Through an intensive learning and working environment, the clinic offers students an opportunity to develop lawyering and advocacy skills in the context of both direct client representation and cutting edge projects related to immigration reform.
Immigration detention is at a historic, all-time high in the United States— approximately 400,000 immigrants cycle through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement system each year. The majority of these detainees face the deportation process alone because there is no right to counsel in immigration proceedings. The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, led by Professor Elora Mukherjee, fills this void and provides critical legal services to some of the most vulnerable individuals caught in the system.
An expanded focus of the clinic is the representation of unaccompanied minors who have been apprehended at the U.S. border without their parents. Although legal service providers estimate that upwards of 60 percent of unaccompanied immigrant children are eligible for legal immigration status under current U.S. law, many of their claims are never properly presented to a court. Even children do not have a right to counsel in removal proceedings, and they are often forced to navigate the immigration court system alone, in a language they do not understand.
In the Immigrants' Rights Clinic each student handles significant case responsibilities, visits immigration detention facilities on a regular basis, and makes at least one appearance in immigration court by the end of the semester.With an emphasis on client-centered lawyering, clinic students work with clients from around the world. In the previous academic year, the clinic represented individuals detained at two immigration detention facilities in northern New Jersey: the Elizabeth Detention Center and Newark’s Delaney Hall. In the 2014-2015 academic year, the clinic is representing non-detained unaccompanied minors and will work with families detained near the southern border.
Students represent immigrants in their defenses against deportation—including asylum, withholding of removal, and U.N. Convention Against Torture claims. Working in pairs, students assume primary responsibility for all aspects of individual case preparation, including interviewing clients and witnesses, investigating facts, drafting pleadings, taking motions and practicing briefings, developing case strategies, conducting oral argument, leading negotiations, preparing witnesses, and performing legal research. The clinic also works with national and local organizations to further immigrants’ rights issues. Students collaborate on projects involving regulatory and legislative reform, impact litigation, public education, grassroots advocacy, media work, strategic planning, and related matters.
Learn more about Professor Mukherjee and the creation of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic here.
Learn more about Professor Mukherjee and her experiences here.
Case Examples: Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Wins Asylum and SIJS for More Than A Dozen Clients During the 2015-2016 Academic Year
More than twenty law students participated in the IRC from the Fall 2015 semester to the Spring 2016 semester. Collectively, they secured immigration relief for more than a dozen clients, ranging in age from three through adulthood, who hail from across the globe, from Burundi to El Salvador to Syria. Read more about their work here.
Case Example: Clinic Wins Asylum for Victim of Boko Haram
Michael C., a 29-year-old Nigerian man who faced persecution because of his Christian faith by members of Muslim extremist groups Hausa Fulani and Boko Haram, was released from a federal detention center and granted asylum after being represented by Professor Mukherjee and her students. Read more about Michael's experience with the clinic here.
Case Example: Students Win Asylum for Six Children
Six Central American children who fled violence, persecution, or abuse in their own countries have been granted asylum and will be allowed to stay in the United States after students in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School represented them in the federal immigration system. Learn more about their work and experiences here.
Case Example: Clinic Wins Asylum For Survivor of Torture By Al Shabab
Ahmed*, a Somali man who faced persecution by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, won asylum and was released from a federal immigration detention center, with the help of the Columbia Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic. Read more about Ahmed's life here.
Read more about the accomplishments of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic here.
In Action: Students' Work in the Immigrants' Rights Clinic
Current and former members of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic continue their work for justice and reform as the Clinic begins its second full year in Fall 2015.
Professor Mukherjee and her students filed an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to end the detention of asylum-seeking mothers and children held at federal detention facilities, working with the ACLU, Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Read the article here, and read the full brief here.
Eight Columbia Law School students traveled to Dilley, Texas to represent women and children held in a new government-run family detention center there. Professor Mukherjee and her students were the first- and only- people providing pro bono, individual representation on site in January 2015.
The New York Times chronicled the experiences of refugee children and mothers subject to detention in new lock-down facilities, noting that Professor Mukherjee and her students provide legal representation there.
In its first semester, the Immigrants' Rights Clinic represented seven detainees, including four asylum seekers and an individual seeking a U-visa. The Clinic won its first asylum case in May 2014. Learn more about the students' experiences representing detained asylum seekers here.
Professor Elora Mukherjee is Director of the Immigrants' Rights Program in the Columbia Law Clinic. Before joining Columbia, Mukherjee was a staff attorney at the ACLU Racial Justice Program, and an associate with the civil rights firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.Mukherjee is a founder and Director of the Refugee Reunification Project, and a Director of Warm Heart, a development organization in Thailand.
Learn more about Professor Mukherjee's immigration work here.