Immigration law professor explores the impact of advocacy and how Boston University School of Law’s Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Clinic is helping pave a more equitable future.
By Rachel Lin
As Fourth of July parades, barbecues, and firework shows draw to a close, many are still reflecting on the true liberties that Independence Day celebrates: opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. In pursuit of these values, millions of individuals and families have sought permanent and temporary residency in the United States. Data from the Migration Policy Center shows that as of 2021, approximately 45.3 million immigrants live in the U.S. However, the journey for refuge and equal rights for immigrants has not been easy. From language barriers, to access to social services, immigrants face many challenges that test their resilience and determination.
Sarah R. Sherman-Stokes is the Associate Director of Boston University School of Law’s Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program. Through the program, she represents immigrants, detainees, and asylum seekers facing deportation from the U.S. The clinic also engages in litigation and project work dedicated to the end of the criminalization, detention, deportation, and surveillance of immigrant communities. In this Q&A, Professor Sherman-Stokes delves into her work with immigration law, describes how she encourages students to advocate for immigration rights by involving them in real-world cases, and reaffirms how immigrants’ vibrant contributions shape our nation’s identity.
How has your background influenced you to pursue a career and research in immigration rights and law?
In high school and college, I volunteered and studied in Latin America, often meeting the families of those who had migrated to the United States. I also worked as a union organizer with a largely immigrant workforce in Washington DC. After college, I was a paralegal with a deportation defense nonprofit in Washington DC. These experiences, taken together, moved me to pursue a career in immigration law, and in particular, to try to work alongside, and on behalf of, some of the most marginalized immigrants -including folks in detention and those struggling with mental illness and involvement in the criminal legal system.
Could you describe the purpose of the Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Clinic at BU and how it prepares students for a career in immigration law?
I feel incredibly lucky to have landed in the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking program, where I am able to marry my dual passions for teaching and representing non-citizens at risk of deportation. The clinic has allowed students, and me as their supervisor, to represent dozens of immigrants in removal proceedings, take delegations of students to work at the border during the Family Separation crisis, and take part in class-action lawsuits challenging the medical abuse of immigrant detainees. Through the clinic, we strive to provide our students with transferrable legal skills — not all of them will become immigration attorneys, but hopefully they will emerge from the clinic adept at client interviewing, client counseling, brief writing, and trial advocacy. As well as compassion, humility, and a strong work ethic for practicing law.
What actions can individuals, communities, and policymakers take to support and protect immigrants’ rights?
We can better listen to immigrants and stand up alongside immigrant communities. We can work on a local, state, and federal level to advance policies that recognize the richness immigrants bring to our communities. We can also push back against hateful rhetoric and lawmaking that scapegoats immigrants when it is politically convenient.