Karla Olivas

  • Hosted by National Immigrant Justice Center
  • Sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school University of Iowa College of Law
  • Issue area Immigrant Populations/Minorities
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Karla developed federal court strategies to challenge prolonged and arbitrary immigration detention and systemic and unreasonable delays in the adjudication of immigration applications.

Over the past two decades, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have subjected immigrants to extensive and increasing delays in processing their cases. Immigrants must then endure prolonged detention while they await decisions on their cases, resulting in more individuals spending months or even years incarcerated and separated from their families. This is a new and particularly profound problem for arriving asylum seekers, who, in many cases, are subject to mandatory detention with little opportunity for release on humanitarian parole. Without federal court pressure on these cases, many immigrants may be stuck in limbo for years.

When Karla was a toddler, she and her family emigrated from Mexico and settled in Nebraska; however, it took Karla nearly 15 years to become a United States citizen. Karla wants to serve immigrant populations so they too can be free from the anxiety and harm caused by bureaucratic delays and immigration detention.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Karla:
  • Provided legal services to 11 individuals experiencing prolonged detention with Immigration & Customs Enforcement by submitting petitions for writs of habeas corpus in federal district courts
  • Submitted conditions of detention complaints on behalf of three detained individuals to the Department of Homeland Security‚Äôs Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
  • Provided legal services to 18 individuals experiencing unreasonable adjudication delays of their respective immigration applications pending before United States Citizenship & Immigration Services by submitting writs of mandamus complaints in federal district courts
  • Submitted an administrative complaint under the Federal Torts Claim Act for an individual separated from her child under the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy of the Trump Administration (also known as family separation)
  • Created a petition for writ of habeas corpus packet for pro se litigants to challenge their prolonged detentions with Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Next Steps

Karla will continue as a zealous advocate for the immigration community throughout her career.


Early life experiences led to public interest advocacy for alum Karla Olivas

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