Immigrants’ Rights Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2021-22

The Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) had an exciting and successful year representing immigrants from the southside of Chicago to Afghanistan.

IRC continues to focus on issues related to national security and the War on Terror, representing both individuals victimized by the U.S. government as well as individuals targeted by terrorist groups. 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. Read an in-depth magazine feature about Mr. Ameen’s case.

After second-year student Alice Thompson argued the habeas petition in April 2022, the district court granted Mr. Ameen a second bond hearing. 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. IRC students will participate in briefing and oral argument at the Ninth Circuit this coming academic year.

IRC also represents victims of terrorism. IRC has filed an asylum claim on behalf of a Kurdish man who worked for the U.S. government in Syria before the U.S. withdrawal. The U.S. government evacuated him in 2021 after ISIS attempted to kill him and almost succeeded. IRC is currently working with the U.S. Department of State to evacuate his wife from Syria after she received death threats from ISIS as well.

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 left thousands of U.S. allies stranded and at the mercy of the Taliban, IRC created the Afghan Humanitarian Parole Project that enlisted first-year students in a pro bono project preparing and filing applications for humanitarian parole on behalf of Afghans. The Project was able to file applications on behalf of more than 50 individuals in Afghanistan from October 2021 to January 2022. IRC also represents an Afghan in the United States on his asylum application in partnership with the Hyde Park Refugee Project.

IRC continues to litigate and work on issues related to the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. This coming year, IRC will brief and argue an appeal at the Seventh Circuit raising important questions about the definition of crime of violence after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Taylor, 596 U.S. ___ (2022). IRC continues to partner with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) to maintain a guide for criminal defense and immigration attorneys that outlines the immigration consequences of the most commonly-charged Illinois state crimes. The guide allows thousands of non-citizens to receive adequate advice on the immigration consequences of their criminal convictions each year.

IRC also maintains an active docket of cases challenging the involvement of state and local police in federal immigration enforcement. 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.

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. After losing on summary judgment, the New York State Police offered a generous settlement to avoid going to trial. IRC continues to represent the plaintiff in his attempts to return to the United States to reunite with his family.

IRC’s legal clinic with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos (CTU) has expanded from a biweekly clinic to a weekly clinic during the academic year. As part of the clinic, IRC students assist southside Chicago 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 one hundred and fifty community members.