Immigration Clinic helps clients who would otherwise lack legal representation

By the third week of class, many students are just beginning to acclimate to law school.

For a group of students in the Immigration Clinic at the UW School of Law, week three was spent working late into the night, trying urgently to obtain an emergency order from a U.S. District Court judge staying a client’s deportation.

The client, who was also a student at UW, is married with a newborn, which made the case even more challenging and emotional.   

“Having students jump into a complicated case, such as this one, with a great deal on the line for the client and his family, while still getting familiar with the law, was an incredible thing to watch,” said Christopher Strawn, Immigration Law Clinic director and an affiliate instructor.

“As a teacher, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing students work as hard as they can, learning in each moment, and doing something for a client in need at the same time,” he said.

The Immigration Law Clinic is operated in partnership with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the state’s primary provider of immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees. The clinic consists of eight students and a supervising attorney/instructor who work on cases for individuals who would otherwise lack legal representation.

This academic year, the Immigration Law Clinic is representing low-income individuals with a wide variety of immigration issues, including: asylum-seekers in removal proceedings, special immigrant juveniles seeking to adjust to lawful permanent resident status and an appeal of a naturalization denial in Federal District Court.

In the case of the UW student scheduled for deportation, the students first weighed the impact and responsibility of taking on an emergency case with many moving pieces: a T, or trafficking visa; federal district court litigation; and bond and detention challenges.

Given the urgency and volume of work, each of the three teams in the clinic took on parts of the case.

As one team prepared the T visa application and supporting documents to submit to the agency, other team members drafted a habeas petition and emergency motion for a stay of removal, when the agency would not agree to delay deportation until a decision on the T visa.

But this was only the beginning of the case, which went through multiple rounds of briefing before the District Court judge issued a final order. In both a constitutional and APA ruling, the judge ordered that our client’s removal be stayed pending final adjudication of the T visa – which we believe is a case of first impression in the U.S., and which other attorneys are already citing as precedent.

Students also challenged the continued detention of the client.  At the beginning of the year, the agency refused to even grant our client a bond hearing, and we were successful in obtaining a District Court order compelling the agency to provide one.

However, as is altogether too common, the agency ordered our client to be held on “no bond,” as a flight risk and danger to the community, and we were not successful in convincing the District Court to overturn the decision. The agency recently appealed the judge’s decision to the Ninth Circuit, and we have cross-appealed the custody determination. 

Immigration Clinic Students Obtain Release of Client from Detention

The clinic also represented a detainee transferred from a lengthy criminal sentence to immigration detention. The students were able to advocate successfully for his release from detention.

The client had a very serious, if old, conviction, and the team was concerned that he would be subject to prolonged detention on the grounds of dangerousness. The team working on his case drafted and filed a release request arguing that application of the dangerousness regulatory provisions would be unlawful, and providing substantial evidence of the client's rehabilitation and positive equities.

As the clinic was preparing to draft and file another habeas petition to challenge detention, the agency announced that it was releasing the client, who is now in community college and preparing to transfer to UW Seattle. 

Immigration Clinic Students Overturn Citizenship Denial

Students in the immigration clinic successfully overturned a citizenship denial. The client had been denied citizenship on narrow legal grounds that the clinic believed was incorrect.

The clinic team drafted a complaint to file in District Court challenging the citizenship denial, and reached out to the agency (copying the U.S. Attorney's Office), for a final argument as to why the client should be granted citizenship and the case should not need to be litigated. USCIS agreed, reversing their position and naturalizing the client, rather than face litigation.

While the clinic does not focus on helping UW students, coincidentally the client is a UW alumna who finally has become a citizen, and who is very excited to be able to vote in the next election.

Student experience

Students – even those not planning a career in the field of immigration law - develop a variety of professional skills, including client interviewing, fact investigation, specialized legal research, writing declarations and briefs, direct and cross examinations and presenting opening and closing statements while representing clients.