Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic

The Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic is a full-year litigation clinic offered in partnership with the Immigration Legal Services Department of Catholic Charities in New York City. Under the supervision of senior attorneys, students represent immigrants – many refugees and asylees – in proceedings at the administrative level and the appeals level. Students also represent children who were victims of abuse or neglect in their home countries in both family and immigration court.

Providing representation from initial client contact through final resolution of the case, students in the Clinic:

  • Interview clients
  • Assist in Know-Your-Rights presentations
  • Conduct full-scale fact investigations
  • Perform legal research
  • Develop a case theory that integrates the relevant facts and law
  • Prepare applications, evidence submissions, and clients to testify at their hearings
  • Attend and represent clients before administrative hearings and court proceedings

Whether invited to give their opinion about matters, to propose solutions, or to handle meetings and conversations with experts or opponents, the students quickly become aware that their work directly affects lives and respond with creativity and zeal. While most Clinic students have limited prior experience and knowledge in the field, their best performance is inevitably drawn out as they experience the Clinic as a collaborative process.

For almost 60 years, Catholic Charities has helped thousands of individuals and families in New York City live humane and flourishing lives. It fulfills its mission of serving the basic needs of the poor, troubled, weak and oppressed through activities in five areas:

  • Protecting and nurturing children and youth
  • Strengthening families and resolving crises
  • Supporting the physically and emotionally challenged
  • Feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless
  • Welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees

The Immigrant Legal Services Department of Catholic Charities serves indigent and low-income immigrants and refugees throughout metropolitan New York and at fourteen satellite sites in its ten-county jurisdiction.

Contact Us

Mark R. von Sternberg, Esq.
Catholic Charities
80 Maiden Lane - 13th Fl.
New York, N.Y. 10038
[email protected]
212-419-3763

Our Clinic

How to Apply as a Candidate

Students can apply for the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic during the spring semester for the following school year. 

Attend a Clinical Information Session which is held for All Clinics for one day in March.

  • Next Date:   To be announced (through Symplicity and Law School display monitors)

Submit an online application

  • Application URL:  To be announced (through Symplicity and Law School display monitors)

Upload the following within the online application:

  • Cover Letter stating interest in the clinic 
  • Current Resume
  • Unofficial Transcript printed from the Academic Record screen in UIS 

After submitting all required documents, an interview will be scheduled.

Mark R. von Sternberg
Adjunct Professor of Law
Senior Attorney, Catholic Charities Community Services/Archdiocese of New York

Professor von Sternberg is a Senior Attorney with Catholic Charities Community Services/Archdiocese of New York, where he concentrates on litigation before the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. In addition to supervising the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic, Professor von Sternberg co-teaches a survey course on general immigration law at the Law School. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Pace University School of Law, where he teaches general immigration and comparative refugee law. Professor von Sternberg has lectured at law schools and professional associations regarding asylum issues and has written extensively, particularly in the areas of refugee law, international humanitarian law, and human rights. He is the author of a recently published treatise on the refugee definition as applied in the United States and Canada. In 2002, Professor von Sternberg received the American Immigration Lawyers Association Pro Bono Award. He is a former co-chair of the Immigration and Naturalization Committee of the American Bar Association’s International Law Division and the current chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee of the Bar Association of the City of New York. Professor von Sternberg received a J.D. degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law and an LL.M. in International Legal Studies from New York University School of Law.

The Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic is a two-semester, eight-credit clinic open to second- and third-year students who want to explore how international human rights and refugee protection law intersect with domestic immigration law and policy in the courtroom. Preference is given to students who demonstrate an interest or commitment to the public interest, immigration law, or international law. Language proficiency and prior immigration law coursework is helpful, but not required.

The Clinic consists of a practice and a seminar component. As part of the practice component, students spend 14 hours a week working on cases at Catholic Charities, in the field or at administrative or court proceedings. Typically, during the course of the year, each student takes two litigation matters from intake/initial preparation to litigation. Students also each receive about five to six other matters, which may involve the preparation and submission of an administrative application, research and writing on a case issue, or participation in a program component. In this way, they quickly become responsible for clients and for making independent decisions. Students in the Clinic work in teams as well, to handle a case, group of cases, or a particular outreach or informational project.

The two-hour seminar class meets weekly at the Law School. In the seminar, students learn and develop essential lawyering skills required in client representation, explore substantive areas of immigration law, participate in roundtable discussions, and hear from experts in the field, including judges and practitioners. The lawyering skills classes cover interviewing, cross-cultural lawyering, case theory and strategy, fact investigation, use of and preparation of experts, and direct and cross-examination. During the roundtable discussions, students present client cases, identifying particular complex legal, factual, or strategy issues for group examination.

“The Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic was unquestionably my most enjoyable and rewarding experience of law school.  In the course of the year-long clinic, I worked on successful asylum cases for refugees from several countries including Belarus, Iraq, and Togo.  My experiences in this clinic solidified my belief in the immensely positive impact that the law can have upon peoples' lives.  The Clinic allowed me to interact one-on-one with clients so that I developed an intimate understanding of their stories and struggles. My representation of clients at actual immigration court proceedings was an incomparable experience which gave me confidence and helped sharpen my trial advocacy skills. Indeed, my proudest moment of law school was witnessing the family of one of our clients break down in tears at the moment when the Immigration Judge announced that he would grant asylum. I highly recommend anyone with even a remote interest in international law, human rights law, public interest work, and of course, immigration and refugee law to apply to this clinic.”

“The SJU Immigrant and Refugee Rights Litigation Clinic was one of the most gratifying experiences I had in law school.  First and foremost, you have your own caseload and your own clients. Since the Clinic is for two semesters, you have time to cultivate a relationship with them while you work on their case. You share their hardships and successes with them, and you take pride in being able to make a difference in their lives.  It's what lawyering is all about. Second, none of these cases are easy.  Mario and Mark are preeminent in their field and, as such, tend to take the especially tough cases that dwell in the murky and unsettled areas of immigration law. Their "throw-you-into-the-fire" technique of teaching makes you learn quickly and think on your feet.  Also, you often have the chance to do real substantive work, like writing motions, memos and briefs, representing clients in immigration hearings, and even dabbling in federal practice. Third, it's a real pleasure to work under Mario's supervision.  As a teacher, he is open, patient and kind.  He takes as much time as he can to explain what needs to be done and to give you feedback.  And he always has a sense of humor. I learned a lot from him, not just about immigration law, but about how to be a good lawyer.  I couldn't recommend the Clinic more highly.”

“I participated in the Immigration Rights Litigation Clinic during my third year at St. John's, and it was the most challenging and rewarding experience of my law school career. I found it challenging because I was unfamiliar with immigration and refugee rights law but wanted to build the best cases I could for my clients, some of whom had experienced unimaginable things in their home country. With the help the professors and fellow students during roundtable discussions, I learned to develop my cases, research country conditions and immigration law, prepare court submissions, and appear before immigration judges. Besides from gaining these valuable trial advocacy skills, I found it incredibly rewarding to see my clients' cases through to the final hearing and share their relief and joy at being able stay in this country.”