Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights

Program Overview

The Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic (INRC), formerly (and still formally, for now) the "Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic," represents and supports non-citizens in a variety of settings and courts, covering immigration issues, law and security, and gender violence.

Non-citizens have complicated relationships with law and government in the United States. Throughout U.S. history, immigration, both regulated and unregulated, has been one of the foundations of economic and cultural development. It holds equally true that immigrants and non-citizens are commonly targeted as scapegoats by authorities during times of real and illusory threat to U.S. national and economic security. For instance, law becomes the instrument by which immigrants are deported and exploited, families are split, and communities of color, particularly, are subject to subordination. As a result, workers fear reporting abuses by supervisors and battered women are afraid to call the police. It is also in the name of national security and under cover of legal authority that non-citizens are abused and indefinitely imprisoned without charge or process at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and other U.S. sites, secret or known. The INRC assists non-citizens--either through individual legal representation or as groups and organizations--as they assert their rights to live in the United States without fear, exploitation and subordination, or to be free from U.S. custody. By supporting and representing non-citizens, we aim to train law students to become thoughtful, principled, skilled and committed public interest lawyers.

The INRC was one of the first immigration law clinics in the nation and has a distinguished record of litigation and advocacy in support of communities and their organizations. Current faculty have practice backgrounds and scholarly interests in the following areas: asylum and immigration law, immigration consequences of criminal legal issues, immigrant workers' rights, gender violence and the Violence Against Women Act, and "national security" law and issues.

INRC attempts to evolve constantly to meet community need and because we wish to model a practice of law that is flexible rather than fixed. Most of the cases on our docket are selected strategically to test or develop an area of law. In recent terms, INRC students have represented legal permanent residents with criminal convictions, domestic violence survivors and asylum-seekers in deportation proceedings. Students have also represented prisoners of various nationalities presently or formerly held at American military facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and at other detention sites worldwide, in federal district and appellate courts and before military commissions. INRC members also continue to support immigrant community organizations and labor groups in non-litigation advocacy, organizing, and awareness raising, including know-your-rights trainings.


Typical Student Practice

The INRC represents individuals in federal and immigration court proceedings at the trial and appellate levels. We endeavor to undertake individual cases referred to us by community organizations and in advancement of campaigns for social and economic justice. We represent community organizations by providing legislative and policy counsel on a variety of matters and undertake community education programs in the neighborhoods of New York. Finally, we advocate for individuals with applications for immigration benefits before federal agencies. Overall, we train students to advance social and economic justice through a reflective practice on behalf of individual immigrants and activist groups.

Examples of our work include:

  • Litigating in Federal District Court on behalf of immigrant kitchen workers deprived of overtime and straight-time pay against a high-end chain of Manhattan restaurants
  • Litigating in Federal District Court on behalf of a domestic worker subject to exploitative work conditions, including an hourly wage below $2 per hour
  • Litigating in U.S. Immigration Court on behalf of a 45-year old legal permanent resident in deportation proceedings because of a misdemeanor conviction from 1986
  • Litigating in U.S. Immigration Court on behalf of a woman in deportation proceedings who is seeking immigration status independent of the physically and emotionally abusive husband from whom she has escaped
  • Litigating in U.S. Immigration Court on behalf of a 23-year old man seeking refugee status because his home was bulldozed and father was killed by the government in his home country due to his involvement in opposition politics
  • Creating education programs for community organizations, pro bono practitioners, and applicants for naturalization
  • Participating in a city-wide call-in program for immigration law inquiries
  • Serving as legislative counsel for a community organization mounting a campaign for pro-immigrant worker legislation in the New York City Council

Distinctive Skills Focus

In addition to the set of legal skills which are taught in all of our clinical programs, the INRC emphasizes the following distinctive elements of public interest practice in our fieldwork and classroom instruction:

Policy Advocacy: We believe strongly that excellent public interest lawyers must have basic policy advocacy skills, such as knowledge of legislative drafting, framing techniques, grassroots lobbying methodologies, and media advocacy, to complement litigation expertise.

Participatory Litigation: Because we litigate with the goal of furthering the mobilization of our clients for social and economic justice, we contextualize traditional legal skills in a participatory framework and expect our students to work with clients as collaboratively as possible.

Know Your Rights and Community Education: As part of a law school that is firmly rooted in New York City's neighborhoods, we think it is essential to train students to engage in know-your-rights and community education programs, especially ones that can be constructed to be sustained by our community-based collaborators.

Lawyers and Client Mobilization: We teach student lawyers to work with community-based organizers because we believe that lawyering alone will not advance social and economic justice. Through these collaborations, we explore the strategic and ethical challenges posed by a mode of practice that aims to mobilize clients, in addition to asserting legal rights and defenses on their behalf.

Strategies for Social and Economic Justice: Because the clinic immerses students in multiple modes of legal practice, we closely examine the strategic choices facing public interest lawyers engaged in larger struggles for justice.


Classroom Component

In addition to fieldwork supervision meetings with faculty, student lawyers participate in seminars approximately 5 hours per week. Currently, the INRC emphasizes substantive law instruction at the beginning of the academic year, followed by intense focus on specific lawyering skills, such as theory of the case, interviewing and counseling. Because one or more of our student teams have full hearings in court each year, we also focus on trial skills, such as direct and cross examination and trial planning. To the greatest extent possible, we use the actual cases on which students work to teach legal skills and stimulate grounded discussions on legal ethics and advocacy strategy.


Clinic Graduates

Many INRC graduates work in solo or small firm practices in the region with the support of the Community Legal Resource Network. In addition, graduates currently work in the following capacities:

  • Associate, Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP, New York, NY
  • Attorney, Brooklyn Family Defense Project, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Attorney, Juvenile Rights Division, Legal Aid Society, New York, NY
  • Director, Immigrant Women and Children Program, City Bar Fund, New York, NY
  • EJW Fellow, Sanctuary for Families, New York, NY.
  • Law Clerk, Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, Miami, FL.
  • Law Clerk, New Jersey Superior Court, Elizabeth, NJ.
  • Law Clerk, U.S. Magistrate Judge, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Senior Counsel and Director, Community Services Team, Holland & Knight LLP, Washington, D.C.
  • Staff Attorney, inMotion, New York, NY.
  • Attorney, Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Attorney, International Justice Network, Queens, NY.
  • Attorney in a small practice in Florida focusing on criminal defense in terrorism cases.
  • Organizer, Sakhi, New York, NY.

Section on Gender Violence

Enrollment permitting, a group of students in the INRC will focus on immigrant women and gender violence and will do so in an interdisciplinary environment. The course will examine domestic violence in marginalized communities and the unique barriers women must confront in accessing support. We will work with social work students to provide comprehensive support to survivors of violence. We will track the genesis of the immigration remedies for this group and we will look at policy matters contrasting initial Congressional intent to provide immigration relief as a matter national interest with the post 9/11 mentality of rewarding only "deserving victims." We will study immigration remedies for gender violence including political asylum, self-petitions and cancellation of removal under the Violence Against Women Act and U- visas. Your primary individual casework will fall into these areas. Project work will give us opportunities to engage with community based organizations in non-traditional lawyering roles with an eye toward furthering their mission.


Law & Security Cases

The INRC includes on its docket a number of civil liberties cases arising out of government policies in the aftermath of September 11, including citizen and non-citizen military imprisonment without charge or process, Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues, international human rights and humanitarian law issues, and other issues.

Students may be responsible for a range of roles in these cases, including legal research and writing, oral argument, client interviewing, and coordination with accompanying political campaigns. Concretely, INRC students have drafted, filed and argued motions in federal district court; they have written appellate and Supreme Court briefs on live client matters; and they have engaged in negotiations with various U.S. government agencies as well as foreign government representatives in New York and Washington, D.C. in order to advance client interests. Students have also conducted privileged meetings with clients at the U.S. military prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


CLOSE-UP: Immigrant and Refugee Rights <pdf>

Read our special feature from CUNY Law's Spring 2010 Magazine.

Faculty in the Program