Immigrant Rights Clinic

LW.11134 / LW.10586
Professor Nancy Morawetz
Adjunct Professor Jessica Swensen
Immigrant Defense Fellow Jessica Rofé
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 14 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 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 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 three main areas: (1) representing organizations engaged in drafting legislation and legislative campaigns, (2) developing organizations’ community education, reporting, and/or Know Your Rights work, and (3) spearheading amicus briefing or other forms of group-centered litigation on behalf of community organizations. 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 labor rights, access to justice, criminal law reform, equality, and a number of key social justice issues.

Course Description


Each student in our clinic, along with a student partner, will represent two clients: an individual (or set of individuals) in individual litigation, and an organization (or set of organizations) in a community campaign. Students serve as the lead attorneys for both their cases and campaign projects.

This means that students have direct responsibility for all aspects of their individual case and community campaign work. In individual cases, 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, 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 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 are currently preparing for his immigration court hearing. 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 and the students filed a brief in support of the petition in the fall. They are preparing a reply brief to be submitted in the spring. 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 students are gathering extensive expert evidence, drafting witness affidavits, and prepping her for a full immigration court hearing, which they will conduct in spring 2018. 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. In 2018, students will begin preparing for his individual hearing in immigration court. This case was referred by Brooklyn Defender Services.
  • Representing a long time lawful permanent resident and community activist from Trinidad and Tobago who is facing mandatory deportation and permanent separation from his family due to his one-time fraud conviction. In 2017, students sought prosecutorial discretion from the Department of Homeland Security, have filed a reply brief in his petition for coram nobis relief (challenging his underlying conviction) in federal district court in New Jersey, and have conducted research and drafted a motion to reopen his immigration proceedings based on new evidence. 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.
  • Representing a longtime lawful permanent resident from the Dominican Republic in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a challenge to his removal order. Our client faces removal for a single conviction from 2014 for which he served no time in jail.  Our client also has extremely compelling equities due to medical mistreatment while he was in immigration detention, and which present additional claims for his case to be reopened. Students are preparing full briefing in the case before the Court of Appeals. This case was originally handled by the Legal Aid Society.

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

  • 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.
  • Representing the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (“BAJI”) to research the impact of criminalization and immigration enforcement on Black immigrants, and more recently, on youth of color. 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 are developing curricula for students, their families and educators on integrating restorative justice practices into school communities.
  • Representing Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (“CIVIC”) in a communications campaign about the harsh impact of prolonged 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 are also developing an audio postcard series to send family messages to detained individuals and researching and writing a report on international and domestic frameworks for climate refugees.
  • 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 Make the Road New Jersey (“MRNJ”), a grassroots organization of immigrants, in developing an immigrants’ rights platform for New Jersey.  Last year, students participated in meetings with Make the Road members to develop an agenda that matches the concerns of the community and have researched possible policy proposals for the members’ consideration. In 2017-2018, students are working 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. 
  • 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 the National Immigration Project and a coalition of other groups in Freedom of Information litigation to achieve greater accountability from the federal government on its policies to return immigrants who prevail in their cases before the courts of appeals.  In 2012, this litigation led to a groundbreaking admission by the Solicitor General of the United States that his office had misrepresented facts to the Supreme Court.
  • Representing Make the Road New York (“MRNY”), a grassroots organization dedicated to building power among Latino and working class communities, in the development of comprehensive best practices and community education materials to advise noncitizens about action participation. In 2017-2018, students have collaborated with protest attorneys and organizers to create a practice advisory that provides a framework for advisals of noncitizen action participants.

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, civil rights, labor and employment law. 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 2017-2018 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2017-2018 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2017-2018 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Devika Balaram
Kyle Barron
Fatima Carrillo Moran
Brittany Castle
Nora Christiani
Jeremy (Cody) Cutting
Ryan Mendías
Lauren Richardson
Gerardo Romo
Nora Searle
Kevin Siegel
Maya Sikand
Sarah Taitz
Jane Williams
Terry Ding
Angela Galdamez
Ilana Herr
Robert Hunter
Rachel Levenson
Samah McGona
Sarah Thompson
Victoria Lee

* 14 credits include 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.