Immigrants’ Rights Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2020-21

The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC) launched in January 2020, and despite the relatively short time it has been in existence, has notched several successes.

In a case of national importance, IRC represents the first person detained under a provision of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to detain a non-citizen indefinitely if the government determines that the individual poses a risk to national security. In December 2019, the district court judge ordered that the government had to prove that IRC client, Adham Hassoun, was a danger to national security, and later held that the government had to do so by clear and convincing evidence. IRC students reviewed over 21,000 pages of discovery, drafted multiple briefs on issues relating to discovery, appeared before the district court at oral argument, and prepared to examine witnesses at the evidentiary hearing. On the eve of the evidentiary hearing, the government moved to cancel the hearing because it could not meet its burden of proof to show that Mr. Hassoun was a danger to national security, but it argued that the court should find in favor of the government anyway, because their decision to detain Mr. Hassoun indefinitely was insulated from any kind of judicial review.

On June 29, 2020, the district court granted Mr. Hassoun petition for release, writing that “[d]istilled to its core, Respondent’s position is that he should be able to detain Petitioner indefinitely based on the executive branch’s say-so, and that decision is insulated from any meaningful review by the judiciary. The record in this case demonstrates firsthand the danger of adopting Respondent’s position. Respondent’s position cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.” After winning his habeas case, Mr. Hassoun was resettled in Rwanda where he has started a new life as a free man. Read a news article about this case. In 2021, the clinic won sanctions against the government for its misconduct in the case.

IRC continues to litigate issues related to national security and detention/removal. IRC has joined the legal team 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 has now initiated removal proceedings to strip him of his refugee status. IRC is litigating issues related to due process in removal proceedings as, similar to the Hassoun case, the government has refused to disclose the underlying evidence that constitutes its allegations of terrorism. Read an in-depth magazine feature about Mr. Ameen’s case.

IRC also litigates issues related to immigration detention in Illinois and nationwide. In February, IRC won a petition for habeas corpus on behalf of an Illinois resident who had been convicted of a non-violent property offense and detained for over a year in immigration detention after completing his sentence. The petition raised important issues related to due process, such as the standard that immigration courts must use to determine whether someone is subject to mandatory detention, and how long the government can detain a non-citizen during removal proceedings. IRC students argued the case in both federal court and immigration court. In addition, IRC filed a habeas petition in state court under Padilla v. Kentucky, arguing that IRC’s client did not receive adequate advice on the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a criminal offense. The petition sought to challenge an Illinois appellate decision that is inconsistent with federal case law.

In a related project, IRC partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) to create a guide for criminal defense attorneys and immigration attorneys that outlines the immigration consequences of the most commonly-charged Illinois state crimes. The guide will allow thousands of non-citizens to receive adequate advice on the immigration consequences of their criminal convictions each year. The clinic also plans to partner with the Office of the Cook County Public Defender to provide trainings to public defenders on the guide and its contents.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, IRC partnered with a bi-national border rights organization, Al Otro Lado to file a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security seeking similar information for two detention centers in California. IRC won a preliminary injunction against DHS in September, requiring the agency to release the records on an expedited basis. IRC has also filed a lawsuit against the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois for records related to a coronavirus outbreak in the facility in December/January.

In another case, IRC beat a claim of qualified immunity in a lawsuit in which IRC represents a former long-time resident of the United States suing the state troopers who turned him over to border patrol and caused his subsequent deportation. 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. The case will go to trial this coming year.

IRC has strengthened its work on behalf of and in partnership with community organizations in Chicago. IRC partnered with Organized Communities Against Deportation to write a report detailing the loopholes in Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance that prevents most cooperation with ICE. In particular, the report examined CPD’s practice of gathering massive amounts of digital data about Chicago’s residents, which then can be used to target immigrants for deportation. You can read the report and an AP article about the report. IRC also participated in a national convening of tech law experts challenging the use of digital technology by ICE.

IRC has also partnered with Beyond Legal Aid and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos (CTU) to staff a biweekly legal clinic in which IRC students assist southside community members in understanding their legal options and filling out forms for immigration benefits. The clinic has also undertaken the representation of one community member on her naturalization application and another community member’s application for a U visa, a special visa available for victims of crime. Through the CTU clinic, IRC students have advised and/or represented dozens of community members on the southside of Chicago. In addition, in February 2021, IRC staffed a DACA clinic that assisted a dozen individuals apply for deferred action so they could remain in the United States.

Finally, every year, IRC takes on the representation of several individual asylum-seekers and human trafficking victims. This year, IRC won asylum for a woman from Haiti in March 2021 and represented a human trafficking survivor as a witness in criminal proceedings in Savannah, Georgia, leading to his certification for a T visa for trafficking survivors.