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Karla McKanders

Clinical Professor of Law
Associate Director, Legal Clinic

Karla McKanders is an expert on immigration, race and the administrative state. Her research, scholarship and advocacy has taken her throughout the U.S. and abroad teaching and researching the efficacy of immigration policies, laws and legal institutions charged with processing migrants. In 2020, she was appointed associate director of Vanderbilt’s clinical program. As the founding director of the Immigration Practice Clinic, Professor McKanders supervises students providing representation to asylum seekers and unaccompanied minor children in their humanitarian immigration cases before the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and federal courts of appeals. Her clinic has also worked in Nashville and nationally advocating for immigrant communities in Supreme Court amicus briefs, legislative and policy advocacy.

During the 2016 -17 academic year, McKanders was a visiting associate professor at Howard University School of Law, where she directed the Civil Rights Clinic, in which her students collaborated with NAACP LDF, the Advancement Project and other national organizations writing appellate and Supreme Court Amicus briefs in civil rights and social justice litigation. Before joining Vanderbilt’s law faculty, McKanders was a tenured associate professor at University of Tennessee College of Law, where she started the first Immigration Clinic in the state. While at Tennessee, she received a Fulbright grant in 2011 to lecture on refugee and humanitarian law in Rabat, Morocco. In Morocco, she helped start a refugee legal aid organization for asylum seekers presenting their refugee status determinations before UNHCR. After the Fulbright, she was selected in 2018 as the scholar in residence with the Hilary Clinton Center for Gender at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, where she examined the application of the Refugee Convention in Morocco, focusing on how individuals with gender-based reasons for fleeing persecution and asylum seekers of African descent were precluded from presenting their cases to obtain refugee status under existing legal frameworks. In 2019, she collaborated with scholars from the Middle East, North Africa and the United States, as the editor of the volume, Arabs at Home and in the World: Human Rights, Gender Politics and Identity.

McKanders chairs the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration. Before joining the legal academy, she clerked for Judge Damon J. Keith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Detroit.

Research Interests

Immigration, refugee law, civil rights, race and the law


Representative Publications

  • "Immigration and Racial Justice: Enforcing the Borders of Blackness," Georgia State University Law Review (forthcoming 2021)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Deconstructing Invisible Walls: Sotomayor's Dissents in Era of Immigration Exceptionalism," 27 William & Mary Journal of Women and Law 95 (2020)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Immigration and Blackness: What's Race Got to Do with It?" in American Bar Association Human Rights Magazine, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2019)
    Full Text | WWW
  • Arabs at Home and in the World: Human Rights, Gender Politics and Identity, Taylor & Francis (2019) (editor)
    Full Text | WWW
  • "Morocco at the Crossroads: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Refugee Status" in Women and Social Change in North Africa: What Counts as Revolutionary? Cambridge University Press (2017) ( D. Gray and N. Sonneveld, editors)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "The Subnational Response: Local Intervention in Immigration Policy and Enforcement" in Compassionate Migration and Regional Policy in the Americas, Palgrave McMillan (2017) (Steven W. Bender and William F. Arrocha, editors)
    Full Text | WWW
  • "Immigration Enforcement and the Fugitive Slave Acts: Exploring Their Similarities," 1.4 Catholic Law Review 921 (2012)
    Full Text | SSRN | WWW
  • "Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigrant Laws," 26 Harvard Journal of Racial and Ethnic Justice 163 (2010)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "The Unspoken Voices of Indigenous Women in Immigration Raids," 14 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 1 (2010)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Welcome to Hazleton! 'Illegal' Immigrants Beware: Local Immigration Ordinances and What the Federal Government Must Do About It," 39 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 101 (2007)
    Full Text | SSRN