Immigrant Rights Clinic

LW.11134 / LW.10586
Alina Das
Jessica Rofe
Jessica Swensen
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 12 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(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 two 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 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 a 57-year old man from the Dominican Republic who was recently exonerated after serving 24 years for a crime he did not commit and, upon release from prison, immediately transferred to ICE custody to face renewed deportation proceedings. Students met with the client and developed legal arguments for why the case should be terminated and he should be released from immigration custody. In the fall of 2018, they successfully litigated the case before an immigration judge and the client is now together with his wife and daughter, who he has not lived with in over two decades. This case was referred by Bronx Defenders.

  • Representing a gay, HIV positive man from Honduras who is the victim of repeated sexual violence in Honduras and suffered numerous attacks on his life as a gay man in Honduras, including being shot and otherwise physically attacked by police and civilians. He was also involved in a gay rights activist group in Honduras and has continued his gay rights activism here in the United States. His attorneys submitted nearly 800 pages of documents in support his applications for immigration relief, but in a cursory decision, the immigration judge denied his fear-based claims. Students in the clinic have met with the client, counseled him regarding the appeals process, and prepared appellate briefs arguing for reversal of the immigration judge’s decision. This case was referred by the Legal Aid Society.

  • 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 faces mandatory deportation after being convicted of an offense pursuant to a traffic stop in Virginia. Now, over 15 years later, the client faces permanent exile and separation from his family. Students in the clinic are researching and drafting legal arguments to establish that the client’s convictions do not subject him to mandatory deportation, and are preparing an application for a gubernatorial pardon to the Governor of Virginia.  

  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from China who is a husband and father of U.S. citizens, but faced mandatory detention after being convicted of a criminal offense, traveling abroad and attempting to re-enter the United States. After co-counsel filed a habeas petition in the Southern District of New York, he was released from detention on parole. Students prepared an evidentiary packet in anticipation of his immigration court hearing and conducted a lengthy hearing, which the client subsequently won. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.

  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from Jamaica who has lived in the United States for nearly thirty years and whose family is made up almost entirely of U.S. citizens, but who was detained and continues to face deportation based on past criminal convictions. After prior counsel successfully won relief on his behalf before an immigration judge, he was released from detention after spending nearly two years detained. However, the government appealed the IJ’s conclusion that he was eligible for relief and the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled in favor of the government. He, then, filed a petition for review with the Second Circuit. The students drafted and filed all briefing and conducted oral argument before the Circuit in the spring of 2018. In the summer of 2018, the Circuit rendered a favorable decision for the client, and found that the statute under which he was convicted is categorically not an aggravated felony. This case was referred by Queens Law Associates.

  • Representing a longtime New York resident from Ecuador who has numerous U.S. citizen siblings and extended family, and is a second mother to two U.S. citizen children, but faces removal after a criminal arrest led to detection and detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Co-counsel successfully represented her in her bond proceedings and she was released after spending nearly six months in detention. 2017-2018 gathered extensive expert evidence, drafted witness affidavits, and prepped her for a full immigration court hearing, before being approached by the government for a settlement agreement, which permitted the client to remain with her family here in the United States. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.

  • Representing a man from Brazil who is the father of a U.S. citizen and has lived in the U.S. for over two decades and faces removal after a criminal arrest led to detection and detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2017, students prepared applications for relief from removal and gathered evidence of the client’s equities in preparation for a bond hearing, where they successfully secured his release from detention. Now, students have begun preparing for his individual hearing in immigration court. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.

  • 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 2018, students filed and argued a habeas petition on his behalf, after he was arrested in front of his wife and counsel during a routine check-in with immigration officials, successfully securing his release from detention. Students also filed supplemental briefing in his petition for coram nobis relief (challenging his underlying conviction) in federal district court in New Jersey, successfully seeking a stay of deportation from the court during the pendency of the litigation, and have conducted research and drafted a motion to reopen his immigration proceedings based on new evidence. In addition, students have worked on a First Amendment retaliation claim on his behalf in partnership with a law firm, a case which is now before a federal district court and 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 two longtime New York residents who immigrated from Mexico and face removal after a previous lawyer provided them with shoddy representation. The students are gathering extensive evidence to counsel the clients on the best strategy moving forward, including evidence of: (i) the extraordinary hardships that their youngest United States citizen child will face if they are deported, (ii) the family’s experiences after a violent and serious crime that they reported to the police, rendering them potentially eligible for a U visa, and (iii) country conditions in Mexico to substantiate an asylum claim.  This case was referred by Make the Road New York.

  • Representing a man and his son who fled El Salvador after threats were made against the father’s life by members of the Barrio-18, an infamous and violent gang. 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. A petition for review of the Board’s decision was filed with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 2017, students filed a motion to reopen before the Board of Immigration Appeals on the basis of new evidence discovered while researching the case. In 2018, students will develop legal arguments, draft and file a brief to the Court of Appeals in support of the petition for review in this case. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.

