Human Rights Advocacy in the Immigration Process

Photo of a family behind a border wall representing the Human Rights Advocacy in the Immigration Process JBS program

Douglas Smith and Rosalind Kabrhel, Lecturers in Legal Studies 
10 Weeks, 12 Credits  |  June 4 - August 10, 2018

In this JBS you will immerse yourself in the immigration process, exploring both the legal and human dimensions of immigration. Over 10 weeks you will develop a range of practical skills including  interviewing, fact investigation, issue-framing, organizing, legal research, counseling - all leading to effective advocacy on behalf of prospective immigrants and, potentially, representation in actual hearings. No prior experience or training in immigration, law, or advocacy is required.

In addition to learning the basics of American immigration law, policy-building, and hearing procedures, your student advocacy on behalf of actual immigrants will be grounded in international human rights norms. You'll also learn how to assess the impact of immigration procedures on individuals, families, communities, and organizations, from a human rights perspective.

A highlight of the program will be that you will collaborate directly with community organizations and public agencies dedicated to addressing human rights concerns in the immigration process. Students will work directly with The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), a non-governmental, student-driven agency, that trains and supervises students and community leaders. Students will work alongside TRII's lawyers and accredited (student) representatives and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams that include medical/health experts, psychological counselors, and country-specific experts. Participants in the JBS will also meet with immigration judges, attorneys, human rights advocates, and community leaders. Through this JBS and its work with advocacy groups, you will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to resolve immigration conflicts, improving conditions for immigrants and their communities. 

By studying immigration as a process, you'll learn to examine the law in its social context—understanding social, cultural, economic, and political factors. Along with knowledge and understanding, you'll acquire practical advocacy skills that can allow you to represent clients in real-life immigration proceedings with the purpose of promoting a more just system.

This JBS will let you help real people:

In many cases applicants for immigration relief are unrepresented and are generally facing highly-experienced adversaries in US officials.  Studies show that legal representation significantly improves an applicant’s chances of success, especially where representation is based on teamwork among coordinated specialists.  The Department of Justice allows for representation by non-attorneys—one of the few such possibilities for live advocacy by trained undergraduates. Students in this JBS will work closely with lawyers and accredited (student) representatives from The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) on immigration issues, gaining an appreciation for the workings of rules, roles and institutions in constructing law.

Students in this JBS may apply during the program to represent applicants in actual proceedings involving refugee status, asylum, and immigration appeals. However, students are not required to represent immigrants in these proceedings - there are many ways to help strengthen the cases of applicants for immigration relief without directly representing the applicants. Students will have the opportunity to continue to work with TRII after the summer, as continuing volunteers, as interns, or as fully accredited immigration representatives themselves.

Program Highlights:

  • Students will meet with immigration judges, attorneys, human rights advocates, and community leaders.
  • Work with immigration advocates from TRII in helping actual undocumented immigrants as they seek a legal U.S. immigration status.
  • Gain an overview of advocacy skills like interviewing, negotiation, fact investigation, issue-framing, coalition building, trial skills, and legal counseling.
  • Learn about immigration law and the asylum hearing process as you construct “asylum packets.”
  • Participate in mock hearings with students taking on roles as hearing officers, attorneys, and expert witnesses.
  • Compare the U.S. Immigration policies with other systems around the world, including employment immigration in Italy, immigration policies in Israel and Japan, and the Canadian points-system approach.
  • Learn about so-called "voluntary agencies" (VOLAGS), like Lutheran Social Services, the International Institute, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which form a major part of the world-wide refugee system. 
  • Develop skills in advocacy practice, including issue-framing, media relations, grass-roots organizing, and cost-benefit analysis while participating in mock lobbying exercises.

This JBS is ideal for:

This program is suited for students across disciplines with an interest in helping undocumented individuals and families to legally resolve their immigration status in the United States. This program is particularly appealing to students in Legal Studies, International and Global Studies, African and Afro-American Studies, Anthropology, Social Justice, and Social Policy, Latin American and Latino Studies, Hispanic Studies, French and Francophone Studies, East Asian Studies, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies, German Studies, American Studies, Peace and Justice Studies, Sociology, Politics, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Health Science, Society and Social Policy (HSSP).  Participants may come from any field of study, assuming they are attracted to this intensive opportunity to represent immigrants in all aspects of the immigration process.  

Academic Benefits to Students:

Students in this JBS will also earn 3 courses (12 credit hours) and fulfill two Oral Communication (OC) and two Social Science (SS) requirements toward graduation. Additionally, one JBS can count as a semester of residency toward graduation. This means, with proper planning, a student could potentially graduate a semester early (saving a semester of tuition).  All students - but particularly transfer students - should click here to review the terms and conditions surrounding residency requirements.

Students who are interested in earning a Legal Studies minor will find that this JBS will enable them to complete 3 of the 6 courses required for a Legal Studies minor (two electives in Item C and the LGLS 89a Internship course in Item DSelect this link to learn more about the requirements for the Legal Studies minor). Some students find it challenging to complete the LGLS 89a Internship requirement for a Legal Studies minor during the academic year when they are balancing their other coursework - so this program is an excellent way to fulfill that requirement!


LGLS 123bj - Immigration and Human Rights
Requirements Fulfilled: SS

Description: Examines American immigration policy, institutions and roles in the context of international human rights treaties and global practices as well as the advocacy practices in various political, social, domestic legal and international forums that construct those policies, institutions and roles. Practical exercises explore advocacy skills peculiar to immigration advocacy and highlight some of the social and cultural controversies surrounding regular and irregular migrations, refugee status and asylum seeking. Explores tensions between domestic politics and international law in guiding immigration reform.

LGLS 130aj - Conflict Analysis and Intervention 
Requirements Fulfilled: OC, SS

Description: This hands-on course invites students to address social problems in immigration policy and practice through public policy reform, community organizing and legal representation. It provides background in the theories, advocacy skills, networks, movements and measures of institutional change that comprise social change practice. 

Students explore conflict resolution in the context of social justice advocacy, including litigation, community organizing, political advocacy, international institutions, negotiation, peace-making and mediation. Through simulations, court and community group observations, guided representation of immigrants and work with immigration advocacy groups, students assess their own attitudes and skills in conflict resolution, as well as the processes by which conflict resolution institutions and roles help construct the communities of which they are a part. We will analyze underlying theories of conflict and advocacy in domestic immigration and international arenas, as well as the relative efficacy of various modes for social change, such as big case litigation, coordinated ground-level litigation, cultural change approaches, peacemaking, grassroots organizing, direct action, political advocacy (lobbying) and business and other institution-building strategies.

LGLS 89aj - Law and Society Internship and Seminar
Requirements Fulfilled: OC
Prerequisites: LGLS 10a and one other LGLS course or permission of the instructor. 

Description: This course offers a closely supervised legal representation experience in a student-run immigration legal clinic as well as opportunities to interact with public agencies, nonprofit organization and/or government officials. Internship experience opportunities are offered daily throughout the JBS, but students are only required to participate for 10-15 hours per week. Students will have multiple additional opportunities to participate throughout the JBS (as well as to continue their work by becoming accredited immigration representatives following successful completion of the JBS) but that is not required to thrive in this program. The internship experience is integrated throughout this JBS program, and students’ experiences in representing individuals and groups will form a large part of the text for all the courses included in this JBS. 

Note for students who have already taken LGLS 123b and/or LGLS 130a.

If you have already taken LGLS 123b, LGLS 130a and/or LGLS 89a, you may still enroll in this JBS and earn credits toward graduation. While there will be some repetition of concepts, the courses in this JBS have unique content, are more intensive, and focus specifically on U.S. immigration policy and immigration courts. As the JBS courses are different, they receive unique designation of "j" on the course numbers (LGLS 123bj, LGLS 130aj, LGLS 89aj). Therefore you are not repeating any of these courses. This means that the grade you earned earlier for LGLS 123b, LGLS 130a, and LGLS 89a will not change and will remain on your transcript. So if the unique subject matter of this JBS intrigues you, you may still use these JBS classes as credits toward graduation and toward your GPA. You also have the option of making one of your classes a PEER 94a. Please contact the JBS Program for details. 


If you have questions about the program, please email Douglas Smith at: 

If you have questions about the application process or have general programs about the JBS program, email us at:

JBS Applications:

The application period for Summer 2018 is now open!

Applicants should first review the application process, then begin your JBS application here.

There are limited spaces and financial aid in all JBS programs, so applicants are encouraged to apply early - some popular programs will fill before the application deadline!