Immigration has become a hot-button political issue in recent years, causing the demand for immigration lawyers to rise. Each year, over a million people immigrate to the United States.
Many of these immigrants are given no legal assistance upon arrival, finding themselves totally in the dark during court hearings relating to their immigration status.
On top of the strong reasoning, writing, and rhetorical skills all lawyers need in order to succeed, immigration lawyers must also have many specific skills that working with immigrant clients demands.
Because their clients may not speak English or have any familiarity with American culture, immigration lawyers must be capable of effective cross-cultural communication, as well as be sensitive to the difficulties that leaving one’s home country may create.
These immigration lawyers must also be able to interact compassionately with the individuals they represent.
Developing the necessary skills for practicing immigration law requires extensive hands-on clinical training. Selecting a law school that can provide the thorough, robust, and practical education immigration lawyers need is essential to one’s professional future.
There are many different factors to consider in the law school selection process, including how course offerings, post-graduate employment rates, clinical programs, and faculty expertise at different schools compare to one another.
Here are our picks for 10 of the best immigration law schools in the US.
University of Maryland Francis King Carey Law School (Baltimore, MD)
The second-oldest active law school in the country, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey Law School has a long history of producing notable alumni, including several judges, senators, members of Congress, governors, and two attorney generals.
UM Law requires that students get hands-on experience representing clients, particularly those who could not otherwise afford legal services. For aspiring immigration lawyers, this requirement can be satisfied through the Chacón Center for Immigrant Justice’s clinical program.
Emphasizing the intersection of criminal and immigration law, this program’s students have the opportunity to get involved in advocating for immigration policy reform, on top of providing representation for clients in the Baltimore community.
The Immigration Clinic is directed by Maureen Sweeney, a distinguished immigration law scholar.
University of Virginia School of Law (Charlottesville, VA)
According to the Princeton Review, the University of Virginia School of Law is home to the best professors, best classroom experience, and best quality of life of any law school in the country.
Woodrow Wilson, Robert F. Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy are among the school’s many notable alumni.
Of the 250 courses UVA Law offers annually, 23 are clinical programs, including the Immigration Law Clinic.
Students who participate in this program represent clients seeking asylum or release from immigration detention before the Arlington Immigration Court, taking full responsibility for their cases while gaining valuable real-world experience.
In addition to the clinical program, UVA Law also has a robust Pro Bono Program, as well as the Pro Bono Challenge, which incentivizes students to complete at least 75 hours of pro bono service over the three years they are at the school, awarding those who finish the challenge with a certificate of recognition signed by the Dean.
Columbia Law School (New York, NY)
According to US News, Columbia Law School is consistently ranked in the top five law schools in the country, currently tied for fourth place.
Although CLS is best known for a strong corporate law program, its immigration law program also lives up to the school’s renown.
Through the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, students have the opportunity to directly represent clients, as well as participate in innovative projects related to impact litigation, public education, and legislative reform.
The clinic is run by Elora Mukherjee, an internationally recognized immigrants’ rights advocate whose eyewitness reports on the inhumane conditions for children detained at the US-Mexico border garnered international attention.
Since its founding in 2014, the clinic’s students have taken on and won many cases for vulnerable young migrants seeking asylum. One of the program’s many notable victories secured legal protection for six undocumented Central American children.
UC Davis School of Law (Davis, CA)
UC Davis School of Law boasts an 87.2% bar passage rate, nearly 10% higher than the average for Californian law schools. The smallest school in the University of California system, the School of Law has an intimate 8:1 student to faculty ratio.
Located in California’s Central Valley, the heart of the state’s agriculture, UC Davis places students close to the area’s large immigrant population.
In addition, the school’s location is a mere 15 minutes away from Sacramento and an hour from the Bay Area, numerous centers for employment, the state’s legal and political activity, and a rich network of alumni.
Students who participate in the school’s Immigration Law Clinic gain extensive experience directly representing clients, preparing case briefs, and advocating for legislative reform.
Emphasizing the significance of the intersection of criminal law and immigration, the clinic provides its students with the opportunity to advise public defenders about the distinct challenges and potential implications for immigration status faced by immigrant clients.
Cornell Law School (Ithaca, NY)
Cornell’s Migration and Human Rights Program provides pro bono legal services to immigrants through multiple clinics, including the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Law Clinic and the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic.
Exclusively for first-year students, Cornell offers the Immigration Law & Advocacy Clinic, which is designed to foster the development of the research, writing, and advocacy skills students will need to represent clients successfully.
Through this clinic, students participate in community advocacy through on- and off-campus presentations through Know Your Rights and Undocu-Ally, intended to help educate affected groups and other immigration lawyers about developments in immigration law.
In collaboration with the Cornell Farmworkers Program, students can gain experience working with local nonprofits at farms.
UCLA School of Law (Los Angeles, CA)
Like many other schools on this list, UCLA School of Law has a significant focus on hands-on experience. The many clinics they offer include the Immigrants’ Rights Policy Clinic and the Immigrant Family Legal Clinic.
After finishing their first year, UCLA law students can participate in externships through the school’s robust program. During externships, students gain real-world experience under the guidance of knowledgeable practicing attorneys and faculty advisors.
UCLA School of Law also offers litigation, dispute resolution, and transactional
simulation courses, which allows students to develop a strong sense of what practicing immigration law is like.
Recruiters from leading employers, including government agencies, law firms, and corporations, regularly visit the UCLA School of Law. Ten months after graduation for UCLA law alumni, the employment rate is an impressive 96%.
Stanford Law School (Stanford, CA)
Along with Harvard and Yale, Stanford Law School is consistently ranked among the top four law schools. It is known for its distinguished faculty, ample resources for students, and its world-class quality of education.
Stanford admits only 180 students a year, the smallest class size of any law school ranked in the top 14. Their 4:1 student to faculty ratio is almost unmatched.
In addition to 11 clinical programs, SLS also offers students hands-on experience through the Law and Policy Lab, which focuses on addressing real-world legal issues with cutting-edge solutions and emphasizes interdisciplinary analysis.
On top of the Lab and the many different clinics SLS offers, students can get involved with immigration rights advocacy through the Stanford Advocates for Immigrants’ Rights, a student group founded in 2016.
SAIR has created a Research Bank in order to facilitate nonprofit research relating to immigrants’ rights issues in collaboration with well-known advocacy organizations such as ACLU.
Yale Law School (New Haven, CT)
Since the inception of the US News law school rankings, Yale Law has been given the number one spot every single year. According to the Princeton Review, Yale is also the most challenging law school to get into in the country.
Notable alumni include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gerald Ford, and several Supreme Court justices. The prestige and power that come with a Yale Law degree are essentially unrivaled.
Unlike many other law schools, Yale Law prescribes a very minimum number of required courses, encouraging students to instead craft their own, unique path through their studies. After completing the relatively rigid 1L coursework, students are free to choose any of the nearly 200 courses offered each semester.
Harvard Law School (Cambridge, MA)
One of the most prestigious universities in the world and the third best law school in the country according to US News, Harvard Law School offers a stellar immigration law program.
Harvard’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program provides unique opportunities to gain invaluable real-world experience representing clients and participating in policy advocacy at a local, national, and international level.
After being placed at either Harvard or Greater Boston Legal Services, HIRC students represent clients seeking asylum in the United States for protection from persecution, violation of basic rights, or other forms of suffering inflicted by their country of origin.
In addition to the HIRC, aspiring immigration lawyers at Harvard can gain first-hand experience through the Harvard Law School Immigration Project. This student practice organization provides pro bono legal representation and advocacy services to immigrant communities.
University of Chicago Law School (Chicago, IL)
Although Yale is number one on US News’ law school ranking list, the University of Chicago Law has taken the top spot according to the legal news website Above the Law.
Above the Law’s ranking system differs from others in that it is entirely outcome-based. This means that rather than looking at factors such as median GPA and LSAT scores of admitted students, they instead determine rank based on considerations such as rate of employment after graduation.
University of Chicago Law School is ranked #1 in terms of private sector median salary for graduates, #2 for bar passage and employment rate, and #3 for employment rate 10 months after graduation.
The school’s Immigration Law Society is active in promoting interdisciplinary dialogue, organizing panel discussions, and community education events relating to immigration law.
Since its founding in 2020, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has handled several cases of national importance. The IRC provides direct representation for multiple individuals seeking asylum every year.
The IRC has influenced the future of immigration court rulings, among many other achievements, through their work.