Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Tag: Harvard Immigration Project

Student Practice Organizations Panel 2019

Students attend 2019 SPO Panel

Student Practice Organizations often provide 1Ls with their first opportunity to gain practical legal experience at HLS. Each SPO is typically led by a student board consisting of 2L and 3L students and is supervised by a licensed attorney. Across the 11 SPOs currently active at HLS, a variety of focus areas including housing, immigration, and prison law are represented. Students participating in SPOs do not receive academic credit, however, their hours can count towards the 50-hour pro bono graduation requirement.

The SPO Panel, held earlier this week, provides an opportunity for students to hear directly from the students boards and members of SPOs. During the 2019 SPO Panel, representatives from all 11 SPOs spoke on focus areas, levels of commitment, attorney supervision and particularly emphasized the communities formed in each individual SPO through the work that they do.

“Community is one of our main priorities. It was a game changer for me. I met some of my closest friends, it reminded me why I decided to come to law school.” said Emma Broches, co-president of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, on her experience with SPOs.

President of Harvard Defenders Martina Tiku also noted how SPOs encourage members to interact with other students and individuals in the field who are committed to and passionate about the work that they do, reflecting the sentiments of several other panel participants.  “You get a chance to talk to people who are passionate about their work.” she said.

For students interested in joining an SPO, the organizations hold information sessions and open houses are coming up. All SPOs require some form of registration or sign-up, with several requiring separate applications. While all SPOs accept students in the fall, some  accept members during the spring term. Information session, open house, and registration/application deadline dates can be found on the  Opportunities for Student Practice Matrix.


SPO Skills Matrix

SPO Sign-Ups

SPO Student Reflections

Reflections on Participation in HIRC


As I look back on my three years, my involvement with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) has without a doubt been one of the most rewarding parts of my law school career. As a first generation Mexican-American who was raised on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border, being an advocate for the immigrant community is something I have always been passionate about. Fortunately, at HLS there are many ways you can become involved in immigration advocacy.

I first became involved in this space my 1L year as an interpreter for HIRC and the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a related student practice organization (SPO). First-year students cannot enroll in a clinic, but they can become active in SPOs to develop client advocacy skills. I regrettably did not apply to HIP because I was too worried about the demands of 1L year. However, serving as an interpreter for asylum hearing prep sessions still allowed me to make an impact without straining my schedule. I was overjoyed when the client I served as an interpreter for was ultimately granted asylum!

My 2L year I continued interpreting for HIRC and HIP. Enrollment in HIRC is lottery-based, not by application, so due to the large volume of interest I did not get a fall semester spot my 2L year. Nevertheless, I was still able to get involved in the clinic beyond serving as an interpreter. I asked the Assistant Director of HIRC, Sabi Ardalan ’02, if I could enroll in the clinic as an Independent Clinical student for our January Term (known as J-Term). To my delight, she was willing to accommodate me and I was able to have a very fulfilling three weeks. I prepared and submitted applications for asylum and other forms of immigration protection for three clients. I was also fortunate to be introduced to one client who I actually ended up working with towards almost the end of her asylum case.

My 3L year I secured a fall semester spot in the clinic and it ended up being the most rewarding learning experience in all of my three years. I worked on a few cases, but predominantly worked on the asylum case for the client I had met during J-Term. We met at least three times a week during the semester and as a result grew very close. I worked on submitting her filing in November and crafting her affidavit (her personal declaration). Because I grew very invested in her case and wanted to extend, Sabi once again allowed me to work in the clinic during J-Term so that I could represent her at the hearing. I was excited to see the case through every step of the way.

To our chagrin, the government shutdown prevented our client’s hearing from happening. It will probably be rescheduled after I graduate, given the backlog that currently exists in immigration court. Throughout the semester, we were repeatedly reminded that this is a realm of the law that is continuously challenged. At least once a week a new proclamation would come out from the Executive Branch that threatened the chances and well being of our clients. However, the lawyers at HIRC are up for the challenge and their relentless advocacy inspired and taught us the same. We learned how to be creative in our arguments in order to fight despite working in a field where the law is not in our favor.

I learned so much during my time at HIRC and was able to immediately apply that knowledge when I volunteered in Tijuana with Al Otro Lado during Christmas break. It felt rewarding to go back to my home—now at the heart of our current immigration debate—and advocate for the asylum seekers.

As I finally step into the world of an actual lawyer this summer, I will forever carry with me the lessons I learned at HIRC.


Asseret Frausto is a 3L from the Tijuana-San Diego border. She graduated from UCLA in 2015. Prior to law school, she worked at a tech company (Oracle) in Silicon Valley. She spent her 1L summer as a 1L Diversity Fellow at White & Case in Los Angeles and at Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. She spent her 2L summer at O’Melveny in Los Angeles and in D.C. At HLS, she is the Co-President of La Alianza, a student attorney with the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), a board member of HL Central, and a member of the Women’s Law Association (WLA). In her spare time she likes listening to podcasts, watching Friends reruns, and eating delicious Latin food. 

HIRC & HIP Submit Comments on Proposed Removal of Fee Waiver

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

On November 27, HIRC and the HLS Immigration Project (HIP) submitted comments on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ proposed change to the I-912 Form to remove the means-tested benefit as an eligibility option. Not only will this proposed change create superfluous work for USCIS, but it will also contribute to the many hardships facing asylees. In the comments, HIRC and HIP note: “In our experience the income-based fee waiver greatly increases the processing time of the application, forcing asylees to needlessly wait longer for their green cards. Many asylees have already waited years for their asylum applications to be adjudicated. Thus, the Proposed Change places an undue burden on asylees, who are both exceptionally vulnerable and deserving of fair and efficient adjudication of their applications.”

