No. 7: Immigration Law

File:Border Wall at Tijuana and San Diego Border.jpg© Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Teaching immigration law in the doctrinal or clinical context in current times provides rich opportunities to interrogate questions of race, power and agency, and to center lawyering principles that recognize and emphasize the many ways in which lawyers can support organized movements for social change. While immigration law courses tend to either follow a traditional chronological series of constitutional cases or take a practical approach to training students on immigration agency procedures, the following suggestions offer opportunities to consider the lived experiences of migrants directly impacted by these laws and policies, discuss how immigration law has been used to enforce structural racial, economic and gender hierarchies, and reflect on how organized resistance has shaped the evolution of immigration law.

Conceptualize immigration law and policy as a tool used to reinforce structural white supremacy and revisit this frame throughout.

  • Start the discussion of the history of immigration law and policy with the Middle Passage and Native American genocide and connect those histories to deportation, mass incarceration and labor exploitation. Assign the Fugitive Slave Act and the Indian Removal Act. Daniel Kanstroom, Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History (2007); Phillip Magness and Sebastian Page, Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement (2011); Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (1995).

Expand the concept of “push factors” beyond forced displacement and approach migration broadly to include motivations, transit, entry and integration.

Frame the overall course in terms of the rights of migrants and use the evolution of organized movements for migrant justice as the driving historical narrative.

  • Observe Master Calendar hearings in Immigration Court, including hearings with pro se individuals, with child respondents and hearings conducted through interpreters. Discuss the rights that students observe as asserted and/or unrecognized in the forum.
  • Instruct students to attend a rally or community forum organized by a grassroots immigrant justice organization. Assign a reflection piece asking students to identify the demands of the organizers and discuss whether/how they could be achieved through legal advocacy.
  • Invite an attorney who has represented an individual in deportation proceedings with a coordinated community campaign to stop the deportation. Discuss the outcome of the case, reflect on the impact that community organizing can have on individual cases as well as broader benefits of empowerment, support and leadership development. For students who are unfamiliar with movement lawyering principles, a successful case may open the door to a discussion about the potential impact of community organizing.
  • Provide specific examples of litigation used to support the demands of organized movements. Invite community organizers with experience incorporating legal advocacy into broader strategies to discuss the challenges and opportunities of partnering with legal advocates and provide concrete examples of ways in which immigration lawyers can contribute to stronger movements.

** We are indebted to colleagues, including Jaya Ramji-Nogales, who have contributed valuable feedback and suggestions. Any errors and omissions are solely attributable to members of the Guerrilla Guides collective noted here.


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