Harvard Portrait: Deborah Anker

via: Harvard Magazine

Deborah Anker is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School. Photograph by Stu Rosner


“THIS IS MY CAUSE,” thought Deborah Anker, M.A.T. ’70, LL.M. ’84, upon her first encounter with immigration law. A second-generation American whose Jewish grandparents crossed the Atlantic to escape the Holocaust, she got her start at a Boston-based refugee-assistance organization, where she worked for a few years after earning her law degree. Her family history sparked her passion for the subfield of asylum law, on which she later wrote the treatise that made her one of the discipline’s most prominent scholars. The clinical professor of law notes that she inherited her deep sense of social justice from her parents, both public servants with progressive values. “I have grown up with a tremendous passion about civil rights,” she recalls, adding that even her family was not progressive enough for her rebellious spirit. When Anker joined the Law School faculty in the mid 1980s, she notes, immigration “wasn’t even considered an area of law.” In addition to teaching the first full immigration-law course offered at the school, in 1984 she co-founded the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, an initiative that engages students in the direct representation of asylum applicants. “The best doctrine is shaped by the experience of representing clients,” explains Anker, whose career has unfolded at the intersection of scholarship and practice. “I was born into a community that had just suffered so much,” she says of her choice not to pursue a “happier” field. Coming into close contact with the sadness of her clients has been for her a cathartic experience. During three decades of lawyering, Anker has witnessed “the resiliency of the human spirit” in her clients, which she says has been profoundly transformative.

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Cross-Clinical Collaboration: HIRC visits Charles Darwin University in Australia

This past August, HIRC’s Sabi Ardalan traveled to Australia to help Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Australia’s Northern Territory set up their own clinical program.  Jeswynn Yogaratnam, a law lecturer at CDU, initiated the plan for an immigration and refugee law clinic in hopes of training a new generation of humanitarian lawyers while addressing increasing demand for legal services as rising numbers of asylum seekers in the territory face detention and deportation.

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Sabi Ardalan (left) and Jeswynn Yogaratnam from Charles Darwin University

Sabi met Jeswynn last November when he came to Boston to meet with clinic staff and students at Harvard and GBLS to learn about the clinic.

During her trip this August, Sabi led a two-day workshop at the Charles Darwin University School of Law with law faculty and community partners to discuss the evolving role of clinical legal education in the US and Australia and set the groundwork for a clinical program at CDU.  During her time there, Sabi also spoke at the Northern Territory’s Law Society about the current challenges of the US asylum system as record numbers of people arrive at the US Border and adjudicators place increasing emphasis on credibility and corroborating evidence.

CDU hopes to officially launch their immigration and refugee clinical program at the beginning of next year.

For more information on HIRC’s collaboration with Charles Darwin University visit http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-19/program-to-help-asylum-seekers-get-legal-representation/5755632?&section=news

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Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera win Dean’s Award for Excellence

Congratulations to Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera, co-managing directors of HIRC at Greater Boston Legal Services, who recently won the Harvard Law School’s Dean’s Award for Excellence for their exceptional teaching and mentoring of students at Harvard Law School and for their leadership in developing child asylum  and gender-based asylum law, as well as indigenous Guatemalan and gang-based asylum claims. 

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From left: John Willshire Carrera, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, Nancy Kelly, and Lisa Dealy, Assistant Dean for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

John and Nancy helped found HIRC 30 years ago and have worked tirelessly over the years to help immigrants and to train generations of immigration attorneys.  In their nominations letters, John and Nancy’s colleagues described the dedication, compassion and skill they have brought to HIRC over the past 30 years:

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HIRC staff members (from left): Liala Buoniconti, Sabi Ardalan, John Willshire Carrera, Nancy Kelly, Maggie Morgan, Phil Torrey, and Lucy Cummings

 “Their commitment to legal service and their dedication and ability to build ties between our law school and the legal services community has helped make us a true social justice clinic.” 


“They are the glue that holds the immigration unit of GBLS together… John and Nancy’s expertise in immigration is unrivaled and their dedication to both their clients and students is exceptional among attorneys and mentors.”       

“They are tireless advocates for hundreds of noncitizens in the Boston area, supremely gifted supervisors and managing attorneys of HIRC at GBLS, and incredible mentors to many of us at HIRC.”

Congratulations John and Nancy for this extremely well deserved honor!

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Classroom to courtroom

Via the Harvard Gazette

Law School immigration counseling program helps the powerless while educating students

October 14, 2014 | Editor’s Pick Popular

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, which marked its 30th anniversary this year, trains students to represent refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. Julina Guo, HLS ’15 (from left), joins John Willshire Carrera and Nancy Kelly, co-managing directors of HIRC at Greater Boston Legal Services, and Deborah Anker, the program’s director.

Harvard Law School students with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) were working with Greater Boston Legal Services on a case involving a Guatemalan man in the summer of 2013 when they collectively had an “aha” moment.

The pressure was high, and everybody was working on two sets of legal briefs that were due before the court. “We were having a meeting here, and all of a sudden everybody understood what was on the table, and the writing was very powerful,” said John Willshire Carrera, co-director of the HIRC site at Greater Boston Legal Services.

The HIRC program trains students to represent refugees seeking asylum in the United States, as well as other immigrants, said Deborah Anker, the program’s director and a clinical professor of law.

