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Professor | Scholar | Lawyer | Activist


Speaking Engagements




Karla McKanders is a Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School where she directs the Immigration Practice Clinic and teaches Refugee Law and Policy and Immigration Law. Her focus is on engaged activist research that she brings directly into the classroom and where she challenges her students to directly apply the concepts in which they learn in practicing law. In furtherance of this goal, in December 2018, she traveled with her students to Tijuana, Mexico to assist asylum seekers at the border.

Her work has taken her around the country and abroad researching the efficacy of legal institutions charged with processing migrants and refugees. In 2011, she received a Fulbright Award to lecture at the University of Mohammad V in Rabat, Morocco. After her Fulbright, she played an instrumental role in establishing Morocco’s first pro bono Refugee Legal Aid Clinic with the organization, Droit et Justice. She continues to collaborate with law professors and civil society in the Middle East and North Africa to address implementing clinical legal education and disparities in access to justice for immigrants and refugees. In furtherance of this goal in 2019 she edited a volume Arabs at Home and in the World: Human Rights, Gender Politics, and Identity (Karla McKanders ed., 1st ed. 2018) with colleagues from Palestine, Morocco and the United States.

Her articles have been published in the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic JusticeUniversity of Iowa’s Gender Race and Social Justice Law Journal, and Catholic Law Review, among other law journals. She has also been cited as an authority on immigration and refugee law in ReutersABC News, Mother Jones, and Al-Jazeera. In addition, McKanders has received numerous awards for her work, including selection by University of Tennessee’s Chancellor for the Jefferson Prize and the Gardner of Change Award for her teaching. Her teaching expands outside the classroom as she has been sought after by police departments, Universities in the MENA region, bar associations, community organizations, and Tennessee’s Department of Children Services to provide training on immigration and refugee law.

McKanders received her J.D. Duke University School of Law in 2003, and her B.A. in Political Science and Minor in French from Spelman College in 2000. She clerked for the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals from 2005 - 2006. 


Karla McKanders, Morocco at the Crossroads the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Refugee Status in Women and Social Change in North Africa: What Counts as Revolutionary? Ch. 8 (Doris Gray and Nadia Sonneveld, eds.)(Cambridge University Press 2017).

Karla McKanders, Compassionate Migration and Regional Policy in the Americas, Ch. 2, The Subnational Response: Local Intervention in Immigration Policy and Enforcement (Palgrave Macmillan 2017).

 Law Review Articles

Immigration Enforcement and the Fugitive Slave Acts: Exploring their Similarities, 61.4 Cath.L.Rev. 1 (fall 2012); Reprinted in Immigration Nationality Law Rev., (2013).

Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigrant Laws, 26 Harv. J. Rac. & Eth. Jus. 163 (2010).

Welcome to Hazleton! (“Illegal” Immigrants Beware): Local Employment Immigration Ordinances and What the Federal Government Must Do About, It 39 Loy.U.Chi.L.J. 1 (2007).

Op - Eds & Commentary


ABA Human Rights Journal, Immigration and Blackness: What’s Race Got to Do With It? May 2019.

Blacks immigrating to the United States continue to be detained and deported at a higher rate than any other immigrant group. McKanders examines how recent immigration policies perpetuate discrimination and oppression, particularly for African immigrants.

Invited Commentary. Non-Discrimination Trumps Order, JURIST - Academic Commentary, February 10, 2017.

Invited Commentary. Non-Discrimination Trumps Order, JURIST - Academic Commentary, February 10, 2017.

Invited Commentary. Responding to the Refugee Crisis, Can Lawyers’ Help?, JURIST - Academic Commentary, Oct. 1, 2015.

Invited Commentary. 1967 Refugee Convention: Moral Aspiration or Legal Obligation?, JURIST - Academic Commentary, September 28, 2015.

Authored, Society of American Law Teachers Statement on Charleston and Racist Violence (September 2015).

Authored, Society of American Law Teachers Statement for officials to uphold the rule of law in relation to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (November 2014).

Black and Brown Based Coalition Building During the “Post-Racial” Obama Era, 29 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev. 473 (2010).


Duke University, Law School

Juris Doctor. May 2003

Spelman college, ATLANTA

B.A., May 2000. Major - Political Science, Minor - French


American immigration lawyers association

midsouth pro bono service award, Spring 2019