  • Representing a woman from Ghana who is the wife and mother of U.S. citizens but has faced mandatory detention and is facing deportation based on a past criminal conviction.  In 2016-17, students successfully represented her at a bond hearing, securing her release, and filed an application for adjustment of status on her behalf. In 2017-2018, students are currently preparing for her immigration court hearing.  This case was referred by Bronx Defenders.
    Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from Venezuela in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a challenge to his removal order. Our client was ordered removed after being told by a pro bono screening attorney that he was ineligible for all forms of relief on account of his criminal history and appearing without counsel before an immigration judge. Students are preparing full briefing for the case before the Court of Appeals. Students have also filed a second motion to reopen to the Board of Immigration Appeals in light of changed country conditions in Venezuela which give rise to a claim for asylum. This case was referred by Queens Law Associates.

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

  • Representing Make the Road New Jersey (“MRNJ”), a grassroots organization of immigrants, in developing an immigrants’ rights platform for New Jersey.  Last year, students worked closely with MRNJ staff and leadership team to develop advocacy tools and legal memoranda to support a campaign to extend driver’s licenses for undocumented New Jersey residents. In the 2018-19 academic year, students are working with MRNJ’s Youth Power Project (“YPP”) and accompanying statewide Dreamer coalition to enact legislation to expand access to professional licenses in New Jersey to immigrants without regard to status. Students have worked closely with YPP to develop advocacy tools and legal memoranda to support its campaign.

  • Representing the New York State Youth Leadership Council (“NYSYLC”), the first undocumented youth led organization in New York, to develop a resource guide to help undocumented community members explore employment and educational opportunities outside of traditional methods. Students are conducting research and drafting guidance on (1) legal ways for employers to hire or continue the employment of someone who is undocumented and who does not have employment authorization or whose authorization is no longer valid, (2) how to best pay contractors keeping taxes and healthcare in mind, (3) best ways to advocate for oneself and or employees, and (4) ways to start one’s own business or build a cooperative.

  • Representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (“BAJI”) to research the impact of criminalization and immigration enforcement on Black immigrants. In 2016-17, students worked on a report scheduled for publication about the school-to-deportation pipeline for youth of color, and in 2017-18, students developed curricula for students, their families and educators on integrating restorative justice practices into school communities. In the 2018-19 academic year, students are working with BAJI and IDP on a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) project regarding ICE arrests in New York City and State. Specifically, they are collecting data on where and how arrests are happening and who is being targeted by these arrests. The students will turn the data collected in these requests into a report that both BAJI and IDP will use in their advocacy with local and state agencies about limiting and eliminating collaboration with federal immigration agencies.

  • Representing national immigrant advocacy groups and community organizations in amicus filings before immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, 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, the scope of mandatory detention laws, and challenges to state anti-immigrant laws. In 2017, students, on behalf of the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) prepared an amicus brief submitted to immigration court to support a motion to terminate proceedings based on violations of fundamental rights flowing from state courthouse arrests. In 2019, students are preparing an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging the constitutionality of pleas taken in the context of Operation Streamline, the federal government’s zero-tolerance prosecution of migrants for crossing the southwest border.

  • Representing Freedom for Immigrants (“FFI”) in a communications campaign about the harsh impact of detention on immigrants and their families. In 2016-17, students created a website and worked closely with media to educate the public about prolonged detention, and in 2017-18, students helped to elevate the stories of individuals directly affected by detention by co-authoring an op-ed featuring stories of prolonged detention that was published in Newsweek and transcribing the narrative of a woman detained at Mesa Verde Detention Facility, which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Students have also developed an audio postcard series, called “Hear Together”, which creates shareable audio messages from family and community members that are played on radio stations to reach ICE detention facilities in New Jersey and New York.

  • Representing the National Immigrant Justice Center (“NIJC”) and the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) in their efforts to educate legislators on issues at the intersection of criminal and immigration law. In 2017-2018, students are developing backgrounders on issues that may be addressed this legislative session in a major immigration bill, including mandatory detention, mandatory deportation, the categorical approach and criminal grounds of removability.
    Representing the Immigrant Justice Network, a coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations that focus on the intersection of immigration and criminal law, in their campaign to fix the 1996 deportation and detention laws.  Students have developed a guide to the 1996 laws and their consequences in support of a campaign to dismantle and not expand those laws.

  • Representing Make the Road New York (“MRNY”), a grassroots organization dedicated to building power among Latino and working class communities, in the development of legal tools to help support those who are detained by immigration officers who already have a final order of deportation. This group of individuals does not qualify for representation through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project and may be deported quickly. Students are compiling creative legal arguments, best practices and training materials to assist attorneys able and willing to file habeas petitions to support this group of individuals who often go unrepresented.

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. 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 2018-2019 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2018-2019 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2018-2019 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Whitney Braunstein
Sebastian Devora
Jonathan Greenspan
Alexandria Jackman
Amy Joseph
Allison Mandeville
Juan Martinez-Hill
Dinesh McCoy   
Selene Nafisi
Maria Romero
Gabriela Siegel  
Priya Sreenivasan  
Rebecca  Suldan  
Daniela Ugaz
Kyle Barron
Fatima Carrillo Moran
Brittany Castle
Nora Christiani
Ryan Mendías
Lauren Richardson
Gerardo Romo
Nora Searle
Kevin Siegel    
Maya Sikand
Sarah Taitz

* 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.