From clinic to practice: Penn State Law alumni make strides in immigration law

Cara Stafford
September 14, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Since 2008, Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has been providing law students with clinical experience in the field of immigration law. Under the direction of Clinical Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar at Penn State Law, clinic students provide legal support in immigration cases, produce white papers and practitioner toolkits, and engage in community outreach and education around immigration law and policy.  

Over the years, many of the clinic’s alumni have turned these experiences into successful careers in immigration law.  

Daniel DeCurtis, 2012 graduate, works as a corporate immigration attorney at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP (Fragomen Worldwide) in New York City representing employers in facilitating the transfer and mobility of their non-U.S. citizen employees into and throughout the United States. DeCurtis advises employers to ensure they remain compliant with the extremely complex U.S. immigration system and handles a wide range of U.S. immigration law matters, including all nonimmigrant visa categories, permanent residence, labor certification, and naturalization. 

While DeCurtis didn’t initially plan to pursue immigration law, his time in the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, as well as an internship and an immigration paralegal job prior to law school, opened his eyes to his love for the “ever-evolving and fast-paced” world of immigration law.

During his time as a student attorney in the clinic, DeCurtis co-led a delegation on behalf of the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration. He produced a comprehensive report on the status of the implementation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's detention standards at a local Pennsylvania prison and presented the report's findings to the Commission in Washington, D.C.

“Penn State Law definitely exposed me to areas of immigration law to which I had previously no exposure,” said DeCurtis. “My studies and work at Penn State Law and the center certainly informed my overall knowledge of the immigration system in which I operate daily and ultimately enriched my practice as an immigration attorney.”

Drilona Brecani, 2011 graduate, is a corporate immigration attorney at Egan LLP (affiliated with Ernst & Young LLP) in Toronto. She specializes in a variety of U.S. business immigration matters, including a full range of nonimmigrant petitions and applications, permanent residency applications (green cards), business visitor entries, and various policy and compliance matters including I-9 compliance issues. Brecani advises corporate clients on work permit and permanent residence applications for their incoming or transferring personnel. Brecani has worked with companies in a wide range of sectors, including banking, technology, healthcare, and higher education.

Brecani was born and raised in Albania and moved to the United States in 1997 after her father won a U.S. visa through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which is an immigration lottery program that is administered by the U.S. State Department. The program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available to individuals from countries with low immigration rates to the United States.

In addition to corporate immigration, Brecani has also successfully filed various asylum cases. One particular case involved a religious conversion out of Iran. In addition to arguing persecution based on the religious conversion, the case was particularly challenging because, by the time the foreign national had retained Brecani as counsel, the one-year filing deadline for asylum cases had already passed. Consequently, Brecani argued one of the narrowly applied and scarcely successful exceptions to the deadline, and won. 

“Penn State Law helped propel me toward a career in immigration law primarily through the outstanding immigration clinic and various courses on immigration law conducted by Professor Wadhia,” Brecani said. One of the highlights from her time as a clinic student was submitting the issue brief “Too Late for Justice?” to her client, the Tahirih Justice Center. The issue brief analyzed Board of Immigration Appeals decisions in order to evaluate the impact of the one-year filing deadline for asylum cases on women and girls seeking protection, especially those fleeing gender-based persecution.

Linnea Porter (née Ignatius), 2012 graduate, is an attorney at Banta Immigration Law, Ltd. in Atlanta, where she practices immigration and nationality law. Her work includes immigration strategy and corporate policy development; immigration training and compliance; and analysis and processing of U.S. visas, green cards, and other immigration benefits. As a citizen of both Finland and the United States, immigration is also a personal issue for Porter. Her father moved to the United States from Finland in the 1980s to work pursuant to an H-1B visa, which is a nonimmigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to hire noncitizen workers.

During Porter’s undergraduate education, she studied international affairs and Spanish, and knew that she wanted to work in a profession that would allow her to engage daily with the global community. Simultaneously, her father was going through the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen, and, after attending his naturalization ceremony, Porter says she was drawn to immigration law as an opportunity to assist immigrants like her father on their path to citizenship.

“One of the best perks of working in business immigration law is the relationships that you make with clients,” Porter said. “The notion of the ‘American dream’ is still alive and well for many who choose to come to the U.S. to develop their careers, start a new business, or support companies in the U.S.

“The Immigrant Rights’ Center did a great job of translating what I had learned in the classroom to practice,” she said. “Professor Wadhia’s passion for the field of immigration is truly contagious. She draws the best out of her students and encourages them to pursue the different branches—business, removal, and asylum, for example—of immigration law that interest them and to which their background and skills are best fit. I am truly thankful for my experience in the Center for Immigrants’ Rights.”

As for Wadhia, she enjoys seeing her former students succeed and catching up with them at immigration law conferences around the country.

“One of my greatest joys as a law professor is to watch former students blossom as immigration lawyers and experts,” she said. “I had so much emotion reconnecting with former students practicing immigration law throughout North America. I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. They have taught me to appreciate different lawyering styles and approaches to finding solutions.”

About the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

The Center for Immigrants Rights Clinic is an immigration law and policy clinic at Penn State Law in University Park, Pa. Clinic students produce white papers, practitioner toolkits, and primers for institutional clients, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Council , Human Rights FirstKids in Need of Defense, and the National Immigrant Justice Center , among others.  They also engage in community outreach and education on immigration topics ranging from immigration remedies for victims of crimes to President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. 

The center also provides legal support in individual cases of immigrants challenging deportation or seeking protection and has recently been conducting group rights presentations for immigration detainees.​​

Professor Wadhia’s teaching goal is for students to gain the skills required to be effective immigration advocates and attorneys. This requires a combined understanding and appreciation for immigration law, policy, and politics, and the relationships between them. Students have primary responsibility in making case- and project-related decisions, reflecting deliberatively on their work, and collaborating with clients to achieve positive results.

Last Updated September 16, 2015