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 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 (or in some cases more than one 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 a lawful permanent resident who came to the United States from Jamaica as a child. 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 and continued to detain him. Past students briefed and argued his case to the Second Circuit, which ruled in his favor. His case is now on remand where students will argue that he is not subject to deportation and, if he is, that he should be granted relief from deportation. This case was referred by Make the Road New York and the Immigrant Defense Project.  

  • 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. In 2022, when our client was represented by prior counsel, the Immigration Judge ordered our client deported to Haiti. We took on the case and filed appeal papers as well as an extensive motion to remand. Meanwhile, we are working with our client and his defense committee to draw media attention to his situation and to pursue a gubernatorial pardon. This case was referred by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. .

  • 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. Students have pursued motions to reopen his removal proceedings, post-conviction relief, and various forms of prosecutorial discretion. An outspoken immigrant rights advocate, he was targeted for detention and deportation in 2018, leading to years of First Amendment litigation and a settlement. Students are now pursuing advocacy to restore his permanent resident status.Students pursue this work with a committee of activists and organizers to resolve his case. This case was referred by Families for Freedom.

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, students 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 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. Last year, students argued a summary judgment motion in the Freedom of Information Act litigation and negotiated the next set of document productions. They also got a favorable settlement from the government in the civil fines litigation. This year they have continued to work with sanctuary movement leaders to assess documents received through the Freedom of Information Act 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.

Seminar and Fieldwork Meetings

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.

In addition, each student team meets weekly with its supervisor to discuss its research, strategic assessments, and plans for meetings with clients, witnesses, opposing counsel, defense committees, or other groups.  The fieldwork is student-run and closely supervised by clinic faculty. In the new format, where there is one seminar meeting weekly, there may be additional ad hoc meetings to train groups of students on aspects of the clinic’s fieldwork.

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 2023-2024 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic:

Julianna Balaji-Wright
Madeline Batt
Naomi Chasek-Macfoy
Noorie Chowdhury
Sam Karnes
Bailey Kendall
Daniel Kim
Jorge Lee Ochoa
Gabriela MacPherson
Jacob Park
Swetha Saseedhar
Kayla Yoon
Cinthia Zavala Ramos

* 14 credits include 5 clinical credits and 2 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.