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 is developing a federal court strategy to challenge prolonged and arbitrary immigration detentions and systematic and unreasonable delays in the adjudication of immigration applications.

In 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 to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Karla has:

  • Provided direct legal services to seven clients to challenge their prolonged detention, resulting in three clients being released from immigration detention to date
  • Provided direct legal services to six clients challenging years-long adjudication delays of their immigration applications
  • Engaged in extensive internal fact-finding to determine the immigration-benefits processing delays that NIJC clients are experiencing
  • Created a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus packet for pro se litigants to challenge their prolonged detention, which will be available to detainees in the geographic areas that NIJC serves, including Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Wisconsin

Next Steps

In the next year, Karla plans to:

  • Continue to research the adjudication delays that NIJC clients are experiencing and develop protocols to prioritize, accept, and staff referred cases for unreasonable delay litigation at U.S. District Courts
  • Develop habeas corpus and mandamus materials to train pro bono and private immigration attorneys unfamiliar with federal court practice related to immigration law
  • Collaborate with NIJC’s pro bono manager and leaders from the habeas corpus committee to host a habeas corpus training for pro bono and private immigration attorneys


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

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