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Serving the Public Interest through Immigration Law

Marlee McCadden, Class of 2022

Marlee McCadden

Marlee McCadden, JD ’22, knew she wanted to work in the public interest, but it was the Syrian refugee crisis, which unfolded in 2018 while McCadden was a college student, that compelled her to do so through a career in immigration law.

Now, as a removal defense and asylum staff attorney with Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) PA, McCadden represents adults in removal proceedings in Philadelphia Immigration Court.

Before full-time employment with HIAS PA, McCadden worked for the organization as a legal intern, assisting clients with their asylum applications through a co-op externship at Drexel Kline Law. She also prepared a brief for the Board of Immigration Appeals while a student.

“I was actually getting to do substantial, concrete work for people, and that was really important to me,” she said.

Drexel Kline Law students are required to complete a co-op externship or clinical experience to graduate. McCadden opted to do both, representing clients through the Federal Litigation and Appeals Clinic (FLAC) as a 3L.

“I was being extra,” McCadden said. “I wanted to get as much experience as possible.”

“[The Federal Litigation and Appeals Clinic] contributed to me feeling more prepared to do what I needed to do after law school.”

Through FLAC she assisted in immigration proceedings and participated in mock hearings. The clinic also featured guest speakers from the immigration field.

“It contributed to me feeling more prepared to do what I needed to do after law school, because I was able to communicate with government counsel during my time in the clinic,” McCadden said. “That’s not something that generally students have a lot of opportunities to do.”

The year-long clinical experience also gave McCadden an opportunity to see some cases through to completion. In one instance, the U.S. government granted discretion, allowing the client to keep their asylum status after years of proceedings.

McCadden gained additional experience by serving immigration-focused organizations on a pro-bono basis. While studying remotely during the pandemic in early 2021, she worked with the San Ysidro, California-based group Al Otro Lado, helping Cuban asylum seekers obtain sponsor documents and compiling the associated government forms for their cases.

She also got involved with Project Libertad, a Phoenixville, Pennsylvania-based organization that focuses on mentorship, language skills and advocacy for unaccompanied migrant youth seeking asylum in the United States.

“That kind of reminded me of the more non-legal elements of what we do,” she said. “Working in immigration law is like being a lawyer and a social worker.”

People’s needs often go beyond legal assistance. All of these factors can act as barriers for clients, McCadden said, but fall outside of what legal advocates can provide.

The public realm is also rife with misconceptions on immigration, McCadden said, as the area has been heavily politicized.

“I think people are just really not knowledgeable about the reality of immigration in the U.S. and how people come to be here, and what the circumstances of their legal status are, and how that works,” she said. “That’s something I would like to see more of a conversation about, dismantling these misconceptions.”

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

HIAS is a nonpartisan non-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. It was originally founded in 1881.

Federal Litigation and Appeals Clinic

FLAC offers students the opportunity to provide legal services to needy individuals who otherwise would not be able obtain legal representation, at both the trial and appellate level. Learn more about the clinic.

Immigration Law Society

Immigration Law Society, a student organization at Drexel Kline Law, provided another venue for McCadden to explore immigration law issues. McCadden served as president for two years and coordinated remote pro bono opportunities with organizations in Pennsylvania and at the U.S.-Mexico border.