Removal Defense Clinic

The Removal Defense Clinic is designed to train students to represent low-income immigrants in immigration removal proceedings before the Executive Office of Immigration Review, including matters before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services where applicable.

The clinic will focus its removal practice to cases in immigration court that involve the following forms of immigration relief: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Asylum, Withholding of Removal, Relief Under the Convention Against Torture, and Cancellation of Removal. Under the close supervision of Professor Julia Vazquez and Kathy Khommarath, students will engage in all aspects of the immigration case.

This can include, but is not limited to, the following exercises when applicable: client interviewing; drafting declarations; country condition research; finding, developing, and working with expert witnesses; appearances in immigration court; cross- and direct-examination; opening and closing statements; presenting evidence before the court; and motion and brief research and writing. In addition to direct client representation, the Clinic will also include a course lecture component, held once per week for two hours at Southwestern Law School.

The seminar will focus on substantive and procedural law, professional responsibility, theoretical frameworks, and development of advocacy skills. Students will also be required to engaged in 7.5 clinic hours per week, which will be completed in the Southwestern Legal Clinic, in addition to the time required to complete assignments related to client representation.

"We created the Removal Defense Clinic to allow students to exercise their legal skills in service of a growing population of individuals at risk of deportation. We are excited to see our inaugural class make an impact in the lives of their immigrant community members facing what are often difficult and traumatic experiences in deportation proceedings."

- Professor Kathy Khommarath '12


  1. How do I participate in the Removal Defense Clinic?

    Students must be in good academic standing and have completed their first year of study in order to be eligible to enroll in the Clinic. Students will enroll through the Legal Clinic Common Application Process where students will have the opportunity to explain their interest in the Clinic. 

    Preference will be given to third- and fourth-year students who have not had prior clinic experience. Considerations will be given to students with immigration, public interest, and other relevant work or volunteer experience. The course can also be offered each semester, with access for evening students on a bi-semester basis by making class sessions available in the evening every other semester. For example, in the Fall 2019 semester, the Clinic would be offered during the day, but for the Spring 2019 semester, it would be offered during the evening. 

    Fluency in a relevant language other than English is strongly preferred, but not required. Selection will not be based on academic rank. Immigration Law is not a required course.

    Students who have taken this course for one year will have the opportunity to also take an advanced-level course that will allow them to continue working on the cases that they started during their first semester in the clinic.

    Students who are interested in applying for the Advanced Removal Defense Clinic should inform their professor, who will assist with the course registration process. 

  2. How is this course graded?

    As a clinical course with live clients, there is no traditional final examination. Instead, the student’s letter grade is based on her cumulative performance throughout the course; including formal observation utilizing a pre-communicated evaluation rubric. The Student Core Competencies will be distributed in the categories below and students will receive rubric for evaluating the competencies. 

    1. Client Representation (50%)
      • Interviewing and Counseling
      • Relationships with Clients
    2. Research & Writing Assignments (15%)
      • Writing and Work Product
    3. Professional Habits and Ethical Obligations (10%)
      • Office Management
    4. Classroom Component (25%)
  3. What is the time commitment?

    Students will be expected to complete an aggregate minimum of 10.5 hours per week on Clinic activities (including class time, reading time, client meetings, case work, faculty case supervision, office hours, field clinic hours, and other aspects of the course as needed) and must be flexible with the hour requirement in order to be responsive to client and case demands.

  4. What is the community impact and relevance of this course?

    Unlike in criminal proceedings, most respondents in immigration proceedings are not guaranteed legal counsel in immigration court. While those in removal proceedings have a right to counsel, they are required to seek such legal representation with no assistance from the government. Many respondents do not have the resources to seek such representation and, more often than not, appear in court unrepresented. “In Los Angeles County, more than two-thirds of people appearing in immigration court face a judge and a prosecutor without any legal representation. In many cases, this includes infants and small children.”1

    Shockingly, from 2007-2012, only about 2% of those who sought relief from removal succeeded without legal representation, whereas 53% of those who sought relief succeeded with counsel.2  The dramatic differences in success between those two are represented and unrepresented highlight a systematic imbalance and injustice in pitting unrepresented individuals against highly trained and experienced government attorneys in these cases. “The results can be tragic, separating families and disrupting whole communities.”3

    The goal of a Removal Defense Clinic is one that would work alongside the Pro Bono Removal Defense Program, with the goal of “expanding access to legal representation to individuals in Los Angeles County, who are in immigration removal proceedings and cannot afford an attorney.”4

    In addition to meeting a dire need in the Greater Los Angeles Area immigrant community, this course would also meet the needs of students who are planning to practice in the area of immigration law. Students have the opportunity to practice their skills in this field of law through affirmative cases (Immigration Law Clinic, Community Lawyering Clinic), and before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Immigration Appellate Practicum; Ninth Circuit Appellate Clinic), but this would fill a gap for students who need experience and instruction in working on defensive cases filed before the Immigration Court. The Clinic directly responds to this need and request by students.

  5. Are there any prerequisite courses?

    No, there are no prerequisite courses. Everything that you need to know for the course, will be provided as part of the seminar instruction, or will be provided on a case-by-case basis as needed. 

    Courses that may be helpful to inform the student's work in the Removal Defense Clinic can include Immigration Law, the Immigration Law Clinic, and the Community Lawyering Clinic. However, these courses are not required to apply for the Removal Defense Clinic.