Minnesota Law

Spring 2024
For the Record

A Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic Case Has Its Day in Court

Law Students Argue an Impact Litigation Case Before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

L to R: Coryn Johnson ’24, Amirah Ellison ’24, Mollie Clark Ahsan ’24, Alex Lloyd ’25, Associate Clinical Professor of Law Nadia Anguiano '17, and Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Seiko Shastri '21.
Photo: Tony Nelson

Two students in the James H. Binger Center for New Americans’ Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic (FILC) recently had the rare opportunity to argue an impact litigation case in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Mollie Clark Ahsan ’24 and Amirah Ellison ’24 shared the opening and rebuttal arguments, respectively, for a complex case involving the deportation of a local permanent resident. Working with FILC’s immigration litigation fellow Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Seiko Shastri ’21 and FILC director Associate Clinical Professor of Law Nadia Anguiano ’17, the two students argued that the government had made two major legal errors in removing the noncitizen.

The arguments at the Eighth Circuit occurred more than eight years after the case first came to FILC. At that time, Anguiano herself was a law student. “The arc of this case is really spectacular,” she says. “Impact litigation often takes years to develop. Generations of law students worked on this case. When FILC first took the case, we knew it had the potential to help many people being charged under a statute that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down. Now it has morphed into a case that may, albeit for different reasons, similarly affect noncitizens who have been unlawfully charged with removal.”

The case is now pending a decision by the Eighth Circuit, but the FILC team has high hopes as two sister courts have already adopted the position FILC set forth.

“In this one case, the value of the clinical program comes to light,” says Anguiano. “You have to devote many resources to improving the law for noncitizens. Not many places can or will do that, but the time and talent of our clinical students make it possible. It’s especially meaningful to me that this case started when I was a law student in the clinic and continued during the time now. Seiko Shastri was a law student in the clinic, and now the baton has passed to a new group of exceptional student advocates.” 

In addition to potentially improving the law, the work has been transformative for the students, Shastri says. “We celebrate the students on this case,” she says, noting that Alex Lloyd ’25 and Coryn Johnson ’24 also helped with preparations. “It has helped them tremendously to build the unique skills required for appellate law.”

Ahsan said the experience was the perfect capstone to her time in law school. “The mass deportation in the Trump administration and the immigration community’s response pushed me to go to law school, so to do work like this was everything I wanted to be doing when I applied to law school,” she says. Both she and Ellison had worked on the case for two years prior to arguing the case in court. “We heavily mooted this case,” she says. “I think we had 10 moots by the time we got to the oral arguments. We also had great courses at the U in immigration. Honestly, it was one of the best training experiences I could hope for. Not many students get this kind of opportunity, especially on a case this complex.”

Aguiano and Shastri engaged appellate practitioners, including Binger Center alumni and local and national partners, to help the duo prepare. “I leaned on my team a lot to understand what the government’s strongest arguments would likely be,” says Ellison. “I learned to manage my time, which was good because I only had three minutes for the rebuttal. You have the final say with the rebuttal, which is a blessing and a curse. I felt that responsibility really strongly.”

 The experience cemented in Ellison a passion for litigation; next year she will clerk for Judge Jamie Cork in Minnesota’s First Judicial District. Ahsan is taking a position with the U.S. Department of Justice in the Tax Division. 

Both students say they will be watching closely for the Eighth Circuit’s decision. “I feel really hopeful for our client’s future,” says Ellison. “If anybody was going to be able to win this case, it would be our team because of the time and effort we put into it. We care a lot about this client and the many others this case might impact.”

Ahsan said the case taught her the value of having your story heard and taken seriously. “Having the opportunity to air out the injustices that occur in our system is really powerful.”