Immigration Clinic

Immigration Clinic Group Photo

In this clinic students represent clients from around the world on immigration law matters, including removal proceedings and petitions for affirmative asylum, before federal administrative tribunals. While taking responsibility for all aspects of client representation, students may also engage in community legal education and draft comments on proposed federal regulations in immigration matters. Students develop an array of skills, including interviewing and counseling clients, fact-gathering, problem-solving, cultural awareness, witness preparation, negotiation, written and oral advocacy, and policy analysis. Class discussions focus on case rounds, skills development and analysis of the immigration process.

Although there are places within the law school where students can learn the fundamentals of lawyering such as direct examinations, brief writing, and oral arguments, only in clinics will a student actually apply these traditional skills in real cases. The clinics offer students the opportunity to step into the shoes of a working attorney and offer one-on-one assistance to clients in need of representation. Furthermore, in the clinical setting students encounter the day-to-day frustrations that accompany the practice of law. Obstinate clients, surly court personnel, uncooperative witnesses–these are common in everyday practice. Students who have been diligent in their clinic duties will head into practice with the advantage of having dealt with these frustrations and knowing how to work around them.


Additional Information

Professor Benitez and Paulina VeraAlberto M. Benítez
On Sabbatical Leave: 2019 - 2020 Academic Year)

Before joining the Law School faculty as director of the Immigration Clinic in 1996, Professor Benítez was on the faculty of the legal clinics at Chicago Kent College of Law and Northwestern University School of Law. Prior to becoming a clinician, he was a staff attorney at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, as well as an intern at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Professor Benítez teaches Immigration Law. In addition, in the summers he has taught at the law schools of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and the Universidad Panamericana, in Mexico City. In the spring 2003 semester Professor Benítez was a visitor at the Boyd School of Law of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, assisting in the development of that law school’s immigration clinic.

Professor Benítez has devoted his entire legal career to working in the public interest, generally with noncitizens, and so he is familiar with immigration law in its proper context. Evictions, domestic violence, public benefits, etc., these are areas of law that influence the decisions made by the noncitizens. Professor Benítez was fortunate early in his career to be associated with several supportive, dedicated lawyers who enabled him to learn and progress from them. Therefore, he tries to pass on what he learned and how he learned it to his students, in particular the “learn by doing” system that his early colleagues used with him. That said, students will get out of their experience in this clinic and from their association with Professor Benítez what they put into it.

An Introduction to the United States Legal System by Professor Alberto Benitez

Paulina Vera
[email protected]

Paulina Vera, Esq. is originally from Tucson, Arizona and is the daughter of immigrants from Peru and England. After spending the summer of 2010 interning for Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and defending his opposition to Arizona's SB-1070 "show me your papers" law, Paulina decided she wanted to become an immigration attorney. At its core, immigration law is about people and she enjoys the client-centered work.

She currently supervises GW Law Immigration Clinic students and provides legal representation to asylum-seekers and respondents facing deportation in Immigration Court. For the 2019-2020 academic year, she is the Acting Director for the Clinic and will teach Immigration Law I while Professor Benitez is on sabbatical. She previously served as the only Immigration Staff Attorney at the Maryland-based non-profit, CASA.

Paulina is admitted to practice law in Maryland and before federal immigration tribunals.

Paulina is a 2015 graduate of The George Washington University Law School. During law school, she was a student-attorney at the Immigration Clinic and interned for the Arlington Immigration Court, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), and the American Immigration Council. She served on the executive board for GW's LLSA all three years and was President of the Immigration Law Association (ILA) during her 3L year. She also planned an immigration-themed alternative spring break to her hometown of Tucson.

Paulina is involved in a number of professional organizations. She is co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee for the Hispanic Bar Association of DC (HBA-DC), and a board member of both the HBA-DC Foundation and LEAD.Latinoamerica.


Under the supervision of clinic director Professor Alberto Benítez and legal associate Paulina Vera, students handle a variety of immigration law matters including representing noncitizens, writing comments to proposed federal regulations, and disseminating information to the public.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for admission students must:

  • Have completed Immigration Law 6538.
  • Take the Clinic for six credits.
  • Be able to complete all clinic work in the clinic building.
  • Attend a two-hour clinic seminar every week during the semester.
  • Be prepared to carry out their duties in a professional manner.
  • Factors that will render a student ineligible: Working a paid job during the semester (other than a position as the clinical program’s student director or as a research assistant for a GW law professor).
  • Factors that may render a student ineligible at the Clinic Director’s discretion: Having time constraints during the semester, including but not limited to journals, unpaid internships, excessively demanding courses, extensive job interviews, and joint degree responsibilities.
  • For more information, please login to the Portal.
    A complete set of application instructions is posted approximately one month prior to the registration period for the following semester.

Client EligibilityClient Eligibility Requirements

The clinic accepts removal cases scheduled in the Arlington Immigration Court and affirmative asylum cases. It does not accept cases scheduled in the Baltimore Immigration Court. The clinic only accepts clients with the following types of cases:

  • Asylum cases (filed in removal proceedings or with USCIS for Asylum Office Interviews) 
  • Deportation or removal proceedings in the Immigration Court at Arlington, Virginia, including cases involving cancellation of removal, TPS, criminal issues

Immigration Clinic Intake Schedule

The Immigration Clinic interviews potential clients through phone intake.

For more information, potential clients should call 202.994.7463 and ask for the Immigration Clinic intake schedule.

Required Documentation and Information

Potential clients should be prepared to provide the following information over the phone:

  • The date and place of next hearing
  • The charge of removability/inadmissibility listed on their Notice to Appear
  • The basic details of their case

Potential clients should be prepared to provide the following documents at an intake interview:

  • Notice to Appear
  • Notice of Hearing
  • Relevant personal documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates
  • Criminal documents, if relevant

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What costs do I have to pay if I am a client of the Immigration Clinic?

A: If you become a client of the immigration clinic, you do not have to pay attorneys fees. However, you are responsible for any filing fee or other costs that may incur during the course of your case. 

Q: I am not fluent in English, how can I communicate with the Immigration Clinic? 

A: The Immigration Clinic provides professional translators and interpreters at no cost to the client. 

Q: Will the government of my home country know I spoke to the Immigration Clinic about my potential case for asylum?

A: No. The immigration clinic, and its attorneys, are prohibited from disclosing client information to anyone. 

Q: Can other members of my family, or anyone else, sit in with me in my interviews with the attorneys at the Immigration Clinic? 

A: No. Due to confidentiality reasons the only people allowed during client interviews are the client, his/her attorney, and an interpreter, if needed.

Q: I have already filled out applications for my case, and do not want the Immigration Clinic to represent me. Is it possible for the Immigration Clinic to just review my applications to make sure that they are correct? 

A: No. We do not provide review services. 


GW Law is an ideal home for the Immigration Law Clinic. The law school counts several distinguished professors and advocates in the immigration field among its faculty and offers strong courses in immigration law.

 Immigration Clinic Acting Director Paulina Vera teaches:

  • Immigration Law 6538 

In the Immigration Clinic, students assume substantial responsibility for handling a range of immigration law matters, including determining what benefits or forms of relief, if any, are available to their clients, and, in appropriate circumstances, representing their clients in removal proceedings. Because the clinic’s clients come from all over the world, cultural sensitivity is essential and foreign language skills are welcome. An average of 312 hours of work per semester including attendance at a two-hour weekly seminar is required. Permission of the instructor is required prior to registration. Prerequisite: Law 6538. Students may enroll in this course and Law 6638 (Field Placement) only with permission of both instructors.