“We represent a lot of women and children, LGBITA [lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, transgender, and asexual] cases, and cases where people face persecution under what people may regard as the classic ground of political opinion,” Anker said. “Recently, we’ve been representing a lot of people who are fleeing the warfare — it’s called gang violence but it’s really warfare — in Central America.”


“When I first started, hardly anybody was going into immigration, but now I would say at least half our students want to go into it, if not more,” said Deborah Anker, director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

HIRC students work on all these matters with supervision. They also work on litigation and Circuit Court of Appeals cases, often filing amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs, working side-by-side with the instructors.

“They have done extraordinary work, especially with women refugees and with children,” Anker said.

The last two decades have seen a tremendous increase in the numbers of immigrants being jailed, often for minor criminal offenses, Anker said. Because of their legal troubles, they face deportation to native countries they may barely know, often without the benefits of relatives who are long since gone.

“The deportation policies in this country, the grounds for deportation, have expanded exponentially over the last 20 years,” Anker said. “I would say especially since 1996.”

HIRC celebrated its 30th anniversary in June, marking the occasion with what Anker called an extraordinary conference that drew major national and international practitioners and scholars.

Carrera, who has worked with co-director Nancy Kelly and HIRC for 30 years, said the cases are often so protracted that students who start a case end up handing it off to other students who will see it through to the end.

HLS students can also join the clinic’s Harvard Immigration Project (HIP). Students run HIP with supervision and guidance from lecturer Phil Torrey, who also teaches a course on “crimmigration,” and works with students on clinical projects.

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program has enjoyed a couple of major victories in recent months. In July, the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Board of Immigration Appeals decision denying asylum to a Guatemalan Mayan Quiche Indian. The man had been a victim of racial and ethnic persecution by the Guatemalan military. And in August, the Board of Immigration Appeals recognized domestic violence as grounds for seeking asylum in the United States.

“We have been trying to get them to formalize the law, include women fairly within asylum law, and recognize gender-based violence for over 20 years now,” Anker said.

The program gives second- and third-year students great freedom to work on immigration cases, develop affidavits, and argue in court, Anker said.

“We provide a lot of support and guidance, so they are not really stranded on their own, which is not appropriate from our point of view,” she said. “Because they get the intense supervision, they have an experience very different than when they start working at firms and NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. Our main goal is to educate the students.”

In addition to learning the law, the students learn how to acquire and present evidence, work with interpreters, obtain documents and other evidence from foreign countries, interview, and work with experts.

“When I first started, hardly anybody was going into immigration, but now I would say at least half our students want to go into it, if not more,” Anker said.

The skills the students learn in the program are increasingly relevant to other areas of law as well, she said.

Through the HIP project, first-year students have the opportunity for practical work in the immigration field, even though they can’t formally join the for-credit clinic at the law school until their second year.

Some of the work the first-year students do includes bond hearings and helping eligible immigrants and refugees apply for permanent residence.

HIRC gets hundreds of requests for representation every year so it can’t accept them all, Anker said. Greater Boston Legal Services gets several hundred more and takes more cases than Anker’s staff at HLS, because it has a broader mandate.

“We take cases that are going to raise new issues of law,” Anker said.

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Joey Michalakes Reflects on Experience at HIRC

By Joey Michalakes, JD ’16

This past summer, I had the enormous honor of working as the Cleary Gottlieb Summer Fellow at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC).  Over the course of a very busy but thrilling three months, my work at HIRC provided a comprehensive introduction to the world of immigration legal services.  Under the supervision of HIRC’s fantastic clinical faculty, including Professor Deborah Anker, Sabi Ardalan, Phil Torrey, Emily Leung, and Maggie Morgan, I represented clients seeking a variety of forms of immigration relief and was able to hone an important array of legal skills at different stages of the litigation process.

I loved coming to work at HIRC because each day was fast-paced and presented new challenges, many of which I will remember for the rest of my life.  A mere three weeks into the internship, I was already sitting before an immigration judge in downtown Boston, arguing motions at a pretrial conference for our clients seeking cancellation of removal for certain nonpermanent residents.  In that same case, I was asked to draft and then meticulously revise a pretrial brief laying out my client’s claims, knowing that the time I spent crafting legal arguments and telling my client’s story could make all the difference in her case.  Another morning, I proceeded directly from leading our weekly case meeting with an asylum seeker fleeing gang violence in Central America to sitting in on an intake interview with a family of Middle Eastern political dissidents and playing with their children.  I also got the chance to manage an I-730 relative petition for an East African woman seeking to bring her children to the United States after almost four years apart.

The legal training I got at HIRC this summer was invaluable.  Debbie, Sabi, Phil, Emily, and Maggie never hesitated to answer any questions, no matter how trivial, and were quick to provide comprehensive feedback on my written work.  More importantly, they were excellent role models—the passion they have for their clients, and for just and humane immigration laws, is evident in their work and how they treat all visitors to the office.  Watching them work helped me learn how to effectively, but compassionately, interview clients and witnesses, especially those suffering from the kinds of trauma characteristic of many asylum seekers. My experience as the Cleary Fellow will stay with me for the rest of my legal career.  I am extremely grateful to have spent my first law school summer in such a warm, welcoming, and mission-driven place.  Thanks very much to the entire HIRC staff for everything!

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