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Immigration Justice Clinic

Law 833A/833B

Two semesters (possibly one semester, fall semester only)
Preference for applicants who intend to participate for two semesters
6 credits/semester (4 clinical, 2 academic) or
4 credits/semester (2 clinical, 2 academic)

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, employment, asylum, or pursuant to specific federal programs such as Violence Against Women, Special Immigrant Juveniles, the Diversity Visa, Anti-Trafficking, Temporary Protected Status, or the U Visa. These cases often arise from intake sessions we conduct at community organizations that assist immigrants, like Neighbors Link in Mount Kisco (, the Hispanic Resource Center in Mamaroneck (, and the Haitian-American Cultural and Social Organization in Spring Valley.  We represent immigrants facing deportation (now called “removal”) in the Immigration Courts of New York City and occasionally at correctional facilities such as Downstate and Ulster in Fishkill and Napanoch, New York. 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, located at John Jay Legal Services (

LI’s develop a preliminary diagnosis of each 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 draft and argue 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 and other lawyering tasks. 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 insurance, and workers’ compensation hearings, as well as in 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 is encouraged.

The IJC begins with assigned reading over the summer and, before fall semester starts, a three-day “boot camp” of intensive training to get “up to speed” on basic immigration law and practice. The IJC curriculum includes written and in-class exercises, 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 developed with careful attention to the implications of a multilingual, multicultural environment for lawyering proficiency. 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.

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.