Skip to content


Deborah Anker

  • people sitting at border

    Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program blocks another Trump administration asylum rule

    January 13, 2021

    In a case brought by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, a California District Court last week issued a preliminary injunction blocking a Trump administration rule that would gut protections for people fleeing persecution and torture.

  • Harvard immigration and Refugee logo

    Years of advocacy by HIRC culminate in landmark decision by First Circuit

    April 29, 2020

    Years of advocacy by Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program have culminated in a landmark decision recognizing gender as basis for asylum claims.

  • Sabrineh Ardalan '02

    Sabrineh Ardalan named clinical professor of law and faculty director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

    January 28, 2020

    Sabrineh Ardalan ’02, who teaches in the fields of immigration and refugee law and advocacy, was appointed a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and faculty director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.

  • Photograph of Brianna Rennix '18 outside leaning on a porch ledge.

    Prepared for the Challenge

    January 7, 2020

    As students, they participated in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. As lawyers, they have continued the work in a field that is increasingly challenging—and fulfilling

  • Mark Fleming '97 standing in a crosswalk with cars behind him

    Mark Fleming ’97

    January 7, 2020

    Five cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Twenty-two years of work as a lawyer. And still, Mark Fleming will never forget the woman from…

  • Gianna Borroto '11 sitting in a green room posing

    Gianna Borroto ’11

    January 7, 2020

    Every week, the woman from Guatemala would bring her children. First, she would settle them into chairs to play with their toys. Then the woman,…

  • Trump Seeking to Effectively Outsource Asylum Seekers to Guatemala

    July 16, 2019

    The Trump administration is on the verge of signing a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala, sources have confirmed to the Prospect. Asylum seekers attempting to enter the United States would be forced to file in Guatemala instead, on the grounds that it would be the first “safe” country they arrived in. Because most asylum seekers are coming from the south, this would allow the U.S. to send thousands of asylum seekers at the southern border back to Guatemala, and render them ineligible to apply for refugee status in the U.S...But experts like Deborah Anker, a Harvard law professor who focuses on asylum, believe that the flow of migrants would eventually continue. She tells the Prospect: “The reality is that people will keep trying to find a way to come because it’s a life or death situation for them and their families. But the Trump administration is trying to get around this by having this agreement.”

  • The Republican proposal to change the U.S. asylum system, explained

    January 24, 2019

    A proposal from Senate Republicans to end the partial government shutdown includes not only the $5.7 billion President Donald Trump seeks for a border barrier with Mexico, but also landmark changes to the U.S. asylum system. It’s uncertain if the proposal — in its current form — would pass the Senate or get approval from the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic leaders in Congress have already come out against the proposal. ... International law says that a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention/Protocol (Article 33) cannot return a refugee to a country where he or she faces persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, said Deborah Anker, a clinical professor of law, founder and director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School. "If the United States turns away people at the border, or from within the United States, it is violating the Convention/Protocol," Anker said.

  • For a Jamaican couple, a broken asylum system makes church sanctuary both refuge and jail

    January 22, 2019

    Why are more immigrants trying to avoid deportation by taking sanctuary in Philly than any other major city in the U.S.? Reporters Laura Benshoff and Jeff Gammage answer that question in a two-part series on WHYY’s The Why, in partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer. ...Asylum initially grew out of the Holocaust and the Cold War, the first underscoring the need for international human-rights protections, the second revealing a useful foreign-policy tool. Accepting the fleeing citizens of its enemies served humanitarian ends and gave America legitimate reason to gloat on the world stage. On the other hand, people running from governments friendly to the U.S. had a difficult time getting asylum, according to Deborah Anker, a law professor at the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.

  • Trump announces plan to block some migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, offers few details

    November 2, 2018

    President Trump said Thursday he intends to take executive action next week to end the “abuse” of the U.S. asylum system, a plan that could include “massive tent cities” at the southern border aimed at holding migrants indefinitely and making it more difficult for them to remain in the country...“He can’t by executive fiat repeal an act of Congress or a constitutional amendment,” said Deborah Anker, a Harvard Law School professor. “He has to ask for new legislation.”

  • HIRC director Deborah Anker receives NGO Lawyer of the Year award

    HIRC director Deborah Anker receives NGO Lawyer of the Year award

    August 8, 2018

    The founder and director of Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84 received the Federal Bar Association’s NGO Lawyer of the Year Joint Award on May 18. She was honored alongside Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College of the Law.

  • Phil Torrey on 'crimmigration'

    Phil Torrey on ‘crimmigration’

    June 22, 2018

    ‘Crimmigration’—the intersection of criminal and immigration law—is the newest policy area for the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC). In addition to its broader advocacy clinic, HIRC offers Phil Torrey’s crimmigration clinic in the spring: an opportunity for students to gain direct experience working on and contributing to case law in this young field.

