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Prof. Harris wins 2020 Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award

Thursday, June 11, 2020  
Posted by: UDC Law Staff
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Lindsay Harris

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has recognized UDC Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) Director Lindsay M. Harris with the 2020 Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award. Each year since 1997, the award is given to an outstanding professor in immigration law. Harris was nominated by including current and former UDC Law students, attorneys, professors from around the United States, and clinical colleagues from UDC Law.

The nomination focused on Harris’s work both within the UDC Law community and the greater immigration law arena. Former and current students cited her impact on teaching students as individuals and her ability to simplify the complexity of immigration law. They explained her role as a tireless mentor and role model in navigating emotional responses to legal work and in balancing work, life and family. Students described Professor Harris as “embodying intelligence and compassion,” calling her teaching “life-changing” and referring to her as a “superwoman.” Colleagues at UDC Law described her as “highly effective” and “intensely devoted to her work to change to broken systems, to her students, to her clients and to their communities.” Colleagues from other law schools and around the immigration legal profession spoke to her commitment to mentorship, research and service.

AILA organized a virtual awards ceremony, and Harris recorded an acceptance speech that related the unprecedented environment of the coronavirus pandemic to the importance of self-care in immigration advocacy. She added the following words with the video on her social media accounts.

“I am humbled and more than a little overwhelmed by this teaching award. It also feels silly and strange to celebrate an award in the midst of such turbulent and, for many, painfully familiar times. I am trying to internalize the lovely things my students, graduates and colleagues said about me in the nomination letters and embody those qualities moving forward. And also not to be embarrassed by the video I agonized over a month ago because I think that the message around taking care of ourselves and each other during this global pandemic and the national moment of (hopefully) reckoning for Black lives is actually still critically important. Stay well, everyone, as we listen, learn and, hopefully, move towards true and lasting change.”


As Director of the IHRC, Harris oversees and trains students to work with immigrants facing deportation. Harris ensures students receive valuable experience in immigration law by partnering with key organizations like Human Rights First, the Capital Area Immigrants Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Asylum Works and AILA. Through these partnerships, students have taken part in pro se asylum workshops to help asylum seekers complete their applications, visited immigration detention centers, conducted intake screenings and participated in AILA’s National Day of Action.

Harris has also led service-learning trips where students assist detained asylum-seeking families in Pennsylvania and most recently asylum seekers stuck at the border in Mexico. These trips are valuable, often transformative, learning experiences for students that also provide important legal services to immigrants and asylum seekers, many of whom are survivors of trauma or torture.

Group photo
Prof. Harris and UDC Law students in Tijuana in early 2020.

Harris is an engaged faculty member and scholar. She serves as the faculty mentor for UDC Law’s Latinx Law Students Association (LLSA) and actively participates as a faculty advisor and mentor to first-year students serving as clinical associates. She has previously taught the clinical pedagogy course for the law school’s LL.M. program for aspiring clinical law professors.

Her research interests extend to issues of asylum law and policy as well as concerns for the well-being of attorneys and law students who practice immigration law. Her recent co-authored piece in the AILA Law Journal, “Vicarious Trauma and Ethical Obligations for Attorneys Representing Immigrant Clients: A Call to Build Resilience Among the Immigration Bar,” explores the ethical imperative for trauma stewardship and considers proactive measures to prevent and address vicarious trauma among immigration attorneys. In February 2020, she launched a national survey of attorneys who represent asylum-seekers to explore levels of burnout, trauma and stress among asylum practitioners.

In 2018, Harris teamed up with Prof. Laila Hass of Tulane University to produce The Legal Interviewing and Language Access Film Project. This series of instructional videos and accompanying teaching guide were designed to improve law student client interviewing and collaboration, with a particular focus on language difference. As of late 2019, more than 125 educators at more than 75 law schools requested use of the teacher’s guide for these videos. In 2021, Harris and Hlass will publish a piece in the Utah Law Review titled “Critical Interviewing,” which explores the videos as a tool for using an intersectional lens to collaborate with clients, interviewing partners and interpreters in a legal interview. Harris has previously published in various law journals including Wisconsin Law Review, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the NYU Review of Law and Social Change and the Clinical Law Review.

Harris has become a national voice in the U.S. asylum law space. She has penned op-eds in a number of national publications, including The Washington Post, The Hill and USA Today. She also serves as Vice-Chair on the board of Asylum Works and Vice-Chair of the AILA National Asylum and Refugee Committee. Prior to UDC Law, she taught as a clinical teaching fellow in the asylum clinic at Georgetown Law and taught Asylum and Refugee Law at George Mason University School of Law.

In receiving this teaching award, Harris reflected, “I am fortunate to have an incredible position at a vitally important public institution – our students are warriors for social justice and come to the law with incredible lived experience and so much to contribute. I learn from them daily.”

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