Immigrant Rights Clinic


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(s) 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 ever-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 two main areas: (1) dismantling systems that criminalize immigrants and (2) advancing immigrants’ access to justice, education, and community resources.

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 decriminalization, economic and educational equity, and a number of key social justice issues.

Course Description


Each student in our clinic, along with a student partner, will take on two projects: the representation of an individual (or set of individuals) in litigation and advocacy, and the support of a campaign or advocacy effort in partnership with an organization (or set of organizations) through litigation, legislative or policy advocacy, public education, and/or organizing support.

Students have direct responsibility for all aspects of their individual case and community campaign work. In individual cases, this means that students are the lead legal representatives. 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, students will also take the lead in developing the relationship with our community partners and supporting their 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 an immigrant rights activist and father of four U.S. citizen children who was deported to Haiti in 2018 based on his protected political speech.  Students in the clinic prepared a lawsuit to sue for his return to the U.S. and reinstatement of a wrongfully terminated order of supervision permitting him to live and work in the U.S. Students in the clinic also drafted and submitted a pardon application to the Governor of Virginia and developed pardon campaign materials. In 2021, the pardon was granted and the clinic negotiated the return of our client. Students in the clinic prepared a motion to reopen to the Board of Immigration Appeals and successfully negotiated a joint motion, which was granted. This year's students are now pursuing a grant of discretionary relief by   preparing an evidentiary submission for our client’s individual hearing and preparing to litigate his claims before the immigration court. The case was referred by New Sanctuary Coalition and Judson Memorial Church.

  • Representing a lawful permanent resident who came to the United States from Jamaica as a child and now faces mandatory deportation due to a single offense. Our client was detained for over four years as he fought mandatory deportation on his own and later with pro bono counsel. Although he won a remand from the Second Circuit, the Board of Immigration Appeals once again ruled that his conviction mandates deportation. Last year, students in the clinic prepared briefing showing that his conviction does not bar relief so that he can remain in the United States with his family. This year, students argued the case before the Second Circuit and are awaiting decision. This case was referred by Make the Road New York.

  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident who came to the United States from Haiti when he was just 7 years old and is the father of four U.S. citizen children, but faced mandatory deportation after being convicted of an offense pursuant to a traffic stop in Virginia. 19 years later, the client faced permanent exile and separation from his family. Students in the clinic drafted and submitted a pardon application to the Governor of Virginia and developed pardon campaign materials. They also drafted and submitted a motion seeking administrative closure or, in the alternative, a continuance which was granted by the immigration court. Last year students pressed the campaign for a pardon, which was successful, and drafted arguments for why the immigration court should grant our client relief so that he could remain in the United States. They also prepared materials for the individual hearing before the immigration court, which our client won. He is now no longer under threat of deportation, able to travel internationally, and preparing to apply for United States citizenship. The case was referred by the Immigrant Defense Project.     

  • Representing two longtime New York residents who immigrated from Mexico and face removal after a previous lawyer provided them with shoddy representation. This year, students prepared and filed supplementary evidentiary documents in support of their claims. They, then, conducted a lengthy removal hearing before the immigration court, which resulted in our clients receiving green cards after living in the U.S. without status for over twenty-five years. This work involved extensive evidence gathering and witness preparation to establish the extraordinary hardship that their youngest United States citizen child would face if they were deported, and country conditions in Mexico supporting their fear-based claims. This case was referred by Make the Road New York.

  • Representing a Garifuna mother and daughter from Honduras who fled severe forms of sexual and other violence, as well as threats because of land-rights activism to protect ancestral Garifuna lands, and sought protection at the U.S.-Mexico border. Mother and daughter were paroled into the United States in 2015, but never afforded a credible fear interview so they can pursue their fear-based claims, and have lived under an expedited order of removal for over seven years. This year, clinic students prepared a request for credible fear interview to the asylum office, including arguments that the delay and expedited order violate the immigration laws and regulations, and are preparing a mandamus complaint for the district court to seek to compel agency action. They are also conducting advocacy with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to seek rescission of the expedited order.

  • Representing a fifty-one year old man who was born on a US military base in Germany to a United States military family and who has lived in the United States since he was a few months old.  After previously recognizing that our client is a United States citizen, ICE abruptly changed its mind, and arrested him more than three decades after the offenses that ICE claims make him subject to deportation.  This past July, when our client was represented by prior counsel, the Immigration Judge ordered our client deported to Haiti.  We took on the case to pursue an appeal and fully explore grounds for relief.  This year students have done a full evaluation of the case and are preparing papers to file to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

  • Representing a mother and daughter from Honduras who fled gang threats and domestic violence only to be detained and denied protection at the border. The clinic successfully advocated for their release and has continued over several years to protect their right to remain in the United States. This year, students prepared an opening brief to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit showing fundamental errors in the mother’s underlying removal proceedings warranting reopening. This case was referred by RAICES.

