Immigration law is a field that is growing in importance, given the large numbers of noncitizens in the U.S., the prominence of immigration-related issues in policy spheres, the nexus between immigration law and national security, and the intersections between immigration law and other practice areas. Practicing immigration lawyers find themselves in a broad range of positions, across the non-profit, private, and government sectors. The breadth of these positions reflects the many subspecialties under the rubric of immigration law, which includes asylum and refugee law.
Many aspects of immigration practice mirror the pathways for immigration to the United States. Family-based immigration includes the process of petitioning for individuals able to immigrate based on their family relationships to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders). Another specialty area, employment-based immigration (often referred to as “business immigration”) covers temporary and permanent visas that are premised on employment credentials or the intent to invest in the United States. This area also includes compliance with laws regulating the employment of noncitizens. Other immigration lawyers specialize in asylum and refugee law, which includes representation of and advocacy for individuals fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the U.S. An allied specialty area includes different humanitarian forms of relief, including relief for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, crime victims, and unaccompanied minors. Other lawyers include citizenship as part of their practice.
Another broad distinction in immigration law is between the forms-based practice (which includes visa applications, petitions, and the like) and a litigation practice centered around immigration removal proceedings, immigration appeals, and actions in federal court. Many lawyers span both the forms-based and litigation practice, though some do specialize in one or the other. Those engaged in a litigation practice often develop further areas of expertise, including the intersection of immigration law & criminal law, relief from removal, federal court practice, and more.
Attorneys in the non-profit, government, and private sectors work on different combinations of these specialties. Non-profit immigration lawyers typically represent low-income clients. Therefore, their work focuses on asylum and refugee law, family-based immigration, other forms of humanitarian relief, removal proceedings, and naturalization. (It is exceedingly rare for non-profit lawyers to handle employment-based cases.) Private sector attorneys handle all of the subspecialty areas mentioned above, in different combinations. Government immigration lawyers occupy include a range of fascinating positions within the Department of Justice (including the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or the Office of Immigration Litigation), and the Department of Homeland Security (including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and Customs & Border Protection). Government attorneys are engaged in litigation (e.g., representing the government in removal proceedings and immigration appeals), adjudication (as asylum officers, judges, or other immigration officers), and policy work. There are, of course, many non-government attorneys who likewise engage in policy work at non-profit organizations, employer associations, and similar entities.
Students interested in this practice area are encouraged to take the survey course in immigration & naturalization law, and also the administrative law course. Beyond those courses, students should consider options that match their interests in particular specialty areas, such as asylum & refugee law, or business immigration. Students should also pursue course work in areas that often intersect with immigration law, including criminal law, family law, and employment & labor law. Finally, WCL offers many experiential learning opportunities that prepare students for the practice of immigration law. These include a range of Clinics and other skills-based courses.