Students in the Immigration Practice Clinic have full responsibility for defending clients against deportation in the Memphis Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the federal courts of appeals. As part of that work, students write complex legal briefs, argue cases, conduct fact investigation, interview witnesses and clients, and represent clients in administrative law trials. Students also engage advocacy in partnership with local and national immigrants' rights organizations.
Karla McKanders directs the Immigration Practice Clinic and teaches Refugee Law and Policy and Immigration Law. Prior to joining Vanderbilt, she was an associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee, where she directed the State of Tennessee’s first Immigration Clinic dedicated to educating law students on immigration and refugee law. Her clinic successfully focused on representing indigent immigrant and refugee populations, including children who travel to the United States without a guardian, from Togo, Syria, the Gambia, China, Jordan, Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq, Eritrea, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Central America.
In the fall 2014, McKanders and her students, traveled to Artesia, New Mexico to provide pro bono representation for women and children detained by the U.S. government who were summarily denied due process rights. From 2016-17, she was visiting professor and supervising attorney at Howard University School of Law in the Civil Rights Clinic. Her work has taken her around the country and abroad researching the efficacy of legal institutions charged with processing migrants and refugees.
McKanders earned her J.D. from Duke University School of Law in 2003, and her B.A. in political science with a minor in French from Spelman College in 2000. From 2005-06, she clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.