal grounds; attorney obligations in diverse practice settings; strategic issues in criminal and immigration defense to protect clients from immigration consequences; cutting edge issues in immigration and post-conviction practice.; state and federal advocacy to alter the landscape for representing immigrants; and the role of movement-based advocacy in effecting change in the treatment of non-citizens with convictions. The seminar will explore issues in a way that is situated in the varied types of fieldwork of students in the clinic.

Application Procedure

Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and transcript online through CAMS. To arrange an interview, please use the CAMS system as well. If you have questions regarding the application procedure, please contact Noelia Rodriguez.

* 7 credits include 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits.