Immigrants' Rights Clinic
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 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. With an emphasis on client-centered lawyering, clinic students work with clients from around the world.
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. 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. 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 current academic year, the clinic is representing non-detained unaccompanied minors and will likely work with families detained near the southern border this spring. 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.