  • “Crimmigration”

    June 19, 2018

    "It often happens," says Phil Torrey, managing attorney of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC), “that I’ll get a phone call from criminal-defense counsel somewhere random in the country, like the one last week I got from Tennessee. The lawyer says, ‘Hey, I’m about to go into the courtroom, here’s the plea deal that’s on the table—and my client’s not a U.S. citizen. What’s gonna happen?’” Torrey is addressing the four law students in his “crimmigration” clinic, who are learning how to advocate for criminal defendants who are not American citizens...In addition to its broader Immigration and Refugee Advocacy clinic, HIRC offers Torrey’s crimmigration clinic in the spring: an opportunity for students to gain direct experience working on and contributing to case law in this young field. When she co-founded HIRC in 1984, says clinical professor of law Deborah Anker, it “was at the bottom of the pile”; immigration issues were barely recognized as a subfield of law. But student interest has spiked since the 2016 election, and now, she says, the Immigration and Refugee Advocacy clinic has one of “the longest waiting lists among [HLS] clinics—about 100 students.”...As Nancy Kelly, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law, puts it, Donald Trump “ran on a platform of immigrants being criminals, and now he’s doing his best to make that a reality.”... The clinic hired a staff attorney, Jason Corral, in January 2017 to represent members of the University community; soon after, a number of additional Trump administration executive orders affected various Harvard students and staff members: the ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim countries (HIRC wrote an amicus brief challenging that order), the repeal of DACA (now under challenge in courts), and the revocation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 400,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Nepal, and, most recently, Honduras...If the repeal proceeds without challenge, Corral says, HIRC may consider building asylum arguments for TPS holders.

  • ‘You Can’t Deter People Who Are Fleeing For Their Lives’: Attorneys Scramble After Sessions’ Asylum Decision

    June 13, 2018

    Immigration attorneys in Greater Boston are scrambling this week after a decision from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a precedent determining who is eligible for asylum in the United States. Survivors of domestic violence and gang persecution, in many cases, were considered legitimate candidates for asylum — until now. Many immigration attorneys say the attorney general's decision is devastating...Deborah Anker has been working on asylum cases with domestic violence survivors for decades. She's the founder and director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. Anker said the decision from Sessions is a big blow, but she believes attorneys can still prove the need for asylum in some cases. But, she said, it's going to take a lot more work. "I think we will be very careful to submit extensive country condition evidence, condition evidence about the positions of different governments regarding women, and we'll be thinking through, carefully, other grounds for protection."

  • The Trump Administration is Completely Unravelling the U.S. Asylum System

    June 12, 2018

    On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that a Salvadoran woman who came to the U.S. in 2014 to escape an abusive husband did not qualify for asylum under United States law. An immigration court had previously granted her asylum, allowing her to remain in the country legally, but Sessions reconsidered the finding, as part of a broader rethinking of whether or not victims of domestic abuse can qualify for protection under U.S. asylum law. The decision means that the U.S. can now begin to turn away tens of thousands of women who arrive in this country every year, seeking safety from violence and abuse at home. “He could be repealing sixty to seventy per cent of asylum jurisprudence,” Deborah Anker, an immigration expert at Harvard Law School, told me, speaking about Sessions, before the decision was announced. “Its ramifications are extraordinary.”

  • This Salvadoran Woman Is At The Center Of The Attorney General’s Asylum Crackdown

    May 22, 2018

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions is stirring panic in immigrant communities by moving to limit who can get asylum in the United States. Perhaps no one is more alarmed than one Salvadoran woman living in the Carolinas. Now Sessions has personally intervened in her case, questioning whether she and other crime victims deserve protection and a path to American citizenship. The attorney general has been highly critical of the asylum system in recent months. Now Sessions has personally intervened in her case, questioning whether she and other crime victims deserve protection and a path to American citizenship. The attorney general has been highly critical of the asylum system in recent months...Over the years, immigration lawyers in the U.S. have argued that all sorts of people deserve asylum as persecuted members of a "particular social group." "There was a beginning of a shift, and a new awareness that women could get asylum, and that rape was a form of harm that constituted persecution," said Deborah Anker, a professor at Harvard Law School and the founding director of the Harvard Immigration Refugee Clinical program.

  • Exterior of the WCC

    HIRC files amicus brief challenging U.S. Attorney General’s efforts to restrict gender asylum

    May 1, 2018

    The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program joined the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights First and Kids in Need of Defense in filing a brief of amicus curiae in the case Matter of A-B-, a case that originated in immigration court but that is now before review of the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

  • Trump administration tries to curb asylum

    April 2, 2018

    ...Now President Donald Trump’s administration is reframing how the nation admits refugees, reducing who can come here and making it tougher to apply for protection. It is playing out not through congressional action or public announcement, but in policy tweaks and guidelines that together make up an overhaul...Sessions, in a speech last fall to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency over the courts, criticized “case law that has expanded the concept of asylum well beyond Congressional intent —created even more incentives for illegal aliens to come here and claim a fear of return.” Deborah Anker, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in asylum, said Sessions’ office declined to identify the decision he was reviewing, initially leaving lawyers without a way to respond to his request for arguments. “It was unprecedented,” she said. “The attorney general by executive action appears to want to be overturning the statute as it relates to asylum.”