Immigrant Rights Clinic

The UCI Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) launched in 2011 as part of UCI Law’s visionary experiential learning program. Clinic students, working under close faculty supervision, provide direct representation to immigrants on matters ranging from detention and deportation defense to workplace exploitation and protection of civil and constitutional rights of immigrants. The clinic also provides legal support to grassroots organizations working on critical issues affecting low-income immigrants.

Pictured: IRC client, U.S. Army veteran Victor Partida, at his naturalization ceremony
IRC client, U.S. Army veteran Victor Partida, at his naturalization ceremony

The IRC strives for and models high-quality, holistic, and transformative lawyering. It acts in accordance with the foundational insight that the community is best served when lawyers help empower marginalized individuals and groups to advocate for themselves.

Clinic students litigate on behalf of clients in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies. They develop traditional lawyering skills, such as client interviewing and counseling, fact investigation, legal drafting and trial presentation. In addition, modern legal practice demands problem-solving methods beyond those skills. Immigrant communities targeted by aggressive law enforcement initiatives have been sites of innovative social and political organizing. The clinic supports that work by partnering with organizations to conduct community education and advance policy campaigns. Through rigorous, structured reflection, students distill lessons about legal practice from their fieldwork.

In past years, complex cases undertaken by the clinic have included the representation of youth referred to ICE by juvenile probation officials, community members alleged to have gang ties, deported veterans seeking to return to the United States, and LGBT immigrants seeking asylum and other forms of protection. Other representative projects have included:

  • Litigating a federal suit in Maricopa County, Arizona, with Puente Arizona to challenge the criminalization of immigrant workers;
  • Working with a coalition in Santa Ana, California to pass a bold and far-reaching sanctuary ordinance;
  • Representation of immigrant detainees in habeas actions seeking their release during the height of COVID-19;
  • Securing damages for immigrants unlawfully detained by local law enforcement officials in violation of state law; and
  • Partnering with national groups on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation and advocacy.

In the Immigrant Rights Clinic, suddenly all the law I had been learning had a new meaning and a new purpose: helping our client. It completely changed the way I interpreted the rules and principles I was learning; instead of asking only, ‘What do the rules mean?’ I had to ask myself, ‘What do they mean for our client?’ The law was no longer an intellectual exercise but a matter of life and death. My clinic client has remained with me as a constant reminder of the law’s potential for justice and injustice for each individual, and is a constant reminder of why I became a lawyer.
- Alisa Hartz ’12, Attorney, Public Counsel, Los Angeles

Highlighted Project: Detainee Assistance and Bond Representation Project

In recent decades, the number of immigrants detained by federal authorities has grown at alarming rates. Although this detention is civil in nature, it is experienced by many immigrants as punitive, and conditions can be as harsh as those in the criminal system. Isolated from their families and communities, detained immigrants face profound pressure to forfeit claims to remain in the United States.

Since 2014, clinic students have represented and assisted detained immigrants in their efforts to obtain freedom from detention. For many years, students met with clients at the Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County or at one of several facilities in Orange County. We recently started a new collaboration with the California Coalition for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) to assist clients at the Golden State Annex in Kern County.

Students investigate facts, formulate a theory of the case, prepare evidence and serve as primary representatives at detainees’ bond hearings. The clinic’s bond clients have included some of the most vulnerable in the immigration system—those who survived abuse, fled persecution, struggled with mental illness, were recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, or faced stigma and discrimination as a result of their criminal records. Bond is often a turning point in their cases. Clients have gone on to win important relief ranging from the acquisition or restoration of status to termination of their proceedings.

In total, students have assisted dozens of detainees, many of whom were subject to prolonged detention. The bond project is highly regarded and has become a model for other law clinics and pro bono programs.

We need lawyers who will strengthen the capacity of immigrant communities to solve the problems that they face. I appreciate that the Immigrant Rights Clinic has been an important partner in our work, both in California and in others parts of the country. I also appreciate that the Clinic trains students to be client-centered, adaptable, resourceful and strategic.

— Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network

Core Competencies

All students handle at least one litigation case and one non-litigation advocacy project. Students work in teams of two or three on all clinic projects. With the permission of the presiding judicial or administrative officer, students serve as the primary legal representative for their clients in all hearings before state and federal courts and agencies.

Foundational Lawyering Skills: Students interview clients, undertake fact investigations, disentangle procedural rules, draft complaints and legal briefs, conduct direct and cross-examinations, and negotiate with opposing parties. Through both intense individual immersion and collaborative learning across clinic teams, students are assured of exposure to a range of skills and knowledge bases. 

Participatory Litigation: IRC contextualizes traditional legal skills in a participatory framework and students work with clients as collaboratively as possible.

Policy Advocacy: Modern legal practice requires basic policy advocacy skills, such as knowledge of legislative drafting, framing techniques, grassroots lobbying methodologies, and media advocacy, to complement litigation expertise.

Know Your Rights and Community Education: Students engage in know-your-rights and community education programs, especially those that can be sustained by our community-based collaborators.

Lawyers and Client Mobilization: Students work with community-based organizers because lawyering alone does not advance justice. Through these collaborations, students explore the strategic and ethical challenges posed by a mode of practice that aims to mobilize clients, in addition to asserting legal rights and defenses on their behalf.

Strategic Judgment: As lead counsel on multi-modal advocacy projects, students participate and contribute to the development of social and economic justice campaigns on behalf of individuals and organizations.

Recent Work

The Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) provides holistic representation to immigrants facing deportation and partners with immigrant advocacy groups on critical issues affecting low-income immigrants in California and beyond. Last year, IRC advocated for detained and formerly detained individuals who faced immigration consequences as a result of involvement with the criminal legal system. IRC students also collaborated with our in-house social work team to assist clients with non-legal needs, such as getting access to housing and mental health care. We won post-conviction relief for several clients and secured the release of one client, a survivor of abuse who had lived in the U.S. since she was four years old, who was transferred to ICE detention directly from prison and detained in Eloy, Arizona. 

Additionally, IRC students continued to litigate Kidd v. Mayorkas, a case challenging ICE practices when conducting warrantless arrests at community members’ homes in Southern California. In particular, plaintiffs hope to stop ICE officers’ tactic of posing as police or probation officers to gain access to community members. In February 2023, a federal judge granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. IRC was one of several co-counsel who received recognition from the ACLU for their work on the case.

IRC students led non-litigation projects as well. They drafted a report with Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the American Immigration Council analyzing records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about Border Patrol’s involvement in racial justice protests around the country in the summer of 2020; helped to successfully get the City of Santa Ana to adopt a resolution putting the issue of noncitizen voting on the ballot for November 2024; worked on community empowerment projects with the Orange County Rapid Response Network (OCRRN); and they continue to collaborate with national groups to examine the role and effects of ICE surveillance. 


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