The Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a student-run organization at the Columbia University School of Law.

The Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (SIRR) is dedicated to fostering a diverse community at Columbia that is focused on promoting the legal rights of refugees and immigrants. During the school year, SIRR sponsors guest panels, administers various pro bono projects, and leads trips domestically and abroad.



Each year SIRR sponsors one or two teams to attend NYU's Immigration Law Competition in February. Moot court competitors prepare a legal brief in January and then compete in oral arguments the next month on an issue concerning cutting-edge immigration law in the U.S. Columbia Law students have made it to the Semifinals in this competition for the past two years.

2017 Competition 

The 2017 competition featured two issues: 1) whether it is a requirement that a criminal conviction be determined ''final'' for the purpose of deporting someone, and 2) whether or not a state drug look-alike statute was sufficiently related to the federal list of controlled substances such that a conviction under the state law could trigger a federal deportation mandate. Competitors had to argue both on behalf of the petitioner and the government and the judges were experiences practitioners in immigration. This program is an excellent avenue for law students to engage in immigration law at a high level and hone both their legal writing and public speaking skills.  

Contact Information 

If you have any questions please contact SIRR Academic Chairs Alexa Busser (alb2298@columbia.edu) and Emilie Scharz (ecs2184@columbia.edu).

SIRR Annual Symposiums

SIRR's second annual symposium will explore the increased detention of immigrants and the basic violations of their human rights. The event will feature four distinguished panelists who will discuss developments in immigration detention conditions; the Jennings v. Rodriguez decision; Attorney General Sessions’ suit against California; New York’s Immigrant Family Unity Project; and how local governments, law enforcement agencies, organizations, communities, and families are dealing with the criminalization and detention of immigrants.  

The event will moderated by Columbia Law School’s Professor Elora Mukherjee, and Dean Gillian Lester of the Law School will give opening remarks.

To join us for this meaningful event, please RSVP HERE! There is no cost to current CLS Students, Staff, and Faculty. For general admission, the cost is $15.00. Payment by cash and Venmo (@CLS_SIRR) will be accepted. All are also invited to contribute a $5 donation for the New Sanctuary Coalition. More information regarding the event and obtaining CLE credit can be found on the RSVP form.

2018 (1)
2018 (2)

On Thursday, April 6th, 2017, SIRR held its first ever Symposium titled Executive Action Impact on Migration & Labor at Columbia Law School. This Symposium was opened with remarks from Columbia Law School Dean Gillian Lester who spoke on the disillusionment with globalization that has created a host of grievances at the heart of this discussion.  

The Symposium brought together students, academics, practitioners, and community members to discuss the impact of the expansion of executive power in the U.S., including President Trump’s executive orders, on immigrant, refugee, and low-wage worker communities. This Symposium aimed to bridge the divide between conversations on labor and immigration and engage more deeply with the impact of executive action in the U.S. today.

The panelists considered whether a rights-based framework was helpful in addressing some of these issues and how concerned communities, especially law students, may advocate in the face of contemporary challenges.

Panel 1: Immigration


Mohini Banerjee & Lizette Ceja, Students, Columbia Law School


Shaw Drake, Equal Justice Works Fellow, Human Rights First

Sonia Lin. General Counsel, NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Kendal Nystedt, Staff Attorney, Make the Road

Jason Parkin. Associate Clinical Professor, Columbia Law School

Panel 2: Labor and Workers’ Rights


Ricardo Garza & Clarisa Reyes-Becerra, Students, Columbia Law School


Karen Cacace, Director for the Employment Law Unit, Legal Aid Society

David Hausman, Skadden Fellow, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project

Allison Julien, Dorothy Bolden Fellow, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Teresa Poor, Assistant Regional Director, National Labor Relations Board

This Symposium was co-sponsored by the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Latino/a Law Students Association, the Worker's Rights Student Coalition, and the South Asian Law Students Association. The event was made possible through funding from the Columbia Law School Student Senate. 


Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans

Immigrant Family Detention: Berks, PA

Students will work with ALDEA to fight for the rights of asylum-seeking families in extended detention in Berks, PA. Currently the population there includes many fathers with their children, in addition to some families who have notoriously been detained for as long as two years. Students will help prepare new arrivals for their Credible Fear Interviews before an Asylum Officer and will also have opportunities to assist ALDEA attorneys with impact litigation work regarding long-term immigrant detention. Berks is the oldest and smallest of three family detention centers in the U.S.

Immigrant Family Detention: Karnes, TX

Students will work with attorneys at RAICES to represent asylum-seeking mothers and their children at the second largest family detention center in the U.S. in Karnes City, Texas. Students will take a trauma-based approach in assisting with the weekend clinic, where they will interview women before or after their Credible Fear Interviews. Students may also assist in drafting advocacy declarations with the policy director about the conditions at Karnes Detention Center and at the border. Students will also have the opportunity to work with RAICES attorneys on important immigrants' rights projects such as their Humanitarian Parole Project, their Unaccompanied Minors Project, or their U-Visa project.

Procedural Asylum Assistance: Messina, Italy

Students will work with law professors and local NGOs in Messina, Italy, to help improve the asylum procedures through which refugees arriving from North Africa are being processed in Sicily and nearby islands. Students will research EU asylum law and African country conditions in order to prepare Know Your Rights materials for the refugees, most of whom speak English. Students may also assist with preparing guidance documents for government officials and "guardians" of unaccompanied refugee minors, and may have the chance to assist local lawyers with appeals.

Getting Involved

In the fall semester, SJI sends out a general application for all sponsored spring break pro bono caravans. Students interested in participating in a SIRR-sponsored caravan should apply through the general SJI form. Depending on the caravan, prior involvement in relevant SIRR activities may be a helpful in the application process.

Contact Info

For more information, please contact Carolina Gonzalez (d.gonzalez@columbia.edu). 

Dilley, Texas: Immigrant Detention Center (co-sponsored with EWOC)

Students on this caravan worked with the CARA Pro Bono Project to represent immigrant and refugee mothers and their children at the largest family detention center in the United States. Students prepped clients for their Credible Fear Interviews and had the opportunity to represent clients at their bond hearings, as well as prepare bond packets for detained clients. Additionally, students attended debriefing meetings with CARA staff and other volunteers


Immigration and Civil Rights in El Paso, Texas

Students on this caravan worked on immigration and civil rights issues in El Paso, Texas. We partnered with two local civil rights organizations, Las Americas Immigration Advocacy Center and Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, to provide direct legal services and conduct research projects on novel issues. Students also took a tour of the U.S.-Mexican border and observed immigration court proceedings in town.

Texas (1)
Texas (2)

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) in Amman, Jordan

Students traveled to Amman, Jordan to provide direct legal assistance to Iraqi and Syrian refugees with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Students learned how to interview victims of torture and conducted client intakes with vulnerable refugees referred to IRAP by partner NGOs, as well as meeting with existing Columbia clients. Students also attended outreach meetings with local NGOs to learn more about the situation facing refugees on the ground in the Middle East.

jordan (1)
jordan (2)

NYLAG Immigration Law Caravan in NYC

Students worked with attorneys in NYLAG’s community-based immigration clinics to conduct legal screenings or provide specific application assistance. Students participated in a variety of clinics that either provide general legal immigration screenings to help individuals to determine eligibility for various forms of immigration relief, including family based petitions, deferred action, T- and U-visas, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and asylum, or provide specific application assistance for some immigration benefits, like Naturalization, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Temporary Protected Status.