Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Immigration
Students in the New Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Confront Human Vulnerability and Build Skills in a Changing Area of Law

When Victor Cedeño, ’21, heard last fall that the Law School was set to launch a new Immigrants’ Rights Clinic—a combination of litigation and policy work led by a rising star in the field—he knew he wanted in.

The Immigrants' Rights Clinic provides legal representation to immigrant communities in Chicago and around the country, including individual representation of immigrants in removal proceedings, immigration-related complex federal litigation, and policy and community education projects on behalf of community-based organizations. Students will interview clients, develop claims and defenses, draft complaints, engage in motion practice and settlement discussions, appear in federal, state, and administrative courts, and brief and argue appeals. In the policy and community education projects, students may develop and conduct community presentations, draft and advocate for legislation at the state and local levels and provide support to immigrants' rights organizations. Current projects include a high-profile national security habeas petition, a civil rights lawsuit against state troopers for cooperation with federal immigration authorities, Seventh and Ninth Circuit appeals raising constitutional and crimmigration issues, and representation of refugees evacuated from Syria and Afghanistan, unaccompanied minors from Central America, and human trafficking victims.

As this is the first year of the clinic's operation, students will also have the opportunity to help develop the clinic's docket. Both 2L and 3L students are encouraged to apply. Students with questions may contact Professor Hallett at nhallett@uchicago.edu to learn more.

Ameen v. Jennings, No. 22-CV-00140-WHO (Northern District of California)

In January 2022, IRC filed a federal habeas action in the Northern District of California on behalf of Omar Ameen, a refugee of Iraq who the government falsely accused of being a member of ISIS. After trying and failing to extradite Mr. Ameen to Iraq based on murder charges that a magistrate judge found were not supported by probable cause, the government initiated removal proceedings to strip him of his refugee status. After the immigration judge rejected the government’s terrorism allegations a second time and granted Mr. Ameen withholding of removal to Iraq, Mr. Ameen sought release from detention but was denied bond.

The district court granted Mr. Ameen a second bond hearing in Ameen v. Jennings, No. 22-CV-00140-WHO, 2022 WL 1157900 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 19, 2022). IRC is back before the district court for a second time after bond was denied again in the second hearing. In meantime, the district court’s favorable decision on the habeas petition has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit by the government.

Alice Thompson, ’23, argued the case in April 2022.

Press Coverage

Court Documents

Hon. William Orrick, Decision and Order, No. 22-CV-00140-WHO, April 19, 2022. (PDF)

Illinois Way Forward Act Litigation

In March 2022, the Clinic filed a motion seeking the release of a Chicago resident being held by Will County on a material witness warrant as an end run around the Illinois Way Forward Act, which prohibits local jurisdictions from detaining non-citizens for civil immigration violations. After the Illinois Attorney General Office intervened, Will County agreed not to turn him over to ICE and released him instead. He has now reunited with his family.

Press Coverage

Reyes-Herrera v. Flaitz, 6:19-cv-06257-EAW-MJP (Western District of New York)

IRC represents Macario Reyes-Herrera, a former long-time resident of the United States, in a lawsuit against the NYS state troopers who turned him over to border patrol and caused his subsequent deportation. After failing to succeed in their claim of qualified immunity on summary judgment, the Defendants offered a generous settlement to avoid going to trial. Qualified immunity has received national attention of late as a doctrine that has allowed police officers to violate people’s constitutional rights with impunity. It is rarely overcome in court, making IRC’s victory particularly important. The Court held that it was clearly established that police officers cannot racially profile individuals of Hispanic descent and arrest them solely on the unsubstantiated suspicion that they have committed an immigration violation. IRC students conducted depositions and drafted the motion for summary judgment and opposition. IRC continues to represent the plaintiff in his attempts to return to the United States to reunite with his family.

Rebecca Ritchie, ’20; Victor Hollenberg, ’21; Ana Luquerna, ’21; Suzannah Ranzo, ’22, participated in the litigation.

Court Documents

Hon. Elizabeth Wolford, Decision and Order, 6:19-cv-06257-EAW-MJP, May 13, 2021. (PDF)

Rocha-Sanchez v. Kolitwenzew, 2:20-cv-02362-SEM-TSH (Central District of Illinois)

IRC filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus on behalf of Irbin Rocha-Sanchez, a lawful permanent resident who had been detained for fifteen months while waiting for a decision on his removal case. The Petition alleged claims under the Due Process Clause, arguing that he could not be detained without an individualized bond hearing. On February 8, 2021, the Court agreed that his detention violated the Due Process Clause and ordered him released within 14 days unless the government proved by clear and convincing evidence that he was a danger to the community or a flight risk. Mr. Rocha-Sanchez has a 9-year-old daughter that he has not seen in a year because of the pandemic, and he himself caught COVID-19 while in detention.

