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Immigration Law

The Beyoncé of Asylum Law

Brett Milano, Harvard Law Today, July 20, 2022

"As Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84 moves to emerita status, she and her many students and colleagues can reflect on her formidable record of achievement — as a pioneer in the study of refugee and asylum law, the author of the seminal text on the subject, and a tireless advocate for the rights of refugees, particularly women and children. As her former student Molly Linhorst ’16 puts it — quoting a sentiment voiced by many of Anker’s admirers — “She’s the Beyoncé of asylum law.”

“As founding director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, Deborah Anker has played a pivotal role at Harvard Law School, not only by founding our clinic but in helping build our clinical program,” Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “Her work in the clinic enabled countless clients to enjoy freedom and escape persecution by remaining in the U.S., and she trained and inspired scores of other lawyers to work to those same ends.”

“Debbie wins the prize for tenacity in terms of standing up for refugee rights in America,” says James Hathaway, prominent international refugee law scholar and founding director of Michigan Law’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law. “Literally nobody has fought the good fight as often as she has done. But she is also an intellectual trailblazer, having, in particular, developed a gender-inclusive understanding of refugee status, and having made the case for the alignment of American understandings of asylum with our international obligations. She truly is a hero.”

... Patrick Young called Anker “one of the architects of modern refugee law. She really defined the field from its inception and her essays and her seminal treatise, ‘Law of Asylum in the United States,’ have helped educate and train two generations of asylum lawyers. Without her thoughtful guidance, it is doubtful CARECEN and many other refugee defense programs could have succeeded in protecting the persecuted as effectively as we have.”

In addition to those already mentioned, Anker notes that “HIRC and I are so fortunate to have on staff attorneys Sameer Ahmed, Jason Corral, Tiffany Lieu, Mariam Liberles and Cindy Zapata. HIRC’s staff also includes our head of social work, Liala Buoniconti; paralegal Karina Buruca; Mary Hewey; and Anna Weick, our chief administrator.” Anker credits her faculty assistant, Sophie Jean, as being an incredible resource, organizing work on “Law of Asylum” research with students, among other invaluable assistance. “Not much can be accomplished without her amazing intelligence and commitment, and of course thank you to those who have come and gone like the incomparable Jordana Arias, a force of nature, and all my assistants going way back to wonderful Delona Wilkins.”

In entering emerita status, Anker reflects back with much gratitude at the opportunities she has been given. “I love this community and I love this work. It truly has been an honor. I am so very grateful.”