PUBLISHED:May 10, 2024

Graduating JD and LLM students provide critical legal services for immigrants and refugees


Clinic achieves another win for transgender Central American client in Immigration Court

IsraelMarie and Krmoyan

In March 2024, graduating clinic student-attorneys Hannah IsraelMarie ’24 and Ken Kyrmoyan ’24 walked out of the U.S. Immigration Court in Charlotte, North Carolina with a grant of asylum in hand for their transgender client. IsraelMarie and Kyrmoyan had finalized and assembled hundreds of pages of evidence in support of their client’s claim, including sworn witness declarations, voluminous human rights reports, documentation of discriminatory and transphobic laws, and corroborative medical evidence.  They also drafted a detailed legal brief demonstrating why their client merited protection

“Working in the advanced Immigrant Rights Clinic and winning asylum for our transgender client from Honduras was the highlight of my Duke Law experience. It completely confirmed for me that I want to pursue a career fighting for the rights of immigrants,” IsraelMarie said.

“As a queer student, it was deeply meaningful to fight for trans rights, visibility, and safety. It was so rewarding seeing the realization of our win dawn on our client’s face. I’m so grateful to have shared that moment with her and my clinic team. I will forever be thankful for the clinic leaders' guidance, and I will carry forward the lessons I learned from this experience throughout my legal career.” 

Kyrmoyan added, “I am so indebted to the Clinic for giving Hannah and me the opportunity to present our client’s case before the immigration judge. We worked incredibly hard, and we were so happy to achieve this result for our client. Hearing the immigration judge grant our client asylum was certainly the highlight of my law school experience.”

“The probability of prevailing in an asylum claim before the Charlotte immigration court remains low,” noted Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney Shane Ellison.

“The average asylum denial rate stands at 88.7 percent. Nevertheless, the immigration judge credited the strength of the record in determining to grant protection at the outset of the hearing."

“The Clinic has provided an immeasurable amount of help to some of the most underserved and vulnerable groups,” said Kyrmoyan. “I am proud to have had my input in this work and can’t wait to hear about the Clinic’s impact moving forward.”


 Clinic files cutting edge application to protect trafficking victim

In the fall of 2023, IRC students Nathalia Kimmell ’24 and Katherine Thomas ’24 began working on the case of a survivor of human trafficking.  After having initially fled her trafficker in Central America, their client had been tracked down and then re-ensnared in a labor trafficking scheme in North Carolina that lasted for several months. During her harrowing experience, she was subject to brutal beating, malnourishment, and heartbreaking exploitation.

Since her final escape, she has been able to secure mental health services from a Durham-based provider and legal services from the Duke Immigrant Rights Clinic. She now has her work authorization and is able to continue with her recovery.

Kimmel, who took the advanced clinic this semester to finalize the case, just filed for her client an application for a T-visa, a form of relief designed to provide trafficking survivors a path to legal security in the U.S.

Reflecting on the experience, Kimmel said, “Working for my client has been my most rewarding experience of law school. I am proud of all the work that went into gathering the facts related to her claim, gaining her trust and confidence, and completing her T visa application. Although it will take more than a year to get a decision on the T visa, the Clinic should be able to get her out of removal proceedings in the near future, which will be a huge relief to her and her family. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do meaningful work, and hopefully set my client and her family on a path to a green card.”


Clinic files amicus brief on behalf of state public defense organizations and national immigration advocacy groups


IRC student Grace Embrey ’24 worked with clinic fellow Jenny Kim and clinic director Kate Evans to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The brief was filed in support of a challenge brought by Harvard’s Crimmigration Clinic to the novel application of a federal removal ground to a Massachusetts conviction. Embrey argued that, if upheld, the immigration agency’s decision would make defense counsel’s constitutional obligation to advise noncitizen defendants of the immigration consequences of their convictions far more difficult to meet and increase the burdens on public defenders, immigration advisors, and the criminal justice system itself.

Evans stated, “Embrey marshaled constitutional law, state criminal rules and standards, federal criminal case law, and legal commentary to demonstrate the wide-reaching ramifications of the immigration agency’s decision and why it should be vacated by the circuit court," said Clinical Professor and Clinic Director Kate Evans.


The Duke Immigrant & Refugee Project (DIRP) supports the most pro bono hours for the third year in a row

Duke Law students logged nearly 1,000 pro bono hours through DIRP projects during the 2023-2024 academic year. Students supported people naturalizing, seeking asylum, renewing their DACA status, receiving protection as abandoned, abused, or neglected children, seeking deferred action for agricultural workers, and seeking release from detention.  As a student-run project, DIRP relies on the leadership and organization provided by its student coordinators, including graduating students Ceci Cardelle, Ellie Neilson, Riley Flewelling, Katherine Thomas, Hannah Plaziak, Jessica Shub, and Hannah IsraelMarie.

Tatiana Chumachenko joined DIRP as the LLM coordinator in the fall of 2023 and stated, “DIRP granted me a unique opportunity to provide qualified assistance to vulnerable migrants who could not otherwise afford legal services under the supervision of renowned immigration law professors. This rewarding experience deepened my understanding of the critical role of legal representation in assisting eligible newcomers find a safe harbor in the United States and allowed me to join a community of amazing, like-minded peers dedicated to volunteer work.”

Fellow graduating LLM student Jinwon Seo added: “Through my experience in volunteering at Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), I was able to gain a broad understanding of U.S. immigration law and immigration court practice. It was a great reward to help people who were in difficult situations due to immigration issues.”

“Every year, Duke students show up with compassion and dedication to work with immigrant families and asylum seekers," said Evans, DIRP's faculty advisor.

"This past year, DIRP students alone supported 225 immigrants and refugees in building safe and stable lives in the United States. It is an honor to work with them as they volunteer their time to work with so many others.”