You can read complete comments from HIRC and HIP here.

We would like to thank HIRC clinical student Alicia Coneys ’19 for her help with these comments.

SPO Student Reflection: Answering the Call – In Community for Justice

By: Felipe Hernandez, JD ’20

Source: Pixabay

As a first-generation college student, my parents and I, who worked nightshifts as janitors, never dreamed that one day I would attend Harvard Law. As undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles, our family faced periodic evictions, interactions with the criminal legal system, labor violations, and discrimination without access to legal aid. Throughout my life, and increasingly during 1L, I regularly received frantic phone calls from family members or friends undergoing life altering challenges including incarceration, deportation, eviction, child custody issues, domestic violence, and police violence. While these experiences were my primary motivation for changing my career from the non-profit world to attend law school, they continue to fuel my involvement in student practice organizations (SPOs) and clinics to develop the necessary legal skills to answer these calls.

To better understand the criminal legal system afflicting folx back home, I joined Harvard Defenders, where we provide representation to people facing criminal show-cause hearings. The Defenders’ community immediately became a home of diverse, radical, and loving people working to counter the weight of the criminal legal system and exploitative social order on low-income, mostly people of color, in Boston. Practically, I learned how to respond to criminal complaints, interview people we serve through an anti-oppressive method, develop case strategy in team meetings, gather evidence, cross-exam police officers, and advocate zealously for our people in court. The stories of the folx we represented – from domestic violence to struggling with drug addiction and mental health to petty larceny – resonated deeply with the people I was trying to help back home. Understanding the limitations of direct representation in addressing systemic violence, I am most excited when our community discusses strategies to address structural oppression afflicting the people we serve, including engaging in community movement lawyering and cultivating an abolitionist politic and practice within and outside of Defenders.

I also joined the HLS Immigration Project (HIP) to develop the capabilities to help people facing ICE persecution, imprisonment, and deportation. I transferred the skills I learned from preparing asylum applications and for bond hearings in immigration detention and removal proceedings to help family and community members fighting deportation. In HIP, I met students and staff devoted to addressing the consequences of global inequality and imperialism that displaces millions of people, and pushes them to migrate through violent borders. I spent my 2018 Spring Break with American Gateways in San Antonio helping people imprisoned in the South Texas Detention Center prepare asylum applications. Our team included some of the most inspiring, critical, and incredible law students at HLS. This experience was life changing because we witnessed the psychological, physical, and emotional abuse that the U.S. immigration system inflicts onto people fleeing violence. For example, as I worked with one of my clients, Melissa, on her asylum application, she shared her frustrations with the U.S immigration system: “I came here because I thought it would be better, I thought they [the immigration judge] would believe me and help. Instead, I am in prison.” On our final day, as we said goodbye and talked about her next steps, we both exchanged tears of pain, power, and hope. She had been fighting tirelessly for decades for herself and daughter to escape abuse. She won many battles but the structural imbalance of power was overwhelming. As I left, she told me that she felt more energized to kept fighting. That night, I wrote in my journal:

“I came to HLS because I thought I could fix it all as easily as I had helped family members in the past. How naïve. Our immigration system is built to undermine and reject basic notions of humanity. People with the audacity to seek a better life, after decades of abuse, are told ‘We don’t believe you’ by administrative judges sitting back in their cushy chairs and folx are sent back where they are certain to undergo similar, if not worse, traumatic experiences. I wonder if what we did was enough. I wonder how we can dream of and actively work toward building a better world.” – March 16, 2018

The impact of my time at HLS has already had ripple effects on those I promised I’d serve because of the skills I gained through SPOs. For example, I helped a family member fight a criminal charge she did not commit after being overcharged and pressured by a district attorney to take a plea. I helped another family member fight an eviction proceeding initiated because of her partner’s undocumented status. While these skills have improved my ability to respond to some of the ongoing calls for help I receive, I remain frustrated at my inability to substantively dismantle systemic causes of these calls. This is why I decided to serve as a student-attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB); to improve my capabilities in providing direct legal aid and to be in community with an inspiring group of brilliant people who are consciously cultivating spaces and practices to address systemic injustices in coalition with the Boston community.

Being involved in SPOs and clinics has not been easy. Those of us involved constantly struggle to grapple with our evolving critical views of social and reparative justice, realities within and outside the criminal and civil legal systems, and strategic visions of how to engage in long-term movement building yet deal with the urgent needs of people we serve and advocate with. Nevertheless, we persist to answer the calls for justice because of our shared prophetic love for the communities we serve.

Students honored at 2018 Class Day ceremony

Via Harvard Law Today

Class Day 2018 3

Credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Tabitha Cohen (left) and Edith Sangueza, two of the many students recognized during the Class Day 2018 ceremony for various accomplishments during their time at Harvard Law School. Cohen and Sangueza (along with Annie Manhardt, not pictured) were awarded with the Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Award, given each year to students who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services in low-income communities.

A number of Harvard Law students from the Class of 2018 received special awards during the Class Day ceremony on May 23. They were recognized for outstanding leadership, citizenship, compassion and dedication to their studies and the profession.

Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award

This year’s Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award was presented to Tabitha Cohen, Annie Manhardt and Edith Sangueza. (Read more)

Edith Sangueza contributed nearly 2,000 pro bono hours by working with three student practice organizations – Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, and Project No One Leaves – in addition to working as a student attorney for four semesters with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). She spent her 2016 Spring Break volunteering with South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, in Harlingen, Texas, and her 2017 Spring Break volunteering with American Gateways, in San Antonio. Her commitment to social justice also extended throughout her summers – she worked with Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, in Mexico City, and with the Bronx Defenders, in New York.

Three students win Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Awards 1

Credit: Lorin Granger

Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt

At Harvard Law School, Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt both participated in the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) and the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI). At PLAP, they spent hundreds of pro bono hours as co-executive directors, managing a multitude of daily internal governance and programming issues. Throughout their time, they demonstrated tireless effort and dedication to advocating for the needs of prisoners by conducting investigations, counseling and interviewing clients, and presenting compelling arguments at hearings.

In a precedent-setting case for an elderly disabled parole client Cohen argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court whose ruling extended the Americans with Disabilities Act to mentally and physically disabled prisoners seeking parole. As a result of the case, the state must now help parolees get support systems in place in the community.

While at HLS, Manhardt also worked with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and the Office of the Defender General in Vermont. Cohen worked with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program , the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida and La Fundacion para el Acceso a la Justicia de Puerto Rico in San Juan.

The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Service Program at HLS.  J.D. students in the graduating class who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to pro bono work receive the award and an honorarium.

HLS requires all students to perform 50 hours of pro bono services but most go far beyond. This year, 10 students exceeded 2,000 hours of service and 112 students volunteered more than 1,000 hours.

In total, the Harvard Law School Class of 2018 contributed 376,532 hours of pro bono legal work.

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Mana Azarmi wins CLEA’s Outstanding Clinical Student Award

Via Harvard Law Today

Photo courtesy of Mana Azarmi Mana Azarmi spent time in London working on an independent clinical project during her time at HLS.

Photo courtesy of Mana Azarmi
Mana Azarmi spent time in London working on an independent clinical project during her time at HLS.

Mana Azarmi ’17 is the winner of the Outstanding Clinical Student Award from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA). The award is presented annually to one student from each law school for his/her outstanding clinical coursework and contributions to the clinical community.

Azarmi participated in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) for two semesters. Over the course of her three years at Harvard Law, Azarmi logged more than 1,000 pro bono hours in service to the community through the Harvard Immigration Project, the International Human Rights Clinic, the Crimmigration Clinic, and two independent clinical projects which she designed on her own — one in London working with Article 36, a UK nonprofit, and the other in San Francisco working with the Center for Justice and Accountability.

In addition to advocating for HIRC clients, Azarmi spent a substantial amount of time working on crimmigration and Immigration Response Initiative-related projects. She wrote answers to frequently asked questions related to the travel ban, researched legal arguments to oppose a Muslim special registration system, drafted questions for Attorney General Jeff Session’s confirmation hearings on the Muslim ban, and wrote an amicus brief for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In their nomination, Azarmi’s nominators noted her passion for public service work and her commitment to human rights, immigration, and privacy issues, saying her background and considerable skills made her an outstanding candidate for this award.

“Mana is [also] a fantastic manager and motivator of others” they wrote. “For an extensive report on Syrian Refugee Resettlement that the Clinic is writing, Mana rallied a team of over 10 students to help with research and cite-checking. Without Mana’s fantastic research, writing, and advocacy skills, the Clinic could not have taken on all the projects we have been involved with over the past four months since the election.”

Going global

Via Harvard Law Today

Highlighting the international experiences of five of the 2016 Chayes Fellows

In the summer of 2016, 87 Harvard Law School students worked in 30 countries on a diverse array of projects; 19 of those students traveled to 13 countries through the Chayes International Public Service Fellowship Program. Chayes Fellows spend eight weeks working within the governments of developing nations, or with the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them. Their projects take many forms (see a related gallery), this year addressing topics ranging from violence against children in Thailand to transitional justice processes in Colombia to freedom of expression in Poland. The profiles below highlight the experiences of five of the 2016 Chayes Fellows.

Edith Sangüeza ’18
Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, Mexico City, Mexico

Edith Sangüeza ’18

Credit: Lorin Granger

Edith Sangüeza’s interest in immigration issues goes back to her undergraduate degree in ethnicity, race, and migration. But it wasn’t until she was faced with the reality of immigration issues as a teacher in California and Mexico that she considered immigration law as a career path. Working with a large Latino population, Sangüeza heard first-hand from her students and their families of the vulnerability and day-to-day difficulties they faced. “I realized I couldn’t doanything. I could listen and be aware, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it, and I saw law school as a way to actually learn more about immigration policy and learn about the laws we have and about how to be an advocate.”

As a 1L, Sangüeza joined the Harvard Immigration Project’s Removal Defense Project, and took Professor Gerald Neuman’s Immigration Law class. For the summer, she knew she wanted to return to Mexico, work on direct client representation, and learn more about policy from the Mexican perspective.

With the Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), an organization dedicated to advocating for migrant women and children, Sangüeza worked with Emily Norman ‘15, an IMUMI immigration lawyer and 2013 Chayes Fellow. Sangüeza interviewed and drafted declarations for clients seeking humanitarian visas in categories designated for victims of criminal activity and violence against women, and wrote a paper on the challenges faced by transnational families, who are often unable to access social services if they do not have specific, and difficult to obtain, identification documents.

