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Lucas Guttentag

Senior Staff Attorney

ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project


Lucas Guttentag was the founding national director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation from 1985-2011. He is now Senior Counsel to the Project and teaching at Yale Law School, where he is the Robina Foundation Distinguished Senior Fellow in Residence. He began directing the ACLU’s immigration work in 1985, founded the Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York at the ACLU’s National Headquarters and opened Project’s second office in California in 1996. Under his direction, the IRP grew into the nation’s premiere litigation and advocacy program dedicated to advancing the constitutional and civil rights of immigrants, and it coordinated the immigration program of the ACLU’s affiliates nationwide.

Mr. Guttentag has litigated major class action and constitutional cases on behalf of immigrants throughout the United States; argued landmark appeals in the United States Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, and many federal circuits; testified before Congress; frequently speaks and writes on immigration law and civil liberties; and has often appeared on network television and in major national print and electronic media.

Mr. Guttentag received his JD cum laude from Harvard Law School (1978), his AB with honors from the University of California Berkeley (1973), and served as law clerk to Judge William Wayne Justice in Texas. Before joining the ACLU he was a member of the clinical faculty of Columbia Law School and previously litigated class action Title VII and civil rights cases in federal and state court as an attorney at the Center for Law in the Public Interest (CLIPI) in Los Angeles. He has regularly taught courses on immigration law and constitutional rights of immigrants as an adjunct at Columbia, University of California Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall).

Guttentag is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, was named a Human Rights Hero by the American Bar Association’s Human Rights journal (2001), recognized as one of the country’s leading immigration advocates of the last twenty-five years by the National Immigration Forum in Washington, DC (2007), named among California’s top 100 lawyers (2007, 2008) and as California Lawyer of the Year for Appellate Law (2002), received the annual outstanding litigation award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (2002, 1997, 1991, 1990), honored for his contributions to immigration law by the National Lawyers Guild (1998, 1991), and recognized for achievements in civil rights, human rights and immigrants’ rights by Chinese for Affirmative Action, the Immigrant Legal Resources Center, the Central American Refugee Center and other national and community-based organizations. He serves on boards of non-profit organizations and has chaired or co-chaired committees of the American Bar Association, the American Constitution Society and other entities.

Mr. Guttentag designed and led the ACLU’s five-year nationwide legal strategy to challenge the jurisdiction-stripping provisions in the 1996 immigration law and the Justice Department’s retroactive elimination of immigration waivers. He argued INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289 (2001), and Calcano-Martinez v. INS, 533 U.S. 348 (2001), in the Supreme Court, which found that immigrants were entitled to habeas corpus proceedings to challenge their removal and which rejected the retroactive elimination of waiver eligibility. Other significant cases in which he served as lead or co-lead counsel include class action litigation challenging the indefinite detention of Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Naval Base, Haitian Centers Council v. McNary, 823 F.Supp. 1028 (E.D.N.Y. 1993); a nationwide class action settlement providing new asylum adjudications for more than 250,000 Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees, American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, 760 F.Supp. 796 (N.D. Calif. 1991); constitutional challenges to a federal law penalizing citizens and immigrants who marry during deportation proceedings, Manwani v. U.S. Department of Justice, 736 F. Supp. 1367 (W.D.N.C. 1990), Azizi v. Thornburgh, 908 F.2d 1130 (2d Cir. 1990), that led to repeal of the statute; and a lawsuit against former Secretary Rumsfeld and high-level military commanders for torture of Iraqi and Afghan civilians in U.S. military custody, Ali v. Rumsfeld, 479 F. Supp. 2d 85 (D.D.C. 2007) appeal pending; and numerous challenges to state and local immigration laws, including several in Arizona.

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