Immigrant Rights Clinic celebrates 10th anniversary

Photo of Nancy Morawetz's former studentsProfessor Nancy Morawetz ’81, founding director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, acknowledged “a little embarrassment” at the flood of tributes she received on the afternoon of March 13 when fully half of her 150 former students gathered at Furman Hall for a 10th anniversary celebration of lessons learned in advancing social justice throughout the world.

As recounted by anniversary celebrants, Morawetz and her small but strongly idealistic army of lawyers were involved in the bulk of immigration matters before the U.S. Supreme Court over the past decade. They are fanned out across America and points overseas to apply the clinic’s formula of legislative effort, community advocacy, media outreach and impact litigation to their respective callings; and some who have studied or taught with Morawetz have replicated NYU Law’s immigrant rights program at other campuses, including Yale Law School, the City University of New York School of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and the University of Houston Law Center.

Isaac Wheeler, today a staff attorney at Bronx Defenders, explained Morawetz’s continuing influence. “Nancy is a voice in my head. Whenever I think, there’s no way, no chance for this case, I hear her saying, ‘Oh, you can do this!’” said Mr. Wheeler. “I am forever warped,” he added. “So thanks, Nancy.”

Luis Gutierrez was represented by clinic students in his long struggle for habeas corpus relief after being deported to his native Colombia. Gutierrez was on hand for the clinic reunion, offering his thanks to the dozens of students who helped him between the years 2000 and 2007 when he returned to the United States as a free man. “I had lost all hope of justice,” said Gutierrez, now working an electrician in Jersey City and reunited with his American-born children. “But then I found this clinic. I never had to pay a cent.”

Morawetz, admitting inability to imagine an eight-year separation from her own two children, said of the Gutierrez case, “He suffered terribly. His marriage was destroyed. You can't make somebody whole again. All that pain and anguish, yet he’s the happy story.”