“It was fascinating to see what immigration looks like from outside the U.S., seeing what the challenges are, the different processes, and getting a chance to compare it to the Mexican immigration system,” says Sangüeza, “it was important to see that there is life in Mexico after deportation–that one can build a productive and happy life. But it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is–they shouldn’t have so many legal obstacles on top of all the practical obstacles that they face.”

Sangüeza’s experience has reaffirmed her desire to work in the immigration field. She is again working with the Removal Defense Team, as well as with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s family practice, and is hoping to spend her next summer working on issues at the intersection of criminal law and immigration.

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Harvard Immigration Project: A voice for the immigrant community

By Amy Volz, J.D. ’18
Amy Volz, J.D. '18

Amy Volz, J.D. ’18 at the 2016 HIP Symposium

The Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) is excited to serve as a voice on campus for immigration advocacy during a year in which debates about U.S. immigration policy and the global migrant crisis have put this area of the law in unusual focus. We strive to elevate the voice of the immigrant community on the HLS campus while providing students with meaningful hands-on experience in immigration and refugee law.

I joined HIP’s Immigration Services Project (ISP) in the fall of my 1L year. My case partner, another 1L from my section, and I were matched with a client from Central America who had recently been granted asylum in the U.S. with the help of the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinic (HIRC). Our goal was to assist her with her application for permanent residency in the United States. Over the course of the semester, we met with our client several times to collect the required documents and prepare her application. While we continued assembling her materials over the winter, we took on a second client, also an asylee from Central America. We sent out both applications in the spring and waited impatiently for news from Department of Homeland Security!

The good news came over the summer: both of our clients were granted permanent residency in the U.S. Having learned over the course of the year what our clients had been through on the road to these applications, it was incredibly rewarding to witness their elation when their green cards arrived. They are now on the path to citizenship and can finally build their lives in Boston with the protections and benefits of permanent residency.

My experience with HIP has reaffirmed my commitment to working  for the public interest in a client-centered role. I’m fortunate to have met a community of passionate and talented people with a wealth of experience in advocacy work. This year, as Co-President, I’m excited for HIP to continue serving as a resource for students interested in immigration law. HIP members also work on two other legal services projects: the Removal Defense Project, in which students represent ICE detainees in bond hearings before the Boston Immigration Court, and the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal representation to refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. We are also developing initiatives to provide students interested in immigration policy with resources to get engaged in the local community. Finally, we host regular speaker events with practitioners, judges, and HLS professors to highlight current issues in immigration and refugee law and look forward to our second annual HIP Symposium next spring!

Cravath fellows travel globally to experience international and comparative law

Via HLS News

Thirteen Harvard Law School students were selected as the 2016 Cravath International Fellows. The fellows traveled to 12 countries for winter term clinical placements or independent research with an international, transnational, or comparative law focus. Below are accounts of the experiences of four of the new fellows.

Crystal Nwaneri ’17

Crystal Nwaneri ’17 spent winter term in Singapore, conducting research on the legal and technological implications of a court ruling permitting a third party to retransmit over-the-air television without permission of the broadcasters. For Nwaneri, this was a chance to further explore her long-standing interest in the legal challenges brought about by rapidly advancing technology.

As an undergraduate, Nwaneri examined public policy and how legislators and private organizations shape and regulate the technology industry. Prior to law school, she worked at Dell’s government relations office in Washington, D.C., briefing their executives on the internet technology issues discussed at Congressional hearings.

Upon entering Harvard Law, she enrolled in a reading group with Professor of Practice Urs Gasser about the future of online privacy, joined the Women’s Law Association and the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and began working as an editor at the Journal of Law and Technology. As a 2L, she is focusing on the legal infrastructures that support technology innovation, which may affect access for underserved communities. She also supports clients in the Cyberlaw Clinic and is a research assistant with the Student Privacy Initiative at the Berkman Center.

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Harvard Immigration Project fights for the rights of immigrants

CaptureBy Michelle Ha J.D. ’16

It is a particularly exciting time to be involved in immigration and refugee issues. The international spotlight on the migrant crisis in Europe has focused attention worldwide on the movement of people across borders, fleeing violence and poverty in search of a better life. Global public opinion has also shifted towards recognizing a shared moral obligation to help those in need and a forceful push on states to do more.

The Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) is excited to serve as a forum on campus for students interested in being a part of this incredible moment of energy and opportunity. The breadth and depth of our activities demonstrate the diversity and interconnectedness of the various areas within the field. We kicked off the year by partnering with Project Citizenship during the Citizenship Day workshop in September, where student volunteers helped legal permanent residents in the Boston area apply for citizenship. Student members of each of HIP’s four projects are gearing up for another productive year of advocating and training in different areas of refugee and immigration law: our campus chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project  will be teaming with pro bono attorneys to assist refugees in the Middle East apply for refugee status and resettlement in the United States; the Removal Defense Project will be working on the defensive side of asylum proceedings, assisting noncitizen clients in detention facing potential deportation; the Immigration Services Project  will be helping former clients of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) who have settled in the United States with follow-up immigration needs, such as petitioning for family reunification; and the Policy Project will be conducting legal and policy research and advocacy to support the Massachusetts Trust Act Coalition in its mission to reform policing in immigrant communities by combatting unconstitutional detention policies.

