Advocates for justice

Kathleen Vannucci (JD '07) came to Loyola University Chicago School of Law intending to practice immigration law. Once she delved into law school, she discovered multiple other interests.

“I found I loved criminal law, family law, litigation, and advocacy and policymaking,” she says. “Getting close to graduation, I was at a crossroads, unsure of what I wanted to do.”

Vannucci realized her original passion offered a unique way to combine all of her interests—and went on to create a satisfying career in immigration law.

 “I feel blessed to be in a job where I have the ability to truly help a lot of people.” 

(JD '07)


of immigrants secure representation in their removal cases


Represented immigrants who have custody hearings are four times as likely to be released from detention


of unaccompanied minors who are represented receive immigration relief, compared to just 15% who are unrepresented

Vannucci, a longtime leader in the Chicago chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, is a shareholder at the Chicago Law Office of Robert D. Ahlgren and Associates. She represents individuals facing removal in immigration court, persons receiving immigration benefits through family members, and people who have been victims of crimes and violence in their home countries.

Since June, several important administrative decisions—such as victims of domestic and gang violence becoming generally unable to qualify for asylum—have rocked the status quo in immigration law. Even more changes are expected. “We do a lot of client counseling to talk them through what’s really changed, what could change, and how all this can impact their cases,” Vannucci says.

Not everyone who wants to make a difference in immigration law is able to practice in the field full time, but pro bono opportunities abound. Like Vannucci, Lindsay Shake (JD '16), a third-year corporate associate at the Chicago office of the global firm Winston & Strawn LLP, is fluent in Spanish and has a longstanding interest in immigration law.

When the firm, which has a robust pro bono practice, reached out to the Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project and Kids in Need of Defense in Texas, Shake joined a rotating delegation of Winston attorneys headed to the Port Isabel Detention Center for a week at a time. There, she helped prepare detainees for their initial asylum interviews, in which they sought to demonstrate a credible fear of returning to their home countries. She also helped reunify parents who had been separated from their children.

“It was an incredibly rewarding experience, getting to use both legal and language skills to help these individuals navigate the complex immigration process,” says Shake.

I’m interacting with people who’ve gone through trauma and feeling like I have a real impact on their lives.

Work that has real impact

Immigration law is a field that comes preloaded with stress and sadness—but it also offers enormous rewards.

Shake says she derives great satisfaction from “being able to make such a direct impact on someone’s life during a time when they need it most.”

Vannucci’s firm, founded by Loyola alumnus Robert Ahlgren (JD '68) and staffed in large part by Loyola law grads, prides itself on explaining exactly how current law and policy apply to clients’ particular situations and making sure their clients understand the process.

“Sometimes it’s like giving a terminal cancer diagnosis,” Vannucci says, “and consoling clients who are crushed. We’re dealing with the lives and futures of entire families, and it’s very serious business.”

But, she adds, her Jesuit education prepared her to use her knowledge to serve others, “and I feel blessed to be in a job where I have the ability to truly help a lot of people.” From representing clients in court to dealing with family or employment law to developing a deep understanding of the relevant criminal statutes, “Immigration law has combined all the different experiences that interested me as a law student. It’s everything I was looking for.”

Immigration law initiatives

Loyola’s School of Law is active in providing education and resources for immigration issues:

  • New Immigration Law Practicum
  • Student-faculty spring break 2019 trip to southern border to represent detained individuals
  • Loyola student chapter of the Immigrants’ Rights Coalition
  • Civitas ChildLaw Clinic-related planning guide in English and Spanish for parents at risk of removal
  • A variety of related projects within student organizations and clinics

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Experiential Learning: “Immigration law is one of the most complex, dynamic, and rewarding areas of practice,” says Katherine Kaufka Walts, faculty administrator of Loyola’s new Immigration Law Practicum and Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children.  In the new practicum, students will focus on current and emerging immigration law issues as well as their connection to other practice areas like family, criminal and employment law.  The immigration law practicum is just one of the many ways our students engage in experiential learning. Learn More