Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

LACIS and Law School Alumna Kathryn Finley Launches State’s First Pro Bono Immigration Law Clinic

Dual-Degree Alumna, Kathryn Finley (J.D./M.A. in LACIS 2013) spearheaded an effort to found Wisconsin’s first pro bono law clinic dedicated to immigration law.  The Immigrant Justice Clinic offers much-needed legal support to non-citizens facing imminent deportation from the U.S.

After working as a bilingual case manager for Spanish-speaking clients at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, Kathryn Finley decided to study law so she could further advocate on behalf of Wisconsin’s immigrants.  Throughout law school, Finley has been a leader in the Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) while also pursuing her Master’s Degree with LACIS in order to further research Latin American migration to the U.S.

In May 2011, Finley, along with the Latino Law Student Association (LLSA), won the prestigious Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment grant to create Wisconsin’s first Immigrant Justice Clinic at the UW Law School.

Prior to pursuing the Baldwin grant, Finley and LLSA students were already conducting interviews with detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Dodge County as part of their volunteer work. These visits assist the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago with screening for potential clients, but LLSA students wanted to do more.

“Access to legal counsel most often determines the outcome of immigrant deportation cases,” Finley says.  A 2011 study published in The New York Times found that 67 percent of immigrants with counsel prevailed in their cases, while only eight percent of those without counsel were successful.

Once in federal custody, immigrants in deportation proceedings have a right to assert a valid defense, but as Finley explains, many lack the resources, expertise, or even the language skills to defend themselves.

“In Wisconsin, there are no free or even low cost legal services for undocumented immigrants in deportation proceedings,” Finley says.  Yet “our state has seen a drastic rise in the number of arrests and deportations of immigrants, due to increased collaboration between the Wisconsin criminal justice and federal immigration systems.”

Now, thanks to the clinic, immigrants in the Wisconsin detention system will have improved access to legal representation. Under faculty supervision, clinic students will perform all aspects of their clients’ representation over the course of two semesters, from the intake interviews to the final hearing in the Chicago Immigration Court.


In addition to her participation as a clinical law student in the newly formed Immigrant Justice Clinic, Finley also obtained her Master’s Degree with LACIS.  “The LACIS Master’s Program truly allowed me to focus on Latin American migration to the U.S. and the policy issues behind it.  Working with LACIS faculty and completing LACIS coursework firmly established my passion for working with Latin Americans within our U.S. immigration system.  I was able to focus my research on the complexities surrounding migration and the obstacles Latin Americans face when leaving their home countries.  The LACIS dual-degree program has provided me with a strong foundation to pragmatically approach some of our nation’s most pressing issues with Latin America, particularly those surrounding immigration.”

If you are interested in getting more involved with the IJC, consider participating in one of their monthly “Know your Rights” visits to non-citizen detainees at the Dodge County Jail in Juneau, Wisconsin. At any given time, the jail houses approximately 200 non-citizens who are in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are facing deportation proceedings. Volunteers conduct one-on-one intake interviews with detainees to screen cases for possible representation.

These visits give volunteers first hand experience with the United States’ immigration system while providing a social good to underserved communities. Non-citizens in deportation proceedings have no right to court-appointed counsel, so these visits may be the only service detainees receive throughout the deportation process.Spanish-language ability is preferred, but not required, and volunteers must attend a one-hour training prior to participating.Contact David Williams at for more information.

Check out these other links regarding Finley’s work with the Immigration Justice Clinic: