Crimmigration Clinic Bridging the Gap between Criminal Law and Immigration Law

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Philip Torrey, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC), has carved out a space in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic for a unique and evolving area of law called crimmigration.

“Crimmigration is a dynamic and growing field of law that concerns the intersection of criminal law and immigration law,” explained Torrey. “It concerns the immigration consequences of criminal activity and the use of the state criminal law machinery (local law enforcement, detention, secure communities, etc.) for the purpose of immigration enforcement as well as the use of the deportation system as a method of crime control.”

In addition to teaching a seminar on this subject, Torrey began a Crimmigration Clinic two years ago for students to gain hands-on experience. Students work on policy projects and impact litigation, and they provide consultation to criminal defense attorneys with noncitizen clients.

“It’s a really complicated area of law–combining state, federal, and administrative–so the day to day work is intellectually interesting,” said crimmigration clinical student Emma Scott. “It’s also an exciting area because it’s still evolving–you can probably find something in the news related to crimmigration every day.”

Last semester, the Crimmigration Clinic worked closely with the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) to assist immigrant clients in obtaining the best results from the criminal law system. This collaboration ensured the presentation of plea deals that would not have unfortunate immigration consequences. Both HIRC and CJI are eager to continue this partnership in the future.

“Collaborating with Phil Torrey and the Crimmigration Clinic students has been one of the highlights of our year at CJI,” said Dehlia Umunna, Deputy Director of CJI. “Our CJI clients are the beneficiaries of exceptional and incomparable expertise provided by Phil and his students.  Phil has assisted us with identifying some of the most effective new approaches in advocating for clients facing immigration consequences, including crafting alternate dispositions that allow clients to avoid deportation and preserve eligibility to pursue available immigration relief. Our students and staff find Phil easy to work with; readily available, knowledgeable and extremely patient! It continues to be an honor to work with Phil and the Crimmigration Clinic, and we look forward to many more years of joint partnership as we emphasize a holistic approach to advocacy.”

Torrey and his students also worked with other groups from the Boston area, including Black Lives Matter activists, and they filed amicus briefs in the First and Second Circuit Courts of Appeals concerning criminal bars to asylum. The Clinic will take on similar projects next semester, once again working closely with CJI. It will also expand litigation and policy projects both to advance individual client cases and to impact the criminal justice system as a whole.


Written by Jessica Tueller

Jessica Tueller is a sophomore at Harvard College concentrating in History and Literature with a specialization in Latin America. She is also working toward a secondary in Ethnicity, Migration and Rights and language citations in both Spanish and Portuguese. She is currently interning at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.