Improving Lawyers & Lives: How Immigrant Justice Corps Built a Model for Quality Representation While Empowering Recent Law School and College Graduates and the Immigrant Communities Whom They Serve 

By Jojo Annobil & Elizabeth Gibson
December 1, 2023

The late Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit formed a study group in 2008 called the Study Group on Immigrant Representation to assess the scope of the problem and find a solution.  The study group determined that the representation crisis was an issue “of both quality and quantity” and that the two most important variables for a successful outcome in a case were having counsel and not being detained.  To address this need, the study group established two innovative programs:  the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), the first public defender program to provide universal representation to detained New Yorkers; and Immigrant Justice Corps (IJC), the first and only fellowship program exclusively dedicated to increasing representation to low-income immigrants and improving the immigration bar.

IJC, launched in 2014, recruits, trains, and mentors talented Justice Fellows (recent law graduates and law clerks) and exceptional Community Fellows (college graduates who become federally accredited legal representatives).  IJC then deploys the Justice and Community Fellows (together, the “Fellows”) in the immigration field to assist low-income immigrants in defending against deportation, seeking lawful status, or applying for citizenship.  The Fellows—the great majority of whom are bilingual or multilingual with lived experience of the immigration system—come from top law schools and colleges, and many have developed litigation skills in their schools’ immigration clinics, giving them a head start in mastering the law.

This Essay focuses on the work of IJC and discusses Judge Katzmann and the Study Group on Immigrant Representation’s efforts to find solutions to the representation crisis by developing innovative programs and tackling challenges along the way.