PUBLISHED:October 26, 2018

Duke Law to launch Immigration Clinic

Duke Law School is expanding its nationally recognized clinical program with the launch of a new clinic focused on immigration law. 

When it opens in the fall of 2019, the Duke Law Immigration Clinic will offer students the opportunity to develop critical professional skills and deepen their knowledge of this increasingly important area of law while providing free legal services to immigrants who could not otherwise afford a lawyer. Supervised by clinic faculty, student-attorneys in the clinic will primarily represent individuals seeking asylum or facing deportation.

“There’s a tremendous demand from our students to get experience working directly with clients on immigration matters and a great need for high-quality representation in low-income populations, including right here in our own community,” said Kerry Abrams, James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean and professor of law, who teaches and writes on immigration law. “We look forward to serving this need while training future lawyers to do this important work throughout their careers.” 

An immigration clinic recently emerged as strategic priority for Duke, in part due to student interest. In 2016, a group of 1Ls revived a student organization that provided pro bono legal support, research assistance, and advocacy to immigrants, and they later merged it with student groups serving refugees and asylum-seekers. Groups of students have also spent the last two spring breaks volunteering with legal organizations at immigrant detention centers in Texas and Florida.

“The demand is there,” said Dan Pham ’19, director of the Immigrant and Refugee Project. “A lot of people have approached me asking ‘What can I do?’”

The Immigration Clinic will be the Law School’s 12th clinic. While the current clinics are housed in a dedicated wing of the Law School, Duke is seeking to locate the new clinic near downtown Durham to enable direct access to clients and opportunities to collaborate with other direct services agencies that support the region’s growing immigrant population.

The Law School has begun a search for a clinic director to design and lead the clinic and a supervising attorney to manage day-to-day operations. As the clinic develops, it may expand into research, policy, and impact litigation.

“We expect that our students will be able to use what they’ve learned representing people in the immigration system to find ways to make it work more effectively for all stakeholders,” said Andrew Foster, clinical professor of law and director of experiential education and clinical programs. “Duke Law is committed to preparing students to be problem-solvers and to accept the challenge of leadership. Given the current divides over the issue of immigration, this is a place where we hope our students, as well as the clinic’s faculty, will be able to help make a difference.”

Access to legal services can make a critical difference for immigrants who are seeking asylum or relief from detention or deportation. In a study of deportation cases decided between 2007 and 2012, the American Immigration Council found that “immigrants with attorneys fare better at every stage of the court process.”

For example, the study found that detained immigrants were four times more likely to be released from detention if they had a lawyer, 11 times more likely to seek relief such as asylum, and twice as likely to obtain relief. However, just 37 percent of those in the study who faced removal were represented by counsel, and only 14 percent of those in detention had lawyers.

“Durham has a very large population of Latinos who can use the help, and North Carolina has a huge need,” said Ana Maganto Ramirez ’20 T’17, president of the Hispanic Law Students Association and a director of the Immigrant and Refugee Project.

A $1.5 million gift from the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation will support the first three years of the clinic’s operations.

“We are very grateful for the generosity of this donor,” Abrams said. “This is a very substantial investment at the scale needed to position our newest clinic for success. It provides the Law School with the resources to recruit the excellent faculty needed to lead a clinic that will accelerate the professional development of our students, meet critical legal needs of vulnerable immigrants, and, over time, work to make the system more effective and just.”