Patrick Berning-O’Neill, ’21, argued the case in January 2021.

Press Coverage

Elvia Malagón, Coronavirus outbreak hits immigration detainees before vaccine eligibility opens for jails in Illinois, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 31, 2021.

Case Documents​

Al Otro Lado v. DHS, 2:20-cv-05191 (Central District of California)

In June 2020, IRC sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf Al Otro Lado (AOL), a binational border rights organization, to seek information about DHS’s COVID-19 response at two California detention centers, Adelanto Detention Center and Otay Detention Center, as well as border patrol stations in California, as well as retaliation against detainees who complained about DHS’s response.

In September 2020, Hon. Otis T. Wright III, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California, granted a motion for preliminary injunction and ordered critical information released within 6 weeks. DHS had requested 28 months to process and release the records, and claimed that the pandemic had overwhelmed its ability to keep up with requests for information.

At oral argument, Judge Wright noted that DHS could have released immigrants from detention at the beginning of the pandemic. Having declined to do so, DHS’s treatment of immigrant detainees would be “brought out into the sunlight…sooner rather than later.”

To date, more than 5,000 DHS detainees have contracted COVID-19 and at least 7 have died of the disease.

Press Coverage

Judge Orders DHS To Release Records Regarding COVID-19 Outbreaks, KPBS, Sept. 23, 2020.

Case Documents

Hassoun v. Searls, 19-cv-390 (Western District of New York)

The First Legal Challenge to the USA PATRIOT ACT, 8 U.S.C. 1226a

IRC represented Adham Amin Hassoun, a stateless Palestinian who became the first person that the government detained under a never-before-used provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. After the district court ruled that due process required the government to prove by clear-and-convincing evidence that Mr. Hassoun was a danger to national security before indefinitely detaining him, the government conceded that it could not prove its case. Nevertheless, the government argued that the court erred in engaging in any inquiry into the government’s allegations whatsoever. In a win for due process and separation of powers, the court rejected that argument and ordered Mr. Hassoun’s release.

Facing the prospect of releasing Mr. Hassoun in the United States, the government reached an agreement with Rwanda to accept him as a permanent resident. He has now been resettled and is enjoying his freedom. IRC continues to litigate a motion for sanctions against the government for hiding and destroying evidence proving Mr. Hassoun’s innocence. IRC co-counseled on the case with the ACLU and the MacArthur Justice Center.

Brian Zagrocki, ’20, presented oral argument on the case and Samantha Becci, ’20, prepared witnesses for the trial.

Press Coverage

Case Documents

IRC and NIJC Release Guide for Criminal Defense Attorneys Representing Non-Citizens

In September 2021, IRC and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) released A Brief Guide to Representing Noncitizen Criminal Defendants in Illinois, which provides criminal defense attorneys and immigration practitioners critical information they need to minimize the immigration consequences of their clients’ criminal convictions. The publication of this manual was made possible by a capacity-building grant from the Illinois Access to Justice Program.

Federal immigration law imposes severe consequences on non-citizens with criminal histories. Even convictions for relatively minor offenses can lead to deportation, including for lawful permanent residents who have lived in the United States for decades. Although non-citizens can also face deportation after being convicted on federal charges, most non-citizens who are deported on criminal grounds are deported because of state criminal convictions. Because of this, defense attorneys must have a basic knowledge of immigration law to advise their non-citizen clients of the immigration consequences of certain criminal convictions.

This manual provides Illinois defense attorneys with tools to zealously advocate for non-citizen clients in criminal court. The first guide of its kind in Illinois, it will help prevent the deportation of thousands of Illinois residents each year.

Jacob Hamburger, ’21; Patrick Berning-O’Neill, ’21; Jordan Jenkins, ’23; and Brad Posdal, ’23, researched and drafted the report.

IRC Publishes Report on How Chicago’s Use of Digital Surveillance Technology

In June 2021, IRC, Organized Communities Against Deportation, Mijente, and Just Futures Law published a report called The Digital Deportation Machine: How Surveillance Technology Undermines Chicago’s Welcoming City Policy. The report detailed how data from the CPD’s gang database, automated license plate readers, and facial recognition software is funneled to Fusion Centers run jointly with Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), and how this information-sharing is a loophole written into the City’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which is supposed to prohibit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The Associated Press covered the release of the report. Jacob Hamburger (LAW ’21) and Kathleen Schmidt (LAW ’22) researched and drafted the report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a public health crisis in immigration detention facilities across the country, and has caused the current Administration to further restrict the right to asylum at the Southern Border. The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has undertaken a wide variety of projects to protect immigrants in detention from COVID-19 and to ensure that the pandemic does not prevent immigrants from seeking asylum.

The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has: