Immigration Clinic

Natz Ceremony

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

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 aliens, 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 aliens. 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

Paulina Vera, Esq. supervises Immigration Clinic law students and provides legal representation to asylum seekers and respondents facing deportation in Immigration Court. She previously served as the only Immigration Staff Attorney at the Maryland-based non-profit, CASA. 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 worked with Professor Benitez. She also interned at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), American Immigration Council, and the Arlington Immigration Court. Paulina is admitted to practice law in Maryland and before federal immigration tribunals. 

Students

Under the supervision of clinic director Professor Alberto Benítez and legal associate Paulina Vera, students handle a variety of immigration law matters including representing aliens, 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.

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.

Professor of Clinical Law and Immigration Clinic Director Alberto M. Benítez  teaches

  • Immigration Clinic 6630 
  • 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 Todd Pilcher and Jason Dzubow co-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)

Client Victories

May 23, 2017 – Student-attorney, Jennifer Villarroel Vargas, JD ’16, successfully represented client V-R in her affirmative asylum interview. V-R, originally from Venezuela, was persecuted by Pro-Chavez supporters while living in Venezuela because of her family’s political involvement and her own political opinion. V-R was granted asylum on May 24, 2017.


May 5, 2017 – Student-attorney, Joshua Peterson, JD ’16, successfully helped client M-K remove the conditional basis of her permanent resident status. M-K, originally from Turkey, came to the United States on a fiancé (K) visa and became a lawful permanent resident on June 19, 2014.


March 8, 2017 - the Immigration Clinic’s supervising attorney, Paulina Vera, JD '15, helped obtain asylum in the Baltimore Immigration Court for a client from Guatemala, the mother of four children. The client was the victim of severe domestic violence at the hands of her former partner, who attacked her with a machete and a knife. As a result, the client spent over a month in the hospital and still has serious physical injuries. The Clinic is currently working to bring the client's 13-year-old daughter to join her in the United States.


Fall, 2016 – Student-attorney, Fanny Wong, JD ‘17, secured naturalization for a long-time clinic client, R-A, who is originally from Sudan.  Since R-A became a client of the clinic in 2008, many student-attorneys helped her obtain both lawful permanent residence and citizenship.


June 10, 2016 – Student-intern, Dalia Varela, Elliott School MA ’17, successfully represented client M-L in his adjustment of status interview. M-L was granted Lawful Permanent Residency the very same day of his interview. M-L was first granted derivative asylum after fleeing Guatemala with his family, who are also clients of the Immigration Clinic. 


May 24, 2016 - Student-attorney, Michaela Andriatch, JD '17, successfully represented client T-P to his adjustment of status interview. T-P, originally from Vietnam, was eligible for Lawful Permanent Resident Status based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. He met his wife, C-N, while working as a Tour Guide in Washington, DC, and they have recently welcomed a son. T-N, after proving in his interview both that his marriage was bona fide and that he was eligible to adjust status, became a Lawful Permanent Resident on May 24th, 2016,


March 31, 2016 – Student-attorney, Sameen Ahmadnia, JD ’16, successfully represented client A-S in Arlington Immigration Court in a hearing regarding his Adjustment of Status application. During the hearing student-attorney Ahmadnia even received accolades for her “well-documented case.” A-S fled to the U.S. after being persecuted for being a gay man. A-S has been represented by the Immigration Clinic student-attorney’s in Immigration Court, at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the 4th Circuit, back to the BIA, and finally, in Immigration Court again.  On account of the 2013 U.S. v. Windsor decision, and its invalidation of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, A-S became eligible to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence through his marriage to his long-time partner, a U.S. citizen. After approximately 15 years as a client of the Immigration Clinic, A-S is now a Lawful Permanent Resident and will be eligible to apply for naturalization in three years.

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 theUnited 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.

 

(From left to right) Paulina Vera, Celina Márquez, recipient of the 2017 Manuel and Ana María Benítez Award, Professor Benítez, and Janice Salas

The 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 aliens 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 aliens. 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

  • 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

Victoria Braga: My name is Victoria Braga, JD '14, and I participated in the Immigration Clinic during my 3L year. Following law school, I accepted a position through the Attorney General's Honors Program clerking in the Boston Immigration Court. After my clerkship, I will work in the Appellate Section of the DOJ's Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL). My experience in the Clinic familiarized me with the immigration court system and gave me direct exposure to the types of cases I have worked on during my clerkship and will continue to work on at OIL. Immigration Clinic work helped me learn immigration law while also learning how to be a lawyer. It additionally taught me the benefits of hard work, preparation, collegiality, and collaboration, which are skills I hope to utilize throughout my legal career. Based on my experience, I highly recommend participating in the Immigration Clinic to all current and prospective GW Law students. 


Anam Rahman: My name is Anam Rahman, JD '12, and I participated in the Immigration Clinic after my 1L year. It was an invaluable experience that paved the way for my career as an immigration attorney.  At the time I interned with the Clinic, I had minimal exposure to immigration law beyond my own family’s immigration process.  The Clinic offered me constructive experience over a broad array of substantive immigration matters ranging from asylum to naturalization as well as with their underlying procedural and administrative processes.  I greatly enjoyed the direct experience that the Clinic provided me, as I was personally responsible for my own docket of cases under the guidance of Professor Benitez.  As such, I communicated with Clinic clients on a daily basis, represented clients in interviews and at hearings, and prepared applications for relief and pleadings in Immigration Court on their behalf.   This kind of first-hand clinical experience added a unique layer to my legal education at GW. I am now an associate at the law firm Calderón Seguin PLC.  I primarily practice immigration law and directly represent individuals before Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and other government agencies.


Diane EikenberryDiane Eikenberry: My name is Diane Eikenberry, JD '13, and I participated in the Immigration Clinic during my 2L and 3L years. Working as a student attorney in the Immigration Clinic was an invaluable experience that has helped make my current career possible. I am a better attorney today because Professor Benitez and my clients provided critical feedback on ways I could improve my lawyering. Moreover, the Immigration Clinic gave me the experience, largely unique among law school clinics, of building and managing my own caseload. This led me to feel and take ownership of my cases, and those intensive experiences stick with me to this day. No client success has ever quite matched the euphoria of winning asylum for my client in Immigration Clinic! Since graduating, I have practiced immigration law for two different immigration legal services organizations, the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights (CAIR) Coalition and the Tahirih Justice Center, where I represented detained immigrant youth and women survivors of gender-based violence. I am now the Associate Director of Policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), where I advocate for policy reforms to protect the rights of all immigrants, including those served by the Immigration Clinic.