Professorial Lecturer in Law Anna Ludwikowski teaches:

  • Immigration Law II 6539 

This course focuses on the family and employment-based immigration practices. Examination of the procedural aspects of obtaining lawful permanent resident status in the United States through the family and/or employment preferences categories, as well as the process for obtaining non-immigrant admission. (Take-home examination)

Professorial Lecturers in Law Michelle Morales, Leon Fresco, and Kuyomars Golparvar co-teach:

  •  Immigration Law 6538

Theory and application of the Immigration and Nationality Act and 8 Code of Federal Regulations. Examination of practice before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, Department of State, and Department of Labor. Removal, political asylum, adjustment of status, naturalization, and other issues. Enrollment is limited. (Examination)

Professorial Lecturers in Law Rachael Petterson and Shira Zeman teach:

  • Refugee and Asylum Law 6540 

Selected topics from the areas of international law pertaining to the protection of refugees and domestic law of political asylum. Enrollment is limited. (Examination)

Professorial Lecturer in Law Kuyomars Golparvar teaches:

  • Selected Topics in Public Int'l Law (Immigration Criminal Enforcement) - 6561-12

Selected topics pertaining to the intersection of immigration and criminal law. Enrollment is limited.

Client Victories

July 23, 2019 - Student-attorney, Phuong Tran, and her clients, B-R-S-, and her two kids, C-R-R- and B-R-R-, ages 12 and 19. On July 15, IJ Deepali Nadkarni issued a written decision granting B-R-S' asylum application, over a year after her merits hearing. B-R-S- was a police officer, and because of that status, she and her family were threatened with death by mara gang members. The gang mistakenly thought B-R-S- was involved in a police raid that resulted in the arrest of several gang members. They began following and threatening her and her children, even stopping C-R-R- to pass along the following message to his mom:  "stop being a blabbermouth ('lenguona'), or you both will be dead." B-R-S- reported these incidents to her supervisors, one of whom told her to leave the country. Fearing for the safety of her children, they fled for the United States.

May 29, 2019 - Student-attorneys, Brittney Aldredge, Chris Carr, Michaela Aldriatch, and helped T-P to become a conditional legal permanent resident on February 16, 2016. T-P, a Vietnamese citizen,  applied for LPR status through a marriage-based petition after marrying C-N, a United States citizen. Student attorney, Phuong Tran, assisted T-P with his application to remove the conditions on his legal permanent resident status, which was granted on May 29, 2019. T-P has applied to naturalize and become a US citizen.

May 14, 2019 - Student-attorneys, Solangel Gonzalez and Allison Mateo, helped J-A to obtained legal permanent residence as of May 14, 2019. J-A was eligible for legal permanent resident as the spouse of an asylee. He was granted status after two interviews with USCIS and will become eligible to apply for naturalization in four years. 

March 8, 2019 - Legal Associate, Paulina Vera, successfully assisted V-G in obtaining her green card after being granted asylum in 2017.

February 26, 2019 - Student-attorneys, Rachael Petterson, Julia Navarro, Solangel González, Chen Liang, Xinyuan Li, Abril Costanza Lara, Allison Mateo, and Paulina Vera, successfully represented S-P-G-G in a hearing regarding her asylum application. S-P-G-G warranted humanitarian asylum because she established compelling reasons arising from the severity of her persecution. Among other things, she had been raped by her sister's ex-boyfriend, which resulted in her becoming pregnant and giving the child up for adoption. The Clinic is currently working to reunite the client’s son with her.

January 9, 2019 - Student-attorneys, Maley Sullivan, Xinyuan Li, and Kirsten Ryan, successfully assisted T-M in submitting an I-130, application for an immigrant visa on behalf of his wife, H-S-A, through a marriage-based petition. T-Mi- is from Ethiopia where his wife and US citizen son currently lives. Student attorneys helped to obtain proof of son’s US citizenship through a special section of consulate “Overseas Citizens and Passports Services”. T-M’s wife and son will soon be reuniting with T-M in the United States.

November 26, 2018 - Student-attorney, Megan Elman, JD ‘19, successfully obtained asylum for her clients, R-G, his wife, J, and their two kids, ages 10 and 5 respectively, R and L, from El Salvador. R-G was a maritime police officer, and because of that status, he and his family were threatened with death by mara gang members.  During an outing at the beach, the family had a gun pointed at them while being threatened. One of the maras told R-G that his order was only to tell him to move away, but he wished he had been given the order to kill him because he would have preferred to cut off R-G's head and hang it from a tree.  Afterward, R and J tried to file a complaint with their local police, but were advised by the police not to bother and instead flee the country.  That night, unknown, masked, armed men appeared outside their house.  Eventually, the men left, but the family decided to flee to the USA. 

