Rebecca A Sharpless

Professor of Law
Associate Dean for Experiential Learning; Director, Immigration Clinic; Coordinator, Immigration, Asylum, and Citizenship Law Area of Focus; Social Justice/Public Interest Concentration Affiliated Faculty

(305) 284-3576
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Professor Sharpless is the founding director of the Immigration Clinic and teaches immigration law. She researches and writes in the areas of immigration law, progressive lawyering, and the intersection of immigration and criminal law. Her scholarship focuses on how hierarchies within these areas affect the most marginalized, denigrated, and unpopular groups. Professor Sharpless’ work addresses the harms and limitations of the conceptual framework for immigration reform that draws its narrative force from a contrast between model immigrants and people who have been convicted of a criminal offense. Professor Sharpless proposes an alternate approach for immigration reform that is informed by, and is consistent with, racial and class critiques of the U.S. criminal justice system. Her scholarship also analyzes the doctrinal defenses for noncitizens facing deportation due to their criminal history, particularly the methodology of the categorical approach. Enshrined in both immigration and federal recidivist sentencing law, this methodology dictates whether a given criminal conviction triggers deportation or a longer sentence.

The docket and pedagogy of the Immigration Clinic reflect, and inform, Professor Sharpless' scholarly work. With her clinic students, Professor Sharpless represents indigent noncitizens in removal proceedings and engages in litigation in U.S. district court and before the U.S. courts of appeals. The Clinic’s recent work has included defending Somali men and women who were shackled and abused during a botched deportation flight, challenging the enforcement of federal immigration law by state and local officials, and advocating against post-earthquake deportations to Haiti through human rights advocacy and the fact-finding report Aftershocks: The Human Impact of U.S. Post-Earthquake Deportations to Haiti. Her forthcoming book with the University of California Press, Shackled: 92 Refugees Imprisoned On I.C.E. Air, examines our immigration enforcement system through the stories of two Somali men who were on the botched 2017 ICE Air flight.

Professor Sharpless speaks widely on immigration law, including at academic symposia and events such as the annual conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. From 2016-2017, Professor Sharpless served as the President of the South Florida Chapter of AILA. She was a board member of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild from 2001-2019. From 1996 to 2007, Professor Sharpless was a supervising attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), where she engaged in extensive litigation on behalf of low-income immigrants as lead counsel in cases before the United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts as well as in immigration court and before the Board of Immigration Appeals. She has received numerous awards and recognition for her work, including the 2021 University of Miami’s Provost’s Teaching Award, the 2019 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award (team defense of Somali 92), the 2018 Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 


  • Provost’s Teaching Award, University of Miami, 2021.
  • Fellowship in the Arts and Humanities, 2021-22, University of Miami.
  • 2019 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award, American Immigration Lawyers Association (presented to Somali 92 Team), 2019.
  • 2019 Human Rights Volunteer Award, The Advocates for Human Rights (presented to Somali 92 Team), 2019.
  • We Count! Award to Immigration Clinic, University of Miami Law School, 2019.
  • Mother Cabrini Medal, Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, 2019.
  • 2nd Runner Up Winner, 2019 Paul Doyle Children’s Advocacy Award (presented to Children and Youth Law Clinic, Health Rights Clinic, and Immigration Clinic), 2019.
  • Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award, American Immigration Lawyers Association (national), 2018.
  • AILA South Florida Annual Achievement Award, 2018.
  • AILA South Florida Pro Bono Champion Award (presented to Somali Litigation Project), 2018.
  • Spirit of Justice Award, FAMN Haitian Women of Miami, 2012.
  • Human Rights Award, Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ, 2007.
  • Listed as “Up & Comer” attorney in South Florida Legal Guide, 2001.
  • Recognized for Outstanding Achievement and Shared Commitment, University of Miami School of Law, The Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (student organization), 1997.
Area of Expertise
  • Civil Litigation and Procedure
  • Immigration and Refugee Law
  • Trial Advocacy and Practi