Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights

From left to right: Versely Rosales (Alum ’14), Prof. Ramzi Kassem, Prof. Nermeen Arastu, Nasrin Moznu (Alum ’14) and Supervising Attorney Diala Shamas From left to right: Versely Rosales (Alum ’14), Prof. Ramzi Kassem, Prof. Nermeen Arastu, Nasrin Moznu (Alum ’14) and Supervising Attorney Diala Shamas

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 perceived 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 fair process at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and other U.S. sites, secret or known.

By supporting and representing non-citizens and those denied the rights attendant to citizenship, 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, law and security, discrimination within the immigration system, gender violence and the Violence Against Women Act, and immigrant workers' rights.

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 detained legal permanent residents with criminal convictions, unaccompanied minors, 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 tribunals and international fora.

INRC members continue to support immigrant community organizations and labor groups in non-litigation advocacy, organizing, and awareness raising, including know-your-rights trainings through project work in addition to their docket assignments. A few examples of this project work include: intake work at community-based organizations, trainings and support for women self-petitioning under the Violence Against Women Act, advocating for better conditions in local immigration detention centers and participation in our in-house Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) Project.

The CLEAR Project provides free legal services, know your rights trainings and support for community organizing on a broad range of issues that arise in connection to “national security” and “counterterrorism” policies and practices. In a typical semester, CLEAR students may represent individuals approached by the FBI or NYPD for questioning or those who experience travel difficulties due to placement on no-fly lists; facilitate know your rights workshops in mosques, community associations and student groups; and support local community organizing campaigns. For more information on CLEAR please visit www.cunyclear.org and http://www.law.cuny.edu/academics/clinics/immigration/clear.html.

 
Members of the INRC 2015 team with Professor Ramzi Kassem (left to right: Cadesha Pearson, Jean Paul Rivera, Brendan Rush, Andrew Adams, Syeda Tasnim, Stephanie Rivera, Nabila Taj, Allegra Vechio and Imara de Montfort)left to right: Cadesha Pearson, Jean Paul Rivera, Brendan Rush, Andrew Adams, Syeda Tasnim, Stephanie Rivera, Nabila Taj, Allegra Vechio and Imara de Montfort

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 various collectives in advancement of campaigns for social and economic justice.

We also represent community organizations by providing legislative and policy counsel on a variety of matters and undertake community education programs in New York.

Finally, we advocate for individuals with applications for immigration and other benefits before federal agencies.

Overall, we train students to advance social and economic justice through a reflective practice on behalf of individual clients and activist groups.

Substantively, across our docket areas, INRC students grapple daily with the complexities of immigration law, Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues, international human rights and humanitarian law, and other issues.

Our students may be responsible for a range of roles in these cases, including trial advocacy, legal research and writing, oral argument, client interviewing, working with social workers, experts and interpreters, and coordination with accompanying political campaigns.

Concretely, INRC students have drafted, filed, and argued pleadings and motions in federal district court and immigration court; they have examined and cross-examined witnesses during live proceedings; they have written appellate and Supreme Court briefs on live client matters; they have petitioned before international bodies; 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 various immigration detention facilities in the greater New York City area and at the U.S. military prison facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Finally, students participate in a range of media and political advocacy to advance client interests, including drafting op-eds for publication and interfacing with reporters on cutting edge clinic cases.

Examples of our work include:

  • Litigating in U.S. Immigration Court on behalf of a 31 year old refugee from Ukraine who has been detained by the Department of Homeland Security for over a year due to his negligible criminal history
  • Litigating in U.S. Immigration Court and Queens Family Court on behalf of a 17 year old unaccompanied minor who fled gang violence in El Salvador
  • 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 before the Board of Immigration Appeals on behalf of an undocumented woman who was thrown into deportation proceedings after Department of Homeland Security Agents racially profiled her for speaking Spanish. We argue that all evidence gathered from the illegal stop should be suppressed.
  • 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
  • Litigating cutting edge habeas corpus petitions in U.S. Federal District Court, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Algerian, Libyan, Saudi, Syrian, and Yemeni prisoners held indefinitely, without charge or fair process at U.S. military prisons at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
  • Serving as lead defense counsel for a defendant before the Military Commission at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
  • Representing a number of prisoners before the Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
  • Petitioning on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Representing a U.S. citizen through administrative hearings after his passport was revoked without explanation when he went to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen to register the birth of his child
  • 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
 
CLEAR Students Xue Huang (Alum ’14); Michelle Born (Alum ’14) and Shabana Shahabuddin (Class of 2015) tabling in QueensCLEAR Students Xue Huang (Alum ’14); Michelle Born (Alum ’14) and Shabana Shahabuddin (Class of 2015) tabling in Queens"

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.

 
Prof. Alizabeth Newman (far right) with students from INRC organizing with Sepa Mujer.Prof. Alizabeth Newman (far right) with students from INRC organizing with Sepa Mujer.

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 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. Students also share strategies and brainstorm solutions through frequent case rounds, giving all an opportunity to hear about what others are working on.

Throughout the year, we invite INRC alumni to return to the classroom as teachers to share career guidance, substantive training and experiences in the field.

 
(2014 CUNY Law Grads and INRC Alum Christopher Costa, Kirby Einhorn and Allison Apollo after a successful hearing at 26 Federal Plaza)(2014 CUNY Law Grads and INRC Alum Christopher Costa, Kirby Einhorn and Allison Apollo after a successful hearing at 26 Federal Plaza)

Clinic Graduates

Many INRC graduates work in defender organizations, legal non-profits, or solo or small firm practices in the region. Below are a few examples:

  • Attorney, Brooklyn Family Defense Project, Brooklyn, NY
  • Attorney, Juvenile Rights Division, Legal Aid Society, New York, NY
  • Associate, Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP, New York, NY
  • Attorney, Outten & Golden LLP
  • 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
  • Immigration Attorney, Civil Action Practice, The Bronx Defenders
  • Director, UnLocal, Inc (a non-profit organization incubated by the CUNY School of Law’s Incubator Program)
  • 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

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CLOSE-UP: Immigrant and Refugee Rights <pdf>

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

Faculty in the Program