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Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School
Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School

A Student’s Perspective On An Extraordinary Win in Immigration Court

In immigration court earlier this week, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic experienced a phenomenal win for their client in an unexpected manner. David Watnick ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 partnered on the case under the supervision of clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah and Clinical Supervising Attorney, Lisa Weissman-Ward.  David’s account of the experience follows.


On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Atenas Burrola and I represented our client at a master calendar hearing at Immigration Court in San Francisco.  We were optimistic that the hearing would be the only time that we would go to court to represent our client, who was facing deportation.

Our optimism was, I believe, warranted:

Before we left for Thanksgiving, Atenas and I left a message with the government attorney responsible for handling our client’s case. We explained to her that, based on our research and analysis, we did not believe that the government could meet its burden of proving that our client was subject to deportation. We told her that we would be moving to terminate the case, and asked that she forward any documents she intended to submit in support of the government’s case, so that we could proceed as quickly as possible.

The day before the hearing, we contacted the government’s attorney to confirm that she had received our message. She informed us that she had received the message, which had prompted her to review our client’s file. She said she agreed with our analysis, and that she would move to terminate the case at the next day’s hearing.

Atenas and I were ecstatic to learn that the government was planning on dropping our client’s case. We had been very confident that we would ultimately prevail, but we had been preparing our client and ourselves for a protracted battle. We were still nervous that the government would reverse course before the hearing, but had no rational reason to think that it would.

When we got to court the next day, we had to wait nearly two hours before our case was called. It was excruciating at the time, but it was a small price to pay; when our case was finally called, the government’s attorney immediately told the judge that she would be moving to terminate the case based on the argument we had made to her.

The judge asked Atenas and me a few basic questions about our client, and asked if we objected to the government terminating the case. We told her we did not object, and that we waived our appeals. Our very brief hearing was over. The judge handed us the termination order, and the government attorney returned our client’s green card on the spot.

The extremely quick resolution of our client’s case was an almost unimaginably good outcome. Now that our client has his green card back, he will likely be able to travel home to see his family for Christmas, which was one of his foremost priorities in resolving his case. The successful termination of our client’s case was a thrilling and unexpected Christmas gift for our client and for us.

Environmental Law Clinic Student Argues at Hearing in U.S. District Court

A team of Environmental Law Clinic students, faculty and staff appeared in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on November 22 at a hearing on behalf of their clients Western Watersheds Project and Wildearth Guardians.  The hearing concerned how to remedy violations of the National Environmental Policy Act by the Bureau of Land Management when the agency authorized continued cattle grazing in habitat for sage grouse and pygmy rabbit in eastern California.  Clinic student, Evan Stein (’15), argued against Assistant U.S. Attorney Earlene Gordon, attorney for the Bureau of Land Management. A ruling is expected early next year.

The students involved in the case and in attendance at the hearing (as pictured here from left): Jackie Iwata (’14); Amanda Prasuhn (’15); Josh Malone (’14); and Evan Stein (’15).

Clinic Students Reflect on Their Work in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic students, Christina Yang, ’14 and Tiffany Yang, ’15 represented their client in immigration court last week. They share background on the case and perspective on their work below.

IRC Students, Christina Yang and Tiffany Yang at Immigration Court, Oct. 31, 2013

On Thursday, October 31, 2013, we had the privilege of representing our client at immigration court in San Francisco.  She was placed in removal proceedings following a misdemeanor offense, and the earliest possible resolution for our client would be scheduled as far away as 2016. She was at risk of losing avenues for relief unless we fought against this delayed docket. In the weeks prior, we strategized, outlined, and mooted as many scenarios as we could to prepare. All of this work culminated in a twenty-minute hearing, in which we successfully advocated for our client and her interests.

Looking back, it is hard to believe we met our client for the first time only four weeks ago.  Although it was exciting, as law students, to have the opportunity to appear in court, the most fulfilling part of the day was our client’s relieved smile that she would not be alone.

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Students Testify at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic students, David Watnick, ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 appeared at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. this week along with clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah. David writes below about the hearing, the testimony he and Atenas presented and his experience.


On Monday, October 28, Atenas Burrola and I presented at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The Commission is a branch of the Organization of American States tasked with examining human rights abuses in the Americas.

Our hearing, brought by a broad coalition of organizations, concerned the human rights of immigrants in the United States. Atenas and I presented on the failure of American immigration agencies to appropriately exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation decisions. By failing to consider family unity in every deportation decision, these agencies are violating America’s obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

Immigrants' Rights Clinic students David Watnick and Atenas Burrola outside the Organization of American States

In our presentation, Atenas and I requested that the Commission recommend that America’s immigration agencies require the consideration of family unity at all phases of every deportation cases. Such reforms can be adopted on an agency level with no legislative approval, meaning that America’s immigration policies can immediately be improved, regardless of Congressional efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The day after our hearing at the Commission, Atenas and I joined Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, for a series of meetings to expand our advocacy efforts into America’s political branches. We meet with officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the offices of Senators Reid, Durbin, and Menendez.

