At Vanderbilt, McKanders will launch a new Immigration Law Clinic. She will be affiliated with the George Barrett Social Justice and International Legal Studies programs. In addition, she will work closely with Assistant Dean for Public Interest Spring Miller, who has taught an Immigrant Advocacy Practicum and also works to facilitate public service opportunities for Vanderbilt students.
“I’m extremely pleased that Karla McKanders is joining our clinical law faculty, and I look forward to the contributions she and her students will make through her Immigration Law Clinic,” Dean Chris Guthrie said. “Nashville is now home to immigrants from every continent, and our new clinic will help meet an increasing need for immigrant advocacy services.”
McKanders earned her undergraduate degree in political science and French from Spelman College magna cum laude and her J.D. from Duke University School of Law. Since 2008, she has directed the Immigration Clinic and teaches classes in refugee and immigration law at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Before she joined the law faculty at the University of Tennessee, she was a clinical teaching fellow at Villanova University School of Law in the Clinic for Asylum Refugee and Emigrant Services. During 2016-17, she is a visiting associate professor at Howard University School of Law, where she is teaching in the Civil Rights Clinic and Refugee Law.
McKanders became interested in researching and teaching refugee and immigration law while serving as a law clerk for Judge Damon J. Keith with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, during a period when federal courts were experiencing an unprecedented backlog of immigration cases. Her work researching the efficacy of legal institutions charged with processing migrants and refugees has taken her throughout the United States and abroad. In addition, her scholarship focuses on immigration federalism and has examined the constitutionality of state and local laws targeting immigration.
In 2011, McKanders was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Mohammad V in Morocco, where she taught Refugee and Humanitarian Law and helped to develop the country’s first Refugee Legal Aid pro bono project in response to an increasing influx of refugees from Syria Libya, Iraq and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since her time in Morocco, she continues to collaborate with law professors and nonprofit organizations in the Middle East and North Africa to address disparities in access to justice for immigrant and refugee populations. She also consults with law schools implementing clinical legal education programs.
At the University of Tennessee, McKanders received awards for her teaching, scholarship and service, including selection by the university’s Chancellor for the Jefferson Prize, which recognized her significant contributions to the university through research and creative activities; the Bass Berry & Sims Award for Outstanding Service to the Bench and Bar; and the Community Shares Tennessee Gardener of Change Award for her work educating social justice advocates. In addition, McKanders has been cited as an authority on immigration and refugee law by national media outlets, including Reuters, ABC News and Al-Jazeera.
“I am excited to join the Clinical Program at Vanderbilt,” Professor McKanders said. “I look forward to working with the clinical faculty and students as we ask vital questions about the role of immigrants and refugees in our nation.”
McKanders participated in a Feb. 2 panel discussion of the implications of President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration. The panel also included Assistant Dean Miller and Professors Mike Newton and Ingrid Wuerth.