Clinics

Immigrant Rights Clinic

Introduction

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

Fieldwork

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 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 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 before the immigration court, and are preparing briefing and an evidentiary packet in support of the client’s fear-based claims for relief from deportation. The case was referred by the Immigrant Defense Project. 

  • Representing a husband and father who came to the United States from the Gambia as a 6-year-old boy who was detained for more than 3 years fighting his deportation. Students in the clinic prepared a motion for a custody redetermination based on changed circumstances in immigration court, three petitions for writ of habeas corpus to challenge his detention, a motion for emergency release to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Second Circuit, and a gubernatorial pardon to the Governor of New York. In connection with community partners, students helped secure a pardon from the Governor of New York and his release from custody through a habeas petition. The clinic continues working together with co-counsel to challenge his final order of deportation through the petition for review process before the U.S. Court of Appeals. The case was referred by the Bronx Defenders.

  • 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. This case is currently in discovery. Students in the clinic also drafted and submitted a pardon application to the Governor of Virginia and developed pardon campaign materials. The case was referred by New Sanctuary Coalition and Judson Memorial Church.

  • 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. Most recently, students prepared for the daughter’s asylum proceedings in immigration court, the daughter’s application for adjustment based on special immigrant juvenile status, and the mother’s federal court appeals in the U.S Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Ninth Circuits. 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 two longtime New York residents who immigrated from Mexico and face removal after a previous lawyer provided them with shoddy representation. In 2020 the students drafted a brief and evidentiary materials in support of their applications for relief from removal. This required extensive evidence gathering and witness preparation to establish the extraordinary hardships that their youngest United States citizen child will face if they are deported, and country conditions in Mexico supporting their fear-based claims. In addition, the students pursued U visa applications based on the family’s experiences after a violent and serious crime that they reported to the police. Students are currently preparing materials to seek a stipulated resolution in the case. This case was referred by Make the Road New York.

  • 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 2018 and 2019 students developed legal arguments, drafted and filed an opening brief and reply brief to the Court of Appeals in support of the consolidated petitions for review in this case. Also in 2019, the students filed an additional motion to reopen with the BIA for our client’s teenage son based on separate grounds for asylum discovered during the students’ representation. In 2020, students prepared and filed a motion to reopen in response to a change in law recognizing resistance to powerful gang violence as a cognizable political opinion. Students also prepared a motion for stay of removal before the Court of Appeals, and a motion to hold one petition for review in abeyance pending the outcome of a Supreme Court case. 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.  For last two years, students have been working closely with MRNJ’s Youth Power Project (“YPP”) and accompanying statewide Dreamer coalition in a successful campaign to to enact legislation to expand access to professional licenses in New Jersey to immigrants without regard to status. Students worked closely with YPP to develop advocacy tools and legal memoranda to support its campaign and are now working with YPP to advocate for effective implementation of the law.

  • Partnering with the New York State Youth Leadership Council (“NYSYLC”), the first undocumented youth led organization in New York, to develop resource guides for their members. In 2020-2021, students are supporting efforts by the NYSYLC to pilot an immigrant liaison position in New York City public high schools, which would provide professional development to existing school staff to enhance their support for students from immigrant backgrounds and their families.

  • Partnering with the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) and New Sanctuary Coalition 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 and at an additional information session on March 12th from 3p.m.–5p.m. Following the submission of applications, applicants will be asked to attend a group meeting with the clinic faculty. 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 2019-2020 Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic.

2020-21 Immigrant Rights Clinic 2020-21 Advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic
Olivia Abrecht
Yosi Badie
Helen Avery Campbell
Muriel Carpenter
Julio Castillo
Jessica Coffrin-St. Julien
Chiraayu Gosrani
Elena Hodges
Dan Kim
Madison Koenig
Katie Matejcak
Anna Meixler
Meena Roldan
Eleuthera Sa
Cynthia Lee
Sofia Lopez-Franco
Rachel Maremont
Diana Rosen
Jesica Tenaglia
Lauren Wilfong

 

* 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.