Through an intensive learning and working environment, student attorneys work with prominent faculty who are leaders in immigrants’ rights and develop lawyering and advocacy skills through direct client representation and cutting-edge projects related to immigration reform.
Immigration has become one of the most prominent political and human rights issues in the United States. Student attorneys in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic take on significant case responsibilities on behalf of the most vulnerable immigrants who would otherwise face the deportation process without representation. Under the leadership of Professor Elora Mukherjee, the clinic works in conjunction with or on behalf of national and local organizations devoted to immigration reform. Student attorneys take on cutting-edge projects involving regulatory and legislative reform, impact litigation, and public education. Student attorneys also may have opportunities to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to offer pro bono legal services to asylum seekers.
There is no right to government-appointed legal counsel in U.S. immigration proceedings. 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. Working under the guidance of the clinic’s faculty, student attorneys represent asylum seekers from around the world who are facing deportation. Student attorneys who continue in the clinic beyond a single semester have the opportunity to work on more complex casework and take on varied forms of advocacy.
Each student attorney is expected to handle significant case responsibilities, visit immigration detention facilities (assuming public health conditions warrant such visits), and have at least one appearance in immigration court or the asylum office by the end of the semester. Student attorneys, working in teams, will assume primary responsibility for all aspects of the individual case preparation, including interviewing clients and witnesses, investigating facts, drafting pleadings, motion practice, and briefing, developing case strategies, conducting oral arguments, leading negotiations, preparing witnesses, working with experts, and performing legal research. The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic requires a time commitment averaging 21 hours of casework per week (3 hours for each credit).
Instructors: Elora Mukherjee, Jerome L. Greene Clinical Professor of LawExperiential Credits: 7 credits (3 for seminar; 4 for casework)
Minor writing credit
Major writing credit is possible in consultation with Professor Mukherjee and clinic student partners
The seminar is integrated with the fieldwork. It addresses current developments in immigration law and policy; encourages skill development; addresses the theoretical and substantive bases of the clinic’s work; analyzes ethical issues that arise in clients’ cases and advocacy work; and provides opportunities for student attorneys to reflect on their work and development as lawyers. We engage in learning through case rounds, role playing, simulations, readings and discussions. Student attorneys develop skills including:
- Interviewing, research & information gathering
- International and domestic fact investigations
- Drafting pleadings, motions, affidavits, and legal briefs
- Developing case strategies
- Oral arguments, including opening and closing statements
- Leading negotiations
- Collaborating with medical experts, mental health experts, and country conditions experts
- Legal research and writing
- Policy & legislative advocacy
- Project planning & management
Each clinic student will rise to task of being a student attorney. Student attorneys will have ownership and autonomy over their casework. Student attorneys are not interns or assistants who receive assignments. Student attorneys will develop and implement all phases of client representation and advocacy, from initial client interviews through an adjudication before the asylum office or in immigration court. Student attorneys will have weekly supervision meetings with Professor Elora Mukherjee. Student attorneys are expected to meet with their clients and clinic teams on at least a weekly basis. All student attorneys will work in case teams and must demonstrate a positive team attitude and willingness to collaborate on casework.
Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Intensive Training and Joint MHLS Orientation
At the beginning of the semester, student attorneys will be involved in intensive skills training in order to prepare, as soon as possible, to begin work on actual cases. The intensive training will be held on Friday, January 12, 2024 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., in person at Columbia Law School. Student attorneys must participate in this training. During this training, student attorneys will be introduced to the theory and practice of representing asylum seekers. Student attorneys will also participate in a joint orientation with other clinics at Morningside Heights Legal Services, Inc.
The course is limited to 10 students and is open to JD and LL.M candidates. There are no prerequisites to take this course other than a commitment to providing the highest quality of representation to asylum seekers.
If you are interested in learning more about the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, please email Elora Mukherjee ([email protected]) to schedule a time to talk.