The nation’s laws and policies governing immigration and refugee processes have drawn consistent political debate and contention for decades. In recent years, the Trump Administration drew loud and frequent criticism on its policies, prompting the Biden Administration to promise sweeping changes to the systems; still, many continue to advocate for more progressive action.
At the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, students have a myriad of opportunities to study immigration and refugee legal systems in the classroom, gain practical experience applying the laws in the Transnational Legal Clinic, and contribute meaningfully to advocacy for immigrant and refugee rights through pro bono projects housed in the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC).
Immersive study of immigration and refugee law
Though U.S. immigration and refugee governance is largely administrative, effective immigration and refugee lawyering also demands a keen understanding of other legal areas, including constitutional, criminal, employment, family, and international law, among others. To help guide students in their exploration of this complex field, the Law School offers a broad range of coursework centered on immigration and refugee law, taught by faculty with a wealth of diverse and cross-disciplinary experience.
- “Immigration Law” taught by Lecturer in Law Nicole Simon L’01 enables students to establish a solid foundation in the laws and regulations that have historically and continue to govern the field.
- “Refugee Law” taught by Thomas O’Boyle Lecturer in Law Fernando Chang-Muy explores the topics of refugee and asylum, both through international and U.S. law lenses.
- “Crimmigration” taught by Lecturer in Law Abel Rodriguez L’11 explores the intersections between the nation’s immigration and criminal justice systems.
- In the Transnational Legal Clinic, Visiting Assistant Practice Professor of Law Liz Bradley and Jonah Eaton supervise students in taking on real immigration cases for clients both in Philadelphia and around the world. Founder and Director of the Transnational Legal Clinic and Practice Professor of Law Sarah Paoletti serves as a leading voice in matters of immigration and refugee justice, publishing work at the critical intersections of human rights, migration, labor law, and access to justice.
Advocating for immigrant and refugee justice
In addition to coursework, students have many pro bono opportunities to volunteer in service of immigrant and refugee justice.
- Through two projects – International Human Rights Advocates (IHRA) and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) – students partner with international advocacy and aid organizations to provide services to immigrant and refugee clients around the world.
- Student volunteers with the Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project (PLIRP) work to attain justice for and provide services to immigrant and refugee clients more locally. This year, PLIRP volunteers worked alongside community activists at the Aquinas Center to develop a resource guide to provide information to community members on the DACA program and collaborated with community partners to develop educational materials and facilitate know-your-rights workshops pertaining to scenarios involving ICE and police officers, public benefits, housing, and employment.
A community of changemakers
Upon graduation, several alums have pursued careers both representing individual immigrant and refugee clients and working toward comprehensive, systematic change. Each of the following alums in this non-exhaustive list are graduates of the Transnational Legal Clinic and have credited their experiences at the Law School with helping to prepare them for their positions fighting for immigration and refugee justice:
- Rekha Nair L’12 serves as the Executive Director of the Phoenix Legal Action Network, a non-profit dedicated to providing non-detained immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona free legal representation.
- Emily Kyle L’20 advocates on behalf of clients in immigration detention centers as a Staff Attorney with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network in Aurora, Colorado.
- Allison Perlin L’20 and Patricia Stottlemyer L’17 work with Human Rights First, where they engage in impact litigation aimed at achieving federal-level refugee policy change.