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November 30, 2007

UT Law School Welcomes Denise Gilman

Photo of Denise Gilman
Denise Gilman

Denise Gilman, the new clinical professor in the Immigration Clinic, grew up in the Austin area. Her father, a photographer, was taken by Mexico’s beauty and brought his family there for several weeks each year while he created images of people and of vivid walls decorated with folk art.

“That may be when I started developing a commitment to the rights of people from other societies,” Gilman recalled. She went off to the Midwest for college, but she returned to Austin in the summers, and she worked several of those summers in the law office of Barbara Hines, who was then a prominent immigration lawyer and activist and who has led the Law School’s Immigration Clinic since 1999.

Her experience with Hines reinforced her commitment to work as a lawyer in human rights and immigration settings. After graduating from Columbia Law School—having received its Rosenman Award for leadership and public interest scholarship—and then clerking for Judge Thomas M. Reavley at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, she joined the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, as a human rights specialist. Among other things, she was the lead lawyer before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a prominent case, in which it was shown that the Guatemalan government was responsible for the clandestine detention, torture and extrajudicial execution of a Guatemalan activist married to U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury. The case received broad attention when it was further revealed that a Guatemalan official involved in the torture had been on the payroll of the CIA.

From there she became director of the Mexico Project at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now called Human Rights First), where her primary focus was on issues related to torture in the Mexican criminal justice system. “Unfortunately, the use of torture to obtain confessions continues to be prevalent in Mexico,” Gilman noted. Her work involved close collaboration with Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa who, after leaving Mexico for her safety and living for a time with Gilman in the United States, was killed shortly after her return to Mexico in 2001.

In 2000 Gilman became director of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at the Washington [DC] Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. In that role she led the advocacy that resulted in an act requiring the District government to provide services in languages other than English—only the third such language-access law in the country—and she created a report on relations between the police and the Latino community that led to significant policy changes. She received the Community Outreach Recognition and Opportunity Award from the District of Columbia courts for that work, and she also was presented with an Excellence in Lawyering Award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

From 2005 to 2007 she was a clinical teaching fellow in the Center for Applied Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center, where she co-taught a political asylum clinic and earned an LLM.

At the Immigration Clinic, she is helping students handle asylum cases and claims under the Violence Against Women Act, and she is helping broaden the Clinic’s work to include more of an international human rights perspective. With her guidance, Clinic student Elise Harriger, ’08, recently submitted a briefing paper to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the detention of immigrant families, including small children, at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas violates international human rights standards. (See related story, “Immigration Clinic works for detained families.”)

“To return to Austin and work alongside Barbara Hines with such extraordinary and dedicated students is a great thrill for me,” Gilman said. “The programs, scholarship, and centers focused on human rights here at UT Law are world-class, and I am so very appreciative to be able to be part of all that,” she said.

She is married to visiting law professor Ariel Dulitzky, who is also associate director of the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice.

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Contact: Kirston Fortune,, (512) 471-7330