Deborah Anker, director of the HLS Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and a clinical professor of law, received the Elmer Fried Award for Excellence in Teaching on June 28 at the annual meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in Vancouver. The award is given each year for “outstanding efforts in teaching in the area of immigration law.”

Anker, a leading asylum scholar and practitioner in the U.S. and abroad, has taught immigration law and supervised clinicals for more than 20 years at HLS. As director of the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, she has mentored hundreds of HLS students in their representation of refugees and immigrants.

Under her guidance, students have contributed significantly to cases effecting groundbreaking administrative, judicial and international legal decisions. For example, the clinic established the international precedent that rape constitutes torture, in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The clinic’s guidelines regarding gender-specific human rights violations as a basis for asylum, co-drafted by Anker, have been accepted by the U.S. government and in international law.

The author of a leading treatise, The Law of Asylum in the United States, Anker is cited frequently by international and domestic courts and tribunals, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Most recently, her testimony — and related field research by her students — was central to a ground-breaking decision by a Canadian federal judge who held that Canada could not enforce the Safe Third Country Agreement authorizing the return of refugee claimants to the U.S., in light of U.S. violations of refugee treaty obligations.

In accepting the award, Anker thanked HLS Dean Elena Kagan ’86 for her support of clinical education. She also thanked her students and her clients, “… many of whom are women, [who] are forced to do what I cannot imagine – leave their children behind to save their children’s lives, to make a new life and safe haven possible for their families.”

In presenting the award to Anker at the AILA ceremony, Bernard Wolfsdorf, an immigration lawyer in California who has known Anker for 30 years, said, “Through her teaching, mentoring and passionate activism, Debbie has introduced students to U.S. immigration law, its history, its role in the realm of international human rights, and its inherent problems. She has inspired countless others with her humanity, compassion, and fundamental fairness, including me.” Wolfsdorf emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa in 1979 to escape the apartheid regime, and Anker wrote the legal brief for his application for asylum, which was approved in just three months and was described by the asylum officer as the “best case that he had ever seen in the Boston District,” according to Wolfsdorf.

The Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award, named after Elmer Fried, a Depression-era pioneer in teaching and advocacy in immigration law, is given each year for by the AILA, the national association of over 10,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law.