The Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) is a one-semester, six-credit clinical education program in which law students represent noncitizens in immigration matters. Clients include persons seeking asylum in the United States as a result of persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries, as well as noncitizen victims of domestic violence and other crimes, unaccompanied noncitizen minors, or other noncitizens subject to removal and immigration detention.
Representation may occur in adversarial administrative hearings before immigration judges; in nonadversarial agency interviews; in appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals; or, as necessary, in appeals to the federal courts. This clinic is offered in both the fall and spring semesters.
The IRP provides a combination of practical legal experience, theory, intensive training, and supervision not available in most traditional law school courses or legal jobs. The clinic also provides opportunities to engage in action, collaboration, reflection, and service that are immensely rewarding and frequently inspiring. It is also a cross-cultural experience. Students learn a great deal about their client’s country and face the challenges and rewards of overcoming the barriers to understanding posed by differences of language and culture.
Structure of the Clinic
Client work is central to a student’s clinic experience. Students in the Immigrant Rights Project assume primary responsibility for client representation. Students work together on cases in teams of two. The tasks that students may perform in a case include client interviewing; fact investigation; preparing clients’ applications for relief; developing corroborating evidence; preparing the testimony of witnesses, including experts; and representing a client at an immigration interview or a removal hearing in Immigration Court. Students typically spend a minimum of 18-20 hours a week working on their clients’ cases.
Case Team Meetings
Each student team meets regularly with clinic supervising attorney for an in-depth discussion of the casework. These meetings are used to help students recognize, analyze, and resolve the multitude of strategic, tactical, ethical, and interpersonal issues that arise in representing clients. Clinic students and faculty, together with clients and witnesses, also participate in “moots” to prepare for each immigration interview or hearing.
The IRP seminar meets once a week for two hours. Classes are used for a variety of purposes. Early in the semester, classes are used to survey the substantive law involved in clinic cases. Other classes are devoted to teaching essential lawyering skills that students will use in their casework. Many of these classes involve role-playing exercises or workshops based on students’ actual cases. Class time is also used for “case rounds,” in which students share and learn from each other’s experiences. Guest speakers, including immigration judges and domestic violence experts, may be invited to selected classes.
Enrollment in the Clinic
Enrollment is open to any second- or third-year JD student in good academic standing. Enrollment in the clinic is limited to eight students per semester. To be eligible for enrollment, a student must have taken or be concurrently enrolled in Professional Responsibility.
Representation of a client in an asylum or other immigration matter can be enormously challenging and time-consuming. These cases involve many hours of hard work and great responsibility. For students who have the time and can make the commitment, participation in the Immigrant Rights Project is a tremendously rewarding experience. Students in the clinic have a unique opportunity to perform a valuable public service, learn a new and developing area of law, grapple with challenging ethical dilemmas, and experience the satisfaction that comes with knowing their hard work and effective advocacy has given their client a fair opportunity to win relief, and, in many cases, may have helped to save their client’s life.
The Clinical Education Program at The University of Tulsa College of Law is grateful for the generous financial support of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.