Fatma Marouf received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002. She now teaches immigration law and international human rights law at the William S. Boyd School of Law and is Co-Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic. Marouf attended Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program’s 30th Anniversary Conference in June, and is one of the alumni we interviewed.
Why did you choose to study law and what initially brought you to the clinic?
I chose to study law because of my interest in human rights. I read Debbie Anker’s work on asylum law even before starting law school and was excited by the opportunity to work with her. I couldn’t wait to enroll in the clinic and turned down an offer to join the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau my 2L year because I was determined to do the Immigration and Refugee Clinic. I loved asylum law right away. There was something profound about helping people construct a meaningful narrative out of the painful fragments of their lives.
Can you share a few memories from your time with the clinic?
I still have vivid memories of some of the clients I worked with in clinic. I’ll never forget one client from Sierra Leone who was trying to bring his children to the U.S. through humanitarian parole. We needed to submit passport-size photographs with the application and the ones that he brought to the clinic were full-size. When I started cutting them down, there were pieces of photos with body parts on them scattered all over the table. All I could think of was the horror that his family had experienced in Sierra Leone, when rebel forces began hacking off arms and legs with axes and machetes, and how this pile of scraps seemed to reflect that nightmare.
What do you think the biggest learning experiences were?
What I learned from clinic was to give 110% to my clients. I learned how much effort is involved in preparing an asylum case properly and how to work with people who have experienced unspeakable trauma. Debbie was an incredible mentor. Her passion for the work is what inspired passion in so many students. She taught us how to push the law forward, rather than just accept conventional thinking about the limits of the refugee definition. She also shaped my ideas about viewing asylum law through the lens of international human rights law.
What do you miss?
I miss my friends who were in clinic with me and are still some of my closest friends today. We still see each other but it’s harder now to be together in the same place at the same time. It was wonderful to see some of them at the 30th Anniversary of HIRC. They taught me the joy of working with people I love and the importance of having a sense of humor when doing difficult work.
Did your time at the clinic influence or change your long-term goals?
The clinic was critical to my professional development. My experiences representing low-income individuals in clinic helped me decide to join California Rural Legal Assistance after graduating. I then decided to practice immigration law in Los Angeles and focused on removal defense. Clinic was also a catalyst for my decision to become a law professor. Debbie was a great role model and has been very supportive of my academic career. I joined UNLV in 2010 as an Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic. The clinic provides representation in removal proceedings, works with survivors of human trafficking, published a report on detention conditions, and has an innovative project with the public defenders’ office that involves providing immigration advice at the front-end of criminal proceedings, before someone is convicted.
In addition, my scholarship is about immigration and asylum law. I have written about gender-related asylum claims, the evolving definition of a “particular social group,” the role of foreign authorities in U.S. asylum law, and the treatment of mentally incompetent individuals in removal proceedings. I am also involved in empirical research with Professors Michael Kagan and Rebecca Gill at UNLV about immigration appeals in the federal appellate courts. A study that we recently published on stays of removal found that the appellate courts deny stays in about half of the cases where the appeals are ultimately granted, leaving many noncitizens vulnerable to errant deportations. We are currently examining gender interactions in immigration appeals, looking at the genders of the petitioner, the attorneys, and the judges and how they may impact the outcome of the cases.
What do you anticipate in the coming years?
Immigration law is always evolving, which makes it fun to litigate in this area but hard to predict the future. I suspect that we will see some major changes in the next decade. I’m excited to help build a cadre of lawyers who will fight for justice for those fleeing from persecution and torture and who will think creatively about how to design an immigration system that respects human dignity.