National Pulse

Student interest in immigration law rises with recent political developments

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To provide more hands-on training in immigration law, other schools are starting or expanding their own clinical programs. The Northeastern University law school, for example, opened its Immigrant Justice Clinic in the fall, in which second- and third-year students handle matters that include asylum applications and bond hearings for detained immigrants.

In a similar vein, the Tulane University Law School this year hired Laila Hlass, a clinical instructor and immigration law expert, as its new director of experiential learning. In that role, Hlass says she plans to start a course in the spring that will focus on representing clients applying for U visas—special visas that allow undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime and cooperate with law enforcement to stay in the country and work legally.

“I’ve seen great demand for the course, which has further encouraged me to design it and teach it,” says Hlass, who previously was director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the Boston University School of Law.

Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt University Law School recently launched its first immigration law clinic—one that focuses on asylum cases. Karla McKanders joined Vanderbilt in the summer, from the University of Tennessee College of Law, to start the clinic and teach refugee law.

“Nashville is a city that has experienced a lot of growth in the last 10 years, so there’s a large immigration population,” McKanders says. “There’s a need for attorneys sophisticated in immigration law here.”

Whether the new zeal for studying immigration law will yield a new crop of specialists is an open question. Traditionally, immigration has been viewed as an arcane area of the law that lacks the appeal of practices such as criminal defense or civil litigation. And it’s hardly a path to riches.


Still, law school faculty and officials surmise that the immigration battles of the Trump era will have a lasting effect on students.

“Part of this is a shift in how people are viewing immigration law,” Sweeney says. “People are seeing not only how complicated and interesting intellectually it is but also that it has a profound effect on people’s lives and society.”

For students such as Emerson Argueta at Fordham, the Trump administration’s barrage of measures to limit immigration and immigrants’ rights has solidified his decision to pursue the field after he graduates in 2018.

“I’m still interested in federal litigation. But given the political climate, it’s definitely going to be in immigration law,” says Argueta, a 3L who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador as a child.

He is exploring fellowships such as the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York City, a program that places recent law school graduates with nonprofit legal services organizations for low-income immigrants.

Given the government’s backlog of nearly 600,000 cases in immigration court, and stepped-up immigrant arrests since Trump became president, there’s no shortage of potential clients. (See “Legal Logjam,” April.)

“There’s a great need for immigration lawyers, so students who are specializing in immigration law have certainly got jobs on the way out,” says Rachel Rosenbloom, who teaches immigration law at Northeastern.

For her part, Guzman says she plans to either practice at a firm that specializes in immigration law or pursue the discipline in a public interest capacity. In the meantime, she hopes to sharpen her skills at the school’s new immigration law clinic taught by Rosenbloom.

This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with the headline “Immigrant Class: Student interest in immigration law rises with recent political developments."

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