HIP is also organizing and sponsoring events on campus to help raise awareness and foster discussion on the important topics in migration that are being debated around the world today. Family detention policy in the United States will be highlighted and contextualized during a coffee chat with a mother who was held in a detention facility in Texas with her children; screening of a VICE documentary that follows the journeys of several Syrian refugees fleeing from the war is currently being planned; and the first HIP symposium will invite academics and practitioners from all over the world to engage in the difficult theoretical and policy questions confronting us today, such as the normative grounds for distinguishing between political refugees and economic migrants in refugee law. We look forward to engaging on immigration and refugee issues and providing space for Harvard Law School and the greater community to serve as leaders in thinking about innovative approaches to solving a global issue.

HIP Students Continue to Push for Massachusetts Trust Act

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Summer is coming to an end, but the fight to pass the Massachusetts Trust Act continues. For most of the past year, the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) has had the privilege of membership in the coalition of organizations working to end local law enforcement compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, or “ICE holds.” Though the campaign did not succeed in persuading the Massachusetts General Court to adopt a statewide solution, it helped achieve tremendous successes at the local level, in the form of new policies adopted by several localities in Massachusetts, including the cities of Somerville and Cambridge and Hampden County, ending or limiting the use of ICE holds.

HIP students made important contributions to the Trust campaign. They conducted legal research and helped draft sign-on letters to policymakers and law enforcement officials on behalf of the Trust coalition; participated in call-in and write-in lobbying campaigns to state legislators and city councilors to encourage the adoption of Trust policies; and sat in on strategy meetings with coalition members and their legislative allies. More importantly, they will continue to play an important role in the campaign as it moves forward. The Boston City Council is currently considering its own Trust Ordinance, and HIP will assist in the coalition’s efforts to ensure that the measure that is ultimately adopted offers the broadest protections possible. And HIP will be there in 2015, when the statewide bill is reintroduced in the next legislative session of the General Court. We look forward to continuing to work with our community partners to keep up the fight against warrantless immigration detention here in Massachusetts!

HIRC Alumna cited by the 5th Circuit!

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic 

Congratulations to Eva Bitran ’14, HIRC alumna and former co-President of the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP)! Her note for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, “Boumedine at the Border? The Constitution and Foreign Nationals at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” was cited in an important ruling released yesterday from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In Hernandez v. United States, the court allowed the family of a Mexican child shot and killed on the Mexican side of the border to proceed with a Bivens lawsuit against the Customs and Border Patrol agent who shot him from the U.S. side. In arriving at this ruling, the majority opinion, authored by Judge Edward Prado, held that noncitizens interacting with law enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border are entitled to Fifth Amendment due process protections. Bitran’s note was cited to illustrate “the long history of United States involvement beyond the U.S.-Mexico border”—a fact crucial to the majority’s determination that government agents are responsible for respecting the Fifth Amendment rights of foreign nationals occupying areas abroad that are nevertheless under the de facto control of the United States.

Eva will be clerking for Judge Prado next year. Congratulations from HIRC, and best of luck!

Student Reflects on her time with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

Tanika Vigil, J.D. '14

Tanika Vigil, J.D. ’14

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

Tanika Vigil chose to attend law school after working as a legal assistant at a small immigration law firm in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Once she was at Harvard Law, she spent much time working with the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP).

So, what are Tanika’s future plans? She has accepted a 2-year fellowship with the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York City! We were curious about how her time spent with HIP helped her get to where she is now, so we asked her a few questions:

Q: Do you have any memories you would like to share from your time with HIP?

A: My most salient memories from HIP are those in which a group of students came together in joint advocacy of a client. We had many late nights with members of the Bond Hearing Project mooting arguments and reviewing personal statements. We had many long days waiting to access clients and potential clients at detention facilities. And we had many exciting mornings at immigration court ready to present our client’s bond hearing case in front of Judge Day. In each of these moments the amount of time and energy that students dedicated to their clients and to each other was truly stunning.

Q: What do you think the biggest learning experiences were?

A: What I have learned most from HIP is that students have the potential to be dynamic, influential, and powerful advocates. The very existence of HIP–and its developing from a policy and interest group to a Student Practice Organization with the capacity to represent clients–speaks to the potential for student vision and motivation to have a very real practical impact on the ground for clients in need.

Q: How did your time with HIP help you to grow personally/professionally and what did you like about it?

A: HIP affirmed my commitment to engaging in direct client work post-law school and helped me begin to develop the skills necessary to do so starting with my first semester of law school. As a member of the Bond Hearing Project I was able to work on client interviewing, issue spotting, legal writing, oral advocacy, and legal strategy. I was also able to learn about legal procedure, working with and accessing clients in detention facilities, and collaborating with family and community members in pursuit of a client’s goal. While I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to develop these skills as a student, my favorite part of HIP was having the opportunity to do so alongside and with the help of fellow students and our clinical instructor, Phil Torrey.

Q: Did your time with HIP influence your post-grad plans and what are your post-grad plans?

A: My work with HIP 100% influenced my post-graduation plans. Over the past three years with HIP I have learned more about the injustices and inequalities and inequities that the immigration community faces. I have also learned that a group of committed lawyers, working alongside those communities, has the potential to make positive change. For those reasons I have accepted a two-year fellowship post-graduation with the Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC) in New York City. As a fellow with the IJC I will work as an advocate for the most vulnerable members of the immigrant community–those facing detention and deportation.

Q: What are the long-term goals you anticipate in the coming years?

A: In the long-term I hope to give back to the law school experience that has given so much to me by pursuing work in clinical legal education. We need more HIPs in the world and we need more robust and dynamic opportunities for law students across the country to learn by developing practical skills and engaging with real legal challenges.