  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident and immigrant rights leader from Trinidad and Tobago who is facing mandatory deportation and permanent separation from his family due to his one-time fraud conviction. In 2019, students briefed and argued his petition for a writ of coram nobis, challenging fundamental errors in his conviction, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Students also briefed his petition for review from the denial of a motion to reopen his removal proceedings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 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 former security guard and his young son who fled El Salvador after threats were made against the father’s life by gang members. Co-counsel filed an asylum application and conducted a full immigration court hearing, in which relief was denied. This decision was affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). A petition for review of the BIA’s decision was filed with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, along with petitions of review for the BIA’s denial of other motions to reopen that the students prepared based on new evidence in the case. In 2021, students prepared an application for a T visa based on evidence that gathered with our client. They also prepared a request for prosecutorial discretion.  Students on this case have also continued to advocate for the client through one of his petitions for review both in his case and by coordinating with counsel in related cases. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.

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

  • Partnering with Make the Road New Jersey (“MRNJ”), a grassroots organization of immigrants, in developing an immigrants’ rights platform for New Jersey. Last year, students worked with MRNJ on a project to advocate for noncitizens to have the right to vote in municipal elections. Students worked closely with MRNJ organizers and membership to research approaches to this campaign, including presenting the results of their research at meetings of the organization’s leadership teams.

  • Partnering with the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) to research the immigration supervision system and the egregious supervision requirements that immigrants must comply with as part of their orders of supervision. In 2019, students filed two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests on behalf of our community partners, seeking information regarding ICE’s supervision programs. In 2020, after the agency failed to response, students filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking to compel production in response to our clients’ requests. Amidst rolling document productions, current students have worked on understanding ICE’s supervision and surveillance apparatus and presenting the findings from the litigation to advocates and community partners and on a litigation strategy to obtain priority documents for our client organizations.

  • Partnering with the Black Alliance for Justice Immigration (“BAJI”) in its public education campaign to surface the anti-Blackness endemic to using criminal bars as a pawn in legislative debates around immigration reform, which only serve to reinforce an already racist criminal legal system. This year’s students are advising BAJI on several pieces of proposed legislation and the positions BAJI might take with respect to those bills.

  • Partnering with a coalition of organizations and lawyers supporting individuals in sanctuary to challenge a set of massive civil fines levied against them. Students worked closely with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Grassroots Leadership, Austin Sanctuary Network, and Free Migration Project, on a Freedom of Information Act request and prepared a lawsuit when the relevant agencies refused to comply. In 2021, students also prepared and filed a lawsuit challenging the civil fines enforcement directly on constitutional and statutory grounds on behalf of several organizations and four sanctuary leaders who received fines. This year, students argued a summary judgment motion in the Freedom of Information Act litigation and are negotiating the next set of document productions. They have also been negotiating with the government in the civil fines litigation.

  • Partnering with immigrant rights activists nationwide who have experienced retaliation on the basis of their outspoken criticism of federal immigration law and policy to elevate their stories and end retaliatory enforcement. Students worked closely with immigrant activists, a web designer and computer programmer to develop the website Immigrant Rights Voices, which documents over 1,000 instances of retaliation by federal agencies, mostly under the Trump Administration. Students also collaborated with immigrant rights activists, organizers, faith leaders, elected officials and interested community members to coordinate and launch a congressional briefing on the targeting of activists.

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, and civil rights law. Students will learn about the immigrant rights movement, and its intersection with racial justice, abolitionist, and human rights movements. 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. Students in the clinic will be available to answer questions at the clinic fair. The clinic accepts 2Ls and 3Ls. If you have any questions regarding the application process, please contact Noelia Rodriguez.

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 2022-2023 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2022-23 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2022-23 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic

Abdiel Caballero
Elizabeth Dia
Thao Ho
Michael Leonetti
Yulanda Lui
Gabriela MacPherson
Helina Meressa
Elizabeth Neoman
Marisa O'Toole
Galia Popov
Sahil Singhvi
Andrew Vaccaro

Lily Gutterman
David Jimenez
Vibha Kannan
Aidan Langston
Jencey Paz

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

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