This is the eighth installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet Jay Minga, former member of IRAP at Stanford Law School and current Litigation Associate at the New York office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
The views expressed here are entirely his own.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
I first became involved with IRAP as a first-year law student in the fall of 2009, when I heard about the organization through several classmates concerned about the refugee crisis. IRAP greatly enriched my time in law school with client and policy advocacy experience in the United States and Middle East. During the winter of my first year in law school, I traveled to the Middle East with IRAP chapters from various law schools to work individual client cases and investigate ways to expand IRAP’s services in the region. I worked with several Stanford Law students as we met with clients, interviewed them, and prepared their applications. Along with students from other law schools, we also met with many academic, charitable, and professional organizations in the region to learn more about the challenges facing refugees in those countries and what IRAP could do to help.
That spring, with further client advocacy work from Stanford under my belt, I assisted another IRAP multi-law-school team with policy advocacy in Washington D.C. We conducted research and shared our findings among the teams in order to shape our advocacy. We met with numerous members of Congress and representatives of many federal agencies, to whom we presented our findings and raised questions about their compliance with legal obligations.
I recall with particular fondness my first law school summer internship experience in the Middle East, working on civil rights litigation by day and on an IRAP case by night, in coordination with a classmate who was interning at a law firm in New York, an IRAP supervising attorney who was handling the case pro bono at her large firm in California, and an IRAP client in Iraq whom the U.S. government denied refugee status, despite granting refugee status to his immediate family. We submitted the request for reconsideration that summer, and after nearly two years of work, re-processing, and repeated background checks, we were pleased to see our client safely resettled in the United States. Our client and his family have thrived since.
In addition to individual client and policy advocacy, I later served as the Operations Manager for the Stanford Law IRAP Chapter, where I helped organize various aspects of the chapter’s work.
IRAP has a unique model of partnering law students with pro bono lawyers — please describe your experience working with attorneys on urgent refugee resettlement cases.
I was consistently impressed by the dedication and professionalism of our supervising attorneys. These lawyers came from large firms, shouldered full caseloads, and brought to our IRAP cases an enthusiasm that every client deserves. They made time to meet with our teams of law students at their offices and join conference calls with us and our clients, advised us on our client interviews, and reviewed and revised drafts of our petitions and declarations. The attorneys were not only experienced and highly insightful, they were inspiring role models.
What have you been doing since you graduated from Stanford Law School?
Immediately after graduating from Stanford, I clerked for the Honorable Jerome A. Holmes on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. I then joined the New York Office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges as a litigation associate, where I have had the great privilege to continue doing challenging and meaningful work. My practice has been highly versatile across practice areas – including antitrust, appeals, bankruptcy, insurance, intellectual property and media, international finance and investment of varying types, lending, mergers and acquisitions diligence, real estate, securities, and internal investigations. My practice has also spanned jurisdictions – judicial and arbitral – across five continents.
Inspired by the strong example of those supervising attorneys who I worked with in law school with IRAP, I also dedicate time and effort to maintaining a meaningful pro bono practice that covers a variety of human rights and civil rights issues. I have assisted in drafting two United States Supreme Court amicus briefs (described further below), and I continue to represent and assist others in representing IRAP clients. Relatedly, I represent asylum clients on referral from other nonprofit organizations, including Immigration Equality and Scholars at Risk, as well as working on other matters.
For the United States Supreme Court’s landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, which required all states to issue and recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples, as a matter referred to Weil by the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, I assisted our team in drafting an amicus brief in support of marriage equality on behalf of Human Rights Watch, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and several partners, including The New York City Bar Association; the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; The National Council for Civil Liberties, UK; Legal Resources Centre, South Africa; Center for Legal and Social Studies, Argentina; and La Federación Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans, Argentina.
A trio of other high-profile United States Supreme Court cases, Ziglar v. Abbasi, Ashcroft v. Abbasi, and Hasty v. Abbasi, was brought against federal and state officials on behalf of plaintiffs rounded up in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, as referred to Weil by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The plaintiffs had been detained and held in solitary confinement in extreme and punitive conditions for two-and-a-half to eight months, based solely on their being, or being perceived to be, Muslim or Arab and having committed certain violations of civil immigration laws. For these cases, I helped our team draft an amicus brief on behalf of nineteen prominent medical and other scientific and health-related professionals from all over the world, including experts from the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, the World Health Organization, and World Psychiatric Association.
The amicus brief demonstrated the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus, across decades and countries, that prolonged solitary confinement causes severe psychological and physiological damage. The amicus brief further explained that, in acknowledgment of the intense pain and suffering caused by solitary confinement, international legal standards and the laws of other countries restrict its use to a measure of last resort, and would prohibit solitary confinement based on race or religion, the pretext of immigration violations, or as a measure of first, not last, resort, as occurred in the Abbasi cases.
In addition to a vital pro bono practice, I have previously served as Chair of Weil’s Green Committee, as the Associate Editor for the ABA Section of Litigation Ethics & Professionalism Committee, to which I have contributed several publications, and coached high school mock trials through New York City’s Justice Resource Center. I currently serve as a Board Member and Treasurer for the Harvard Din & Tonics Alumni Foundation.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
The exemplary professionalism and energy of our supervising attorneys and other members of the IRAP community left a great impression on me as to the kind of dynamic and fast-moving practice I would like to aspire.
Particularly, however, my continued work with IRAP at Weil has opened doors to many unique opportunities for which I am grateful.
Thanks to my prior involvement in law school with IRAP, and Weil’s and my ongoing relationship with IRAP, I was among those attorneys who, on January 28, 2017, rushed to JFK International Airport to assist arriving passengers who were held in custody as a result of a presidential executive order. From JFK, I successfully assisted in drafting and filing federal habeas filings, attempted to reason with Customs and Border Patrol officers by phone to secure representation and release of those detained, and sought to console panicked families who had come to receive their loved ones only to find them held incommunicado.
Representation in connection with my IRAP cases also has allowed me to coordinate with healthcare professionals, to retain local counsel, and to draft local counsel retention agreements in English and Arabic on behalf of IRAP clients.
At a time when refugees are more politicized than ever, how do you engage with the issue on a personal level?
I have sought to respond to the refugee crisis by concentrating my efforts where I can be the most effective. I dedicate significant time to pro bono efforts focused on refugee, asylum, and similar immigration issues, and continue to support the work of organizations like IRAP.