Henry Zhu (JD’ 22) Receives the Prestigious Skadden Fellowship for Public Interest Work

01.04.2024

Public Interest After Law School Alumni Students
Henry Zhu standing in front of a bookcase filled with legal books

Henry Zhu (JD’ 22) was one of 28 recipients of 2024’s Skadden Fellowship, which pays for two years of salary and training for recent law school graduates to work at a public interest organization. Through the fellowship, Zhu will be an attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago to execute a multi-pronged, targeted project defending access to an important type of asylum claim. He will oppose government attempts to deny asylum protections to immigrants who have suffered past persecution or fear future persecution for belonging to a cognizable particular social group (like LGBTQ+ individuals and survivors of domestic violence).

“This is an area of the law that is more complicated than, for example, seeking asylum on the basis of your race or religion,” Zhu said. “We’re going to really be taking on those more complicated cases and trying to make sure that the immigration agencies properly grant relief to people who are entitled to it and following the law that has been set up by the federal courts.”

Zhu was born in China, moved to Canada when he was five, and then moved again to the United States when he was 10. “I’ve always been involved with or been in the immigration system,” he said. It took his family 16 years between arriving in the United States in 2005 and obtaining US citizenship during his second year of law school. He relays his own experiences when working with clients seeking immigration relief. “Even though my family did not come here through asylum, I’m very much aware of how difficult and how invasive the process is, how much you have to tell the government every single thing that’s happened to you.” Speaking English, Chinese, Spanish, and some Portuguese and German, he hopes to comfort clients and support them through the process: “Yes, this is a complicated process, and it is frustrating. There’s a lot of paperwork.”

After getting his undergraduate degree from Indiana University, Zhu worked in finance to help support his family, taking on a one-year fellowship at a nonprofit. There, he worked with immigrants and women who were victims of domestic violence. “That helped me realize that this was something that I was passionate about, helping other immigrants, people who had been stuck in the same system that I was going through.” That experience inspired him to apply to law school.  

He chose Northwestern Pritzker School of Law because he wanted to make a positive difference after his parents settled in the area. “I always felt like there isn’t enough help or advocacy for immigrants in the Midwest in particular. This fellowship really is everything I came to Northwestern to do.”

Faculty and staff like Leonard Rubinowitz, Cindy Wilson, and Emily Powers were particularly influential during Henry’s time at Northwestern as he pursued public interest alongside classmates who were always available to lend an ear or talk through the challenges of the work. During his summers, he interned at leading immigration legal services nonprofits. Law school friends like Wafa Junaid (JD’ 22) and Eliza Quander (JD’ 22), Skadden Fellows themselves, served as inspiration for possible ways to make an impact in the field. “Even though Northwestern’s not known for being the most public interest-based school, we really do have a community there, and I enjoy being able to talk to other folks,” he said. “It really does feel like this was a team effort.”

Since graduating from Northwestern Pritzker Law, Zhu clerked for the Hon. Matthew F. Kennelly on the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Hon. Ronald Lee Gilman on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Zhu said these experiences wouldn’t be possible without Northwestern Pritzker Law and the faculty support he received there, especially from clerkship advisor Janet Siegel Brown.

When the fellowship ends, Zhu hopes that he’ll continue working at an organization like the National Immigrant Justice Center in the future, handling more complex cases or taking on a leadership role to help immigrant rights groups determine the best strategies for advocating or representing immigrants appealing their cases to the federal courts. “The immigration system tends to forget that the people in it are also human beings rather than just files and papers and alien registration numbers,” he said. “Just giving the clients we work with a sense of agency and humanity is important to me.”