Thank you and Congratulations Tanika! We wish you the best of luck in New York City!

UP NEXT: Ryan Kurtz talks to us about his time at HIRC and his post-grad plans!

All Ford Fellows Participated in Clinical Education

Last month, three graduating students, Samuel Weiss ’14, Catherine B. Cooper ’14, and David Baake ’14, received Ford Foundation Law School Public Interest Fellowships. The fellowship is designed to identify and help develop new leaders in social justice. All three students participated in the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. Here is what they had to say about their experiences:

Catherine B. Cooper ’14

Catherine B. Cooper ’14

“My clinical experience at HLS was instrumental in preparing me to be a Ford Fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Through the International Human Rights Clinic, I gained skills in litigation, documentation, and human rights advocacy that are essential for both my fellowship and long-term career.  But I am particularly grateful for the incredible people I have had the opportunity to work with.  Through the International Human Rights Clinic, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, and Harvard Immigration Project, I found brilliant mentors who were both inspiring and challenging and a community of public interest students who were mutually supportive and extremely dedicated to clinical work.”

Catherine will serve as a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She will be advocating for reproductive freedom both domestically and globally.

David Baake ’14

David Baake ’14

David Baake, who participated in the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic said “My experience… was one of the highlights of my time in law school. I was able to work on a variety of interesting and important projects, including a memorandum for a Massachusetts state representative, a Supreme Court amicus brief, and a white paper on offshore drilling. These experiences allowed me to develop practical skills that were not emphasized in other aspects of the law school curriculum. They also allowed me to develop a relationship with Professor Jacobs, who has been an excellent teacher and mentor.”

David will be working as a legal fellow in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center in Washington, D.C. He will be supporting the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan through advocacy and litigation.

Samuel Weiss ’14

Samuel Weiss ’14

Samuel participated in the Capital Punishment Clinic and the Crimmigration Clinic. “While the idea of focusing immigration enforcement on folks with criminal convictions has intuitive appeal, in the Crimmigration Clinic we got to see how often good people faced devastating consequences for trivial crimes,” he said. “The statutes most relevant to crimmigration are extremely punitive, especially to people with drug convictions, and often suck discretion out of the system so that immigration judges are left to rubber stamp removal orders. The poor drafting of these statutes makes them confusing but also means that there is room for advocates to be creative in trying to win their clients’ relief. The fact that immigrants facing deportation have no right to counsel creates a huge opportunity for students to help folks navigate an incredibly complex and punitive system. As an experienced practitioner in exactly these types of cases, Phil Torrey was able to closely mentor us as we tried to help folks find some avenue for relief.”

Samuel will work as a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice, in Washington, D.C. During his fellowship he will seek to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement through class-action litigation and policy advocacy.

Please read more about the students in the HLS News article Three from HLS named Ford Fellows; Harris is keynote speaker


“It’s an honor to use our new legal skills…”

By: Lily Axelrod, J.D.’15

Thirty-three professors from Massachusetts law schools have signed on to an important legal opinion drafted by Harvard Law students in support of the Massachusetts Trust Act. The bill seeks to restore the immigrant community’s trust in local law enforcement by limiting the role of local police authorities in the deportation process.

Comprehensive immigration reform has stalled in Congress while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to deport large numbers of noncitizens. But states and cities are stepping up to protect immigrant communities by resisting federal deportation programs such as Secure Communities.

One such pro-immigrant initiative is the Massachusetts Trust Act. If the bill passes, Massachusetts will join California, Connecticut, and cities like New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New Orleans in exercising discretion about when to honor immigration detainer requests. DHS issues these requests to “hold” a noncitizen in jail even after she should be released, for example, if she is not charged with a crime or has completed her sentence.

In 2013, the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a student practice organization, joined a coalition of statewide immigrant community groups and national civil rights organizations devoted to passing the Massachusetts Trust Act. Students learned that in other jurisdictions, similar legal opinions were helpful in clarifying legal issues and gaining support from legislators and law enforcement officials. With support from HIP Supervising Attorney and Lecturer on Law Phil Torrey and Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic Director and Clinical Professor of Law, Professor Deborah Anker, the students researched complex issues from constitutional law to statutory interpretation, and drafted the letter which was circulated to local law professors seeking their support.

“It’s an honor to use our new legal skills to support a community-led effort to improve the climate for our immigrant neighbors,” said HIP Policy Committee member Lily Axelrod, JD’15.

The legal opinion clarifies that immigration detainers are not mandatory, and explains the constitutional problems arising out of enforcement of these detainers. It also emphasizes the growing nationwide consensus that de-coupling immigration enforcement from state and local criminal enforcement is both legal and crucial to ensuring public safety.

The opinion was drafted by the HIP Policy Committee, including Eva Bitran JD’14, Lily Axelrod JD’15, Melanie Berdecia JD’15, Antonia Domingo JD’15, Sarah Adkins JD’15, and Julina Guo JD’15.

The Massachusetts Trust Act Coalition will announce the opinion at a press conference on Wednesday, February 12 at 10:30 am at the Unitarian Universalist Association, adjacent to the State House. They will then deliver it to the chairs of the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and to the office of the Attorney General.

HIP is a student-led organization committed to providing direct legal services and policy advocacy. Law student members represent detained noncitizens in immigration bond hearings, assist with green card applications for refugees, and advocate for policies which respect human rights for immigrants.

The Intersection of Immigration and Criminal Law

Phil Torrey, Clinical Instructor

Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic are featured on the HLS website.