November 1, 2018 - Student-attorney, Kirsten Ryan, successfully helped M-N become a U.S. Citizen. M-N is from Afghanistan and obtained asylum through the clinic’s help, then she became a lawful permanent resident, and finally a U.S. Citizen in 2019. She passed her naturalization exam in 27 minutes. Her oath ceremony was on December 22, 2018.

An Immigrant Defends the United States

Being a part of the Immigration Clinic means being cognizant of the roads traveled by immigrants in the past. The following story was written by Professor Benítez’s father-in-law, Mr. Joe Salas, from OshkoshWisconsin, who immigrated from México to the United States in 1926 and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Mr. Salas became a U.S. citizen after his discharge from the Army. He recounts his war experience here:

I was born on August 19th, 1921, in Purísima del Rincón, Guanajuato, México. My parents, siblings, and I immigrated to the U.S. in 1926 and settled in Gary, Indiana. I graduated from Froebel High School in June 1940 and my first job was working as a grocery clerk in a neighborhood store earning all of $6.00 per week. Within 2 years I was earning $25.00 per week. Little did I know that my next job would net me $30.00 per month, plus food and shelter.

By 1941 the war was raging in Asia and Europe. A couple of close friends enrolled in the Army and both landed in the Philippines. One was killed in late 1941 and the other was captured at Bataan and survived the infamous Death March. A neighbor and I went to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was accepted but I was rejected because I was not a U.S. citizen. When I got a draft notice from the Army in 1942 I was surprised to learn that I could serve, even though I didn’t have to, and I jumped at the chance to do so. I arrived at the 5th Army induction center at Camp Aterberry, Indiana, on September 9th, 1942. Within two weeks I was at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, where I took basic training. It was an artillery camp and I trained on all types of weapons from 155 mm rifles down to 40mm automatic anti-aircraft guns. I also trained in communications and learned to operate field radios as well as learning how to string communication lines. After basic training I landed at New Orleans, a port of embarkation for the American Theatre of Operations. There were German U-boats operating in the Caribbean and they were a threat to the oil refineries in the Caribbean Islands and to the Panama Canal.

We departed for Curacao, N.A., in March of 1943. In July 1944 we returned to the States and landed in Fort Hood, Texas. We became part of the 107th Cavalry Squadron. This was a regular Army outfit from Ft. Riley, Kansas, and they were mechanized early that year. I was trained as gunner on an M-16 tank that was fitted with a 75mm howitzer rifle and two 50-caliber machine guns. Following basic training, I headed for Hoboken, N.J., a port of embarkation for the European Theatre of Operations. 

We landed at Liverpool, England, in early January 1945 and we went straight to France on January 16th, 1945. Our outfit moved to St. Nazaire, France, where a division of German troops were trapped. We got further training there in recon, which was the major focus of our outfit. We moved out after 2 - 3 weeks and headed for northwestern France. Since we were in the field at all times and we were a mobile outfit, I can’t trace the route we took through Europe. We participated in the northern France, Ardennes, and Rhineland campaigns and finally landed in Bavaria not far from Munich when the war ended in Europe in May 1945.

From southern Germany we went to Marseilles, France, for deployment to the Far East, where the Japanese had not yet given up. En route to the Far East the war ended and we re-routed our destination and landed in Newport News, Virginia. I got my first furlough in 3 years and returned two weeks later for my final discharge on October 15th, 1945. Uncle Sam gave me the American Theatre Ribbon, the European Theatre Ribbon with 3 Bronze Stars, the Good Conduct Medal and 300 bucks to get me started after 3 years, 1 month and 7 days of service.

Mr. Salas passed away on October 29, 2016.


