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Immigration Justice Clinic

LAW 833A/833B

Two semesters
6 credits/semester (4 clinical, 2 academic)
4 credits/semester (2 clinical, 2 academic)
Opportunity for Semester in Practice (12-14 credits) in spring semester
Professor Vanessa Merton


Immigration Justice Clinic (IJC) Legal Interns (LI’s) handle the immigration law problems of indigent people living, working, or detained in the lower Hudson Valley as well as in the five boroughs and occasionally New Jersey.  Free representation is offered to eligible immigrants seeking to regularize their legal status through family ties, asylum, employment, or pursuant to specific programs such as Violence Against Women, Special Immigrant Juveniles, the Diversity Visa, Anti-Trafficking, Temporary Protected Status, or the U Visa.  Cases often arise from our intake sessions at community organizations that assist immigrants, like the Hispanic Resource Center in Mamaroneck (, Neighbors Link in Mount Kisco (, and the Haitian Resource Center ( in White Plains.  We represent immigrants facing deportation (now called “removal”) in the Immigration Courts and at the correctional facilities Downstate in Fishkill, NY and Ulster in Napanoch, NY.

Since federally-funded legal services offices are not allowed to help most immigrants, this region offers few alternative sources of free immigration law assistance, except for the Empire Justice Center (    

LI’s develop a preliminary diagnosis of their client’s immigration issues, generate alternative legal options and corresponding fact investigation/discovery plans for each possible remedy, and prepare and submit the relevant applications with the evidence to substantiate these claims.  LI’s analyze the need for expert opinions and, when appropriate, recruit expert consultants.  They organize documentary and testimonial evidence and argue and draft motions and briefs on substantive, evidentiary and procedural issues in proceedings before the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.  Videotaped, critiqued simulation is used extensively to prepare for these appearances.  Recognition of a client’s non-immigration-related legal needs, which may affect the progress and outcome of the immigration case, is an important IJC responsibility.  LI’s have represented clients in Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment, guardianship, custody, wage theft, criminal, and workers’ compensation proceedings, in New York State Family Court, Small Claims Court, and Criminal Court.

With respect to each phase of representation, LI’s use the planning→doing→reflecting model of experiential education, comparing the actual outcomes of their decisions with what they had anticipated.  They also examine the impact on the law and legal systems, and on lawyers and adjudicators, of the broader social phenomena that are the context of immigration law.  LI’s learn how to conduct “know your rights” community education programs in several languages, and how to engage in legislative advocacy at County, State, and national levels, including the annual National Day of Action in Washington, DC of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  Active involvement in AILA programs and committees, as well as other bar associations, is encouraged. 

The IJC begins with a summer assignment and, before fall semester classes start, four days of “boot camp:” intensive all-day training to get “up to speed” on basic immigration law and practice.  The IJC curriculum includes significant background reading, written and in-class exercises, full-scale lawyering simulations, and “case rounds” where we plan for and reflect on task performance in actual cases.  It addresses topics such as advanced client interviewing and counseling; witness preparation, oral examination of witnesses and oral argument; working effectively with interpreters and translators; and drafting and persuasive presentation of documentary evidence and argument.  All these skills are exercised with careful attention to the implications of a multilingual, multicultural environment for lawyering proficiency.  Finally, the spring seminar is largely devoted to thoughtful exploration of career decisions and various models of law practice, with special emphasis on the problems and possibilities of small/solo independent law practice.

Student schedules must accommodate occasional appearances in Immigration Courts in Manhattan and at Napanoch and Fishkill, NY, and visits to prisons, all about one hour by car from the Law School.  Generally we carpool to these.

Permission of the professor, based upon application and interview, is required.  Immigration Law and/or Asylum and Refugee Law, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Trial Advocacy, and Interviewing, Counseling & Negotiation are recommended.  Preference is given to third- and fourth-year students.