Read more: Clinical Opportunities and a new class at the intersection of immigration and criminal law


Q&A with Immigration Clinic’s Phil Torrey

Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey

We recently sat down with Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey to discuss the intersection of criminal law and immigration, the new course he is teaching this fall, and how he became interested in immigration law. (Please note that responses have been edited for length.)

What is “crimmigration” and what will students learn in the new course and clinical placement?
Crimmigration is the intersection of criminal law and immigration. It can refer to the immigration consequences of criminal activity but it also encompasses the general criminalization of immigration status. Because it’s so difficult to obtain immigration protection for non-citizens who have been accused of engaging in criminal activity, this group is often the most in need of help.

The clinical seminar will include discussion of doctrinal topics as well as policy issues. Students in the clinic will be divided into teams and complete at least one crimmigration-related project. The goal of the course and clinical work is to give students the tools necessary to spot and evaluate the immigration consequences of criminal activity.

How did you become interested in the topic of crimmigration?
When I was volunteering at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), I worked with clients who had criminal convictions in their past. These cases were extremely challenging, but incredibly important as many of the clients had been advised by their criminal defense attorneys to plead guilty to avoid jail time without understanding the effect that had on their immigration status. I quickly became interested in learning more about the complex area of criminal law and immigration law. The issue has been growing in importance on a national level since 2010, when the Supreme Court decided that defense attorneys must advise clients about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime (Padilla v. Kentucky). Clinic Director Debbie Anker was a big proponent of doing more crimmigration work at HIRC and I was excited to help develop the new course and clinic with her.

What other immigration issues do you work on?
I’m the supervising attorney for the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), a student practice organization affiliated with our clinic. Among other projects and activities, HIP students represent clients in immigration detention at their bond hearings. Most of our clients in the bond hearing project have some type of criminal activity in their past, so HIP’s work complements the crimmigraton clinic nicely.

Other projects that HIP students are working on include helping refugees navigate the application process for securing green cards. They also handle family reunification petitions when someone is granted asylum and looking to bring their family to the United States. In fact, most of the petitioners are former clients of HIRC.

How did you find yourself at HLS?
I took a circuitous route. In law school, I took an immigration and asylum clinic, which I really enjoyed. After law school, while working at a large corporate firm, I took advantage of their leave policy to work as a fellow at GBLS, and I became familiar with the HIRC team. During this time, I became attached to my clients and to the work but I had to return to my firm after my fellowship ended. After staying at the firm for about another nine months, saving money, and getting the blessing of my very supportive partner, I quit and returned to GBLS as a volunteer. Eventually, I applied for this position at HIRC when it opened up and the rest is history.

Harvard Immigration Project: Fighting for the Rights of Immigrant Detainees

A new blog post from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program discusses student work with the Harvard Immigration Project’s Bond Hearing Project’s campaign to provide free representation to detained immigrants seeking release from custody. In an excerpt from the post below, students talk about the value of their clinical experience. Read the article at HIRC’s blog.

SPOs, like HIP, allow first-year students, who are not yet eligible for enrollment in a clinic, to begin learning valuable legal skills, such as interviewing a client and presenting an argument in court.  These skills can then be developed in greater depth when students take advantage of the myriad clinical opportunities at HLS following their first year.

“You can do all of this, and even as a first year law student, really have the opportunity to help someone,” Heeger said.

Vigil added that the Bond Hearing Project and other HIP projects are valuable because they ground the law school experience: “You put in a lot, but you get so much more out of it in terms of finding your motivation and direction, and getting back to why we decided to come to law school in the first place.”

Student Voices: Collaboration and Community in Alabama

HLS students met with founders and members of Somos Tuskaloosa in Alabama (image courtesy of David Baake)

This dispatch comes from Carol Wang (JD ’13), co-director of Harvard Immigration Project‘s Bond Hearing Project:

This Spring Break, six Harvard Law students traveled to Alabama to study the state’s immigration law. (Watch the video from our trip here.) The Hammond-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, or HB 56 for short, makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to enter into a “business transaction” with a state or “political subdivision of a state”; invalidates all past, current, and future contracts with undocumented immigrants; authorizes police to stop, ticket, and arrest any person they “reasonably suspect” to be an undocumented immigrant; makes it a crime to “conceal, harbor, or shield” any undocumented immigrant; and creates a civil enforcement action by private citizens to report undocumented immigrants.

It was Friday, our fifth day in Alabama. It was a downcast day with the threat of rain and the weather mirrored my mood. Over the course of the previous four days, Jacqueline Pierluisi (JD ’12), David Baake (JD ’14), and I had met with a wide range of people with expertise in HB 56, including a judge, a district attorney, community organizers, lawyers, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official, and undocumented immigrants.

What we saw and heard was a side of America that was hostile and unfamiliar. Both undocumented and documented immigrants have been targeted by the law. Police officials stop, ticket, and detain drivers they “reasonably” suspect to be an undocumented immigrants, effectively conducting the same kind of racial profiling that is prohibited in other states.

In the weeks immediately following the passage of the act, many families were afraid to leave the house, even to go to the grocery store, because they had heard that purchasing basic food items were “business transactions” that were now crimes. One community organizer told us that 911 operators do not respond to telephone calls made in broken English, with an operator once explaining that HB 56 forbade them from providing emergency care for undocumented immigrants.