2019 Award WinnerThe Immigration Clinic is highly respected by the Office of the Immigration Judge and the various other federal immigration agencies, and for good reason. Clinic students win their cases. The clinic’s record is particularly enviable because noncitizens typically come here after being rejected by other lawyers or organizations. The clinic’s specialty is the “tough” case that requires novel and creative lawyering. Clinic students have won cases involving hot-button issues like female genital mutilation, sexual orientation, torture, and HIV-status. Clinic students have also obtained freedom from detention for noncitizens. Winning for clients is the clinic’s greatest recognition.

In addition to holding a record of excellence, the clinic was honored to receive the 2000 Human Rights Award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association(AILA). GW Law was the first, and so far only, law school clinical program to receive this or any AILA award.

In 2005, the clinic was also privileged to receive the Johnson Award from the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia for exhibiting "unwavering commitment and achievement in public service and dedication to the principles of equality, cultural respect, and social justice."

Most recently, the Immigration Clinic was ranked #11 in Law Street's 2016 Top Schools for Immigration Law Programs.  

Manuel and Ana Maria Benítez Award

The Manuel and Ana Maria Benítez Award for Clinical Excellence in Immigration Law is given to a member of the graduating Juris Doctor class who has demonstrated extraordinary ability in his or her work in the Immigration Clinic, and who possesses the personal qualities of Manuel and Ana Maria Benítez - both immigrants to the United States from Mexico - including initiative, creativity, zeal, loyalty, and integrity.

Previous Award Winners

  • 2019: Allison Mateo
  • 2018: Julia Navarro
  • 2017: Celina Marquez
  • 2016: Sameen Ahmadnia
  • 2015: Paulina Vera
  • 2014: Carly Sessions
  • 2013: Emma Brown
  • 2012: Naushad Reza
  • 2011: Ioulia Maslikova
  • 2010: Amisha Patel
  • 2009: Alicía Gonzalez 
  • 2008: Shelley Sackel
  • 2007: Jordi De Llano
  • 2006: Betina Calderón
  • 2005: Manuela Hernandez

Megan Elman: My name is Megan Elman, JD '19, and I participated in the Immigration Clinic during my 3L fall semester. I knew when I started at GW Law that I wanted to be a student attorney with the Immigration Clinic. With the support and supervision of Professor Benítez and Paulina, I worked on affirmative and defensive asylum applications. The highlight of my law school experience was winning asylum for my clients and their two young children! As I prepared for the Individual Calendar Hearing and to submit an affirmative asylum application, I learned about the realities of immigration law practice that you cannot learn in a classroom and I grew as a lawyer and advocate. In the fall, I will begin a fellowship with the Immigrant Justice Corps, where I will work with The Long Island Project.

Barbara Horne-Petersdorf: My name is Barbara Horne-Petersdorf, JD ’19 and I participated in the Immigration Clinic during my 3L fall semester. My interest in immigration law arose out of my experience working with asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa in Tel Aviv, Israel prior to law school. I came to GW Law excited about its immigration clinic and jumped at the opportunity to work under the supervision of Professor Benitez and Professor Vera. As a student attorney in the Immigration Clinic, I met regularly with clients and was afforded full responsibility over my cases. I learned from my supervisors, clients and peers how to serve the legal profession with dignity, how to listen and how to be heard. This fall, I will be clerking at the D.C. Superior Court in the Senior Judges Chambers, where I look forward to incorporating the knowledge and experience gained at the immigration clinic and seeing how immigration law intersects with other areas of the law.

Navil Infante: My name is Navil Infante, JD’ 19, and I participated in the Immigration Clinic during my 3L spring semester. As the daughter of immigrants, I have an intrinsic passion for immigration law. Working as a student attorney was the most rewarding experience I had in law school. As a student attorney, I had the opportunity to interview prospective clients and evaluate their eligibility for immigration benefits, represent a client in immigration court, and prepare an asylum application. The mentorship I received at the Immigration Clinic prepared me for the challenges faced by immigration attorneys. Most importantly, I learned to provide creative solutions for complex immigration issues and to empathize with the struggles of my clients. After graduating, I will be working as an associate attorney at Grossman Young & Hammond, where I will continue to represent individuals from immigrant communities.