The trip was a great reminder that there are many ways to substantively contribute to an advocacy effort other than litigation (a fact often forgotten in law school), and I am very grateful to have been able to participate so directly—Atenas and I were definitely not kept on the sidelines. Immigration reform is proving to be a very difficult process, and our efforts will encounter no shortage of obstacles, particularly America’s reluctance to honor the decisions of international bodies, and the political preference of many in Washington to address immigration policy solely through legislation. But I’m confident that our work will be one link in the chain of a successful immigration policy reform effort.

Students Investigate and Report on Prisoner Rights Violations in Panama

On behalf of clients, The International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic released a Spanish-language report this week, Protecting the Rights of Prisoners, addressing Panamanian prison conditions. Clinic students, under the supervision of clinic director, Professor Jim Cavallaro, clinical teaching fellow, Clara Long, and a consultant, Maria Luisa Romero, began fieldwork on the project in November 2012 assessing rights violations within the country’s prison system, in which roughly 14,600 inmates are living in space designed for 8,600. Many students have been involved in the investigation and resulting report including: Kat Mateo ’14; Nick Snavely ’14; Jennifer Williams, ’14; Katherine Scherschel, ’14; Atenas Burrola, ’14; Alex Miller, ’14; Swain Uber, ’15; and Michael Frenkel, ’15.

There will be a hearing on this issue at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tomorrow, October 31, 2013. For more on this, see the press release and the English translation of an op-ed piece on the clinic’s work in Panama’s La Prensa newspaper.

Religious Liberty Clinic Hosts Moot for Middle School Students

On October 29, 2013, Religious Liberty Clinic director Jim Sonne and advanced clinic students Courtney Quiros ’14 and Paul Harold ’14 hosted a moot court at the law school for 18 eighth graders from the Sacred Heart Preparatory school in nearby Atherton. The middle-schoolers presented arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a high-profile case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of legislative prayer. It was a fantastic and rewarding experience for all involved.

Supreme Court Litigation Clinic Honored with Stanford Pride Award

From left: Bailey Heaps, Elizabeth Dooley, Michael Baer, Nicolas Martinez, Pamela Karlan

The team of Supreme Court Litigation Clinic students: Bailey Heaps; Elizabeth Dooley; Michael Baer; Nico Martinez and faculty instructor, Professor Pam Karlan pose for a photo on October 19, 2013 after receiving an award from Stanford Pride, the university’s LGBT alumni organization, for its work on the team representing Edie Windsor in challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

CLC Students Successfully Negotiate on Behalf of Their Client at Lengthy Mediation

Pictured here are Community Law Clinic students, Casey Raymond (’14) and Rebecca Maurer (’14) after completion of a 6-hour mediation at the San Francisco offices of ADR Services, Inc. on Monday, October 21, 2013.

Casey and Rebecca represented a man who lived with his large family in a decrepit and neglected single family home. Seeking to impose liability on the property management firm that oversaw all the maintenance in the home, the students did extensive research into the complicated legal issues that arose from a shady transaction, orchestrated by the company, of the home to an individual the family knew as their neighbor and handyman. The company’s liability was accepted by the mediator, a retired judge who praised the students’ work throughout the day, as the starting point for negotiations. A favorable settlement was reached, and the clinic’s client hopes to put the proceeds toward a home purchase.

Clinic Students Contribute to publication advocating for consultation rights of indigenous chileans

The International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic jointly with Harvard Law School, the Universidad Diego Portales, and the Universidad de Los Andes released a book this week about the consultation rights of indigenous peoples in Chile. The book critiques the Chilean government’s failure to guarantee indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consultation, an international legal obligation Chile agreed to when it ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 in 2008.  Professor Jim Cavallaro is a coordinating author and Stanford Law School clinic students Adelina Acuña, Alexia Romero, and Jennifer Ingram contributed as did clinic cooperating attorney Ada Sheng. Clinical Fellow Clara Long was in Santiago this week to help present the book at the release event.

For the English and Spanish press releases and a copy of the book, visit the clinic’s web page:

Landmark Win for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic team was thrilled to receive news last week of a significant U.S. District Court victory requiring the U.S. government to give bond hearings to immigrant detainees.

In Rodriguez v. Robbins, U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter issued a permanent injunction requiring the government to give automatic bond hearings as soon as immigrant detainees have been held for six months to determine if they should continue being detained.  The Clinic — along with co-counsel from the ACLU and Sidley Austin, LLP — have been litigating the case for six years.  Former clinic students Eli Miller, Erin Mohan, Mark Baller, Kimere Kimball, and Michael Kaufman worked on the case.

The ruling follows the Ninth Circuit’s decision affirming a preliminary injunction issued by Hatter late last year. The judge has now held that all immigration detainees held in the Central District of California with pending deportation cases are entitled to a bond hearing at six months, and that such hearings include heightened procedural protections to ensure the hearings are fair.

The Clinic and its co-counsel filed Rodriguez on behalf of the hundreds of immigrants whom the government has imprisoned for more than six months in the Los Angeles area while their deportation cases are being decided. The suit sought the most basic procedural right for detained immigrants – a right to a hearing where they can argue for release on bond. The case has been pending since 2008 and has been extensively litigated, including in two different Ninth Circuit appeals.

The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic is directed by Professor Jayashri Srikantiah.  Lisa Weissman-Ward has recently joined the team as Clinical Supervising Attorney and Lecturer in Law, and will be co-teaching the clinic.  Legal support is provided by Allie Thrall.

Congratulations to all!