On that fifth day, we stepped into a small home in Tuscaloosa, expecting to hear similar stories. We were meeting with the founders and members of Somos Tuskaloosa, an organization formed in the aftermath of HB 56 to inform, mobilize, and serve undocumented immigrants. When we asked Somos Tuskaloosa about HB 56, at first they shared the same sentiment, the feeling of fear – fear of driving, fear they could be stopped at any time, fear of getting sick because not only would they lose their job but they would also be unable to receive medical care. These Tuscaloosa residents had extra reason to feel unsettled. A tornado last April had torn apart their city, and traces of the devastation were still evident almost a year later.

But when we asked them what they were doing about all of this, their voices were animated and their faces were bright. They told us about all the different people with whom they were working. In the tornado’s aftermath, some of them trained and served as part of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to build shelters for all those Tuscaloosa citizens who had lost their homes. In HB 56’s wake, Somos Tuskaloosa’s founder Gwen Ferreti also described building relationships with “uncommon allies” such as police and law enforcement officials. Some officials had told them they would not enforce a law they found unjust.

Somos Tuskaloosa and Gwen’s words of collaboration and coordination reinforced what other community organizers had told us. HICA community organizer Victor Spinezzi told us that HB 56 galvanized previously disparate Hispanic interest groups to finally form the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ). Alabama Appleseed attorney Zayne Smith told us how ACIJ was working with multiple audiences to accomplish a repeal of the law: creating a media “blitz” to educate the broader public, organizing faith-based events such as vigils for those directly hurt by the law, launching know-your-rights campaigns to educate and empower community members, as well as bringing a lawsuit challenging the law as unconstitutional in the courts. And we found another powerful example of collaboration in the previous weekend’s civil rights march in Montgomery, where African American groups, worker organizations, and Latino American coalitions all joined together to condemn HB 56 “for invoking inhumanity reminiscent of Jim Crow laws“.

That day in Tuscaloosa showed us that despite HB 56’s aim to divide the residents of Alabama, meaningful collaborations were taking root. These stories helped lift the week’s grey skies and stories, reminding us that even the worst situations can bring out our country’s best qualities – working together and helping our neighbors.

One Family One Alabama (image courtesy of David Baake)

Student Voices: A Thursday at Pinal County Jail

Joel Edman writes about his work in Arizona jails and detention centers (image credit: Paige Austin)

Today’s dispatch comes from Joel Edman, a second-year student at Harvard Law School. Joel spent his winter term at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona for an Independent Clinical. He is also a member of the student practice organizations Tenant Advocacy Project and Harvard Immigration Project, and is currently participating in the Child Advocacy Clinic for the spring term.

I saw the potential of the Florence Project‘s work one afternoon toward the end of J-term. It was Thursday, when the “Florence team” (as opposed to the “Eloy team”) goes to the Pinal County Jail for a know-your-rights presentation, a bond workshop, and one-on-one intakes. The real lesson – for me at least – from the day had nothing to do with the law. Instead, it was the presentation style of the legal assistant and soon-to-be law student who conducted the bond workshop that I will never forget:

The word “empower” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s the only way I can describe what she passionately tried to accomplish with those men that afternoon. We stand in a circle, fellow HLS student Paige Austin and I, plus about a dozen detainees in jumpsuits. The room is just starting to get cold – I learned quickly that jailhouse concrete, bricks, and restricted sunlight can make even the Arizona desert chilly. “Usted es su propio abogado” sets the tone for the talk. The legal assistant is upfront about the harsh reality facing many of these men, but at the same time offers encouragement. She is meticulous, not just covering legal rules and procedures, but also the practicalities of getting documents from family, how to address a letter to a judge, that those letters should be in English, how to use the internal mail system at the jail, etc. She answers dozens of questions, patiently and thoroughly. In short, if you manage to walk away from her presentation not knowing exactly how to maximize your chances of getting bond, you just weren’t paying attention. I left thinking, “now that’s how you lawyer to a detained population.” And it’s a good thing too, because for that vast majority of the people the Florence Project meets, those precious few minutes will be their only interaction with an attorney.

There are thousands of detainees housed in the rural towns of Florence and Eloy, Arizona, and only a handful of attorneys at the Florence Project. Yet, the Project has as its goal to provide quality legal information to every detainee, as well as more targeted services for a few who might be helped to get some form of relief. Most days of the week, attorneys from the Project go to the detention centers to give know-your-rights presentations to groups of detainees, ranging from about 20 to 60 people. They are scheduled to happen about a week before the detainees’ initial appearance before a judge and are designed to give the detainees a sense of what to expect. The presentations – entirely in Spanish – include a brief overview of potential forms of relief, so that the attorneys can identify detainees who might be eligible.

After the presentation, or during it if there are extra attorneys on hand, the attorneys do one-on-one intakes with anyone who 1) was previously identified as potentially being eligible for relief, 2) does not speak Spanish, or 3) simply wants to speak to an attorney. After watching a presentation on my second day at the Project and observing a few intakes, I began doing intakes myself. At first, I was just gathering relevant facts so that one of the attorneys could dispense legal advice, but by the end of the first week, I had a pretty good sense of what to say in most cases. Besides being an emotionally straining process, and a healthy test of my (somewhat rusty) Spanish, intakes were a great crash course in immigration law.

There is much more to tell, but I’ll end by saying that I was one hundred percent satisfied with my experience at the Florence Project. I could not imagine a better way to have spent those three weeks!

Recent “Student Voices”
Update from Florence…, Arizona
Dispatch from Tel Aviv