They don’t all want to be immigration lawyers, but this year, hundreds of Harvard Law School students have made immigrant rights their business
It began with the stroke of a pen: President Donald Trump’s signature on a January executive order banned entry into the U.S. by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Travelers were detained at airports. Students were unable to return to their schools. Impending travel for an Iranian baby’s heart surgery in Oregon hung in the balance. With airports in chaos and little information about their loved ones, families separated by the executive order pleaded on camera for the opportunity to reunite, awaiting a resolution many of them were unsure would come.
Then the lawyers showed up. They arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport carrying their laptops, turning airport terminal tabletops into makeshift offices, handwriting a habeas corpus petition for each individual in need. Law students clustered around a power outlet to coordinate the effort. Within 24 hours, attorneys around the nation were questioning the legality of the president’s action.
In Cambridge, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program hummed with activity late into the night as students worked on amicus briefs and human rights abuse documentation for clients. Founded and directed by asylum scholar and Clinical Professor Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, the Harvard Law program has involved students in the direct representation of asylum seekers and refugees for more than 30 years. In the wake of the November election, it mobilized to strengthen protections for that population.
More than 400 students enrolled at Harvard have now joined the HIRC-based immigration awareness effort, called the Immigration Response Initiative. Assignments range from local community outreach in the form of webinars and information sessions for undocumented people, to legal research, litigation support, and legislative advocacy. Some of the students involved in the initiative had never considered practicing immigration law. Others have been familiar with the realities of immigration since childhood. Here are some of their stories.