Sarah Brenes

Sarah Brenes

96A Mondale Hall

Sarah Brenes is Executive Director of the Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is a specialist in immigration public interest law practice with a focus on holistic client services and interprofessional collaboration.  

Brenes provides leadership and management for the Center’s operations and leads strategic planning for the Center’s collaborative model. She works closely with the Center’s faculty, staff, law firm and non-profit partners to develop and implement the Center’s mission to expand legal services for noncitizens, pursue litigation to improve immigration laws, and support noncitizens in the region through education and community outreach. Brenes directs the Center’s Education and Outreach Program, and is a Lecturer in Law, teaching courses including the Rural Access Immigration Clinic.

Prior to joining Minnesota Law, Brenes spent over a decade practicing immigration law at The Advocates for Human Rights. She worked with clients, pro bono attorneys and colleagues on immigration matters that involve human rights violations, including asylum, human trafficking, immigration detention and unaccompanied minors.  Alongside MN Law grads colleagues, including Michele Garnett McKenzie ‘95, Brenes managed the growth and sustainability of the Refugee & Immigrant Program. The program has hosted and hired several MN Law grads including Lindsey Greising ‘12, John Bruning ‘17, and Zack Albun ‘16, and other UMN graduates including Tom Bird ‘11, Kristin Gill ‘21, and Maryam Ahmed ‘19. 

Brenes mentored Minnesota Law Students including Robina Public Interest Scholars, Cooper Fellows through the Human Rights Center, LLM students who became Humphrey Fellows, Humphrey Fellows who became staff, UMN undergraduate interns and graduates who joined The Advocates.  Work with alums has included projects to provide legal services to noncitizen youth who survived human trafficking, pilot asylum pro se clinics in Greater Minnesota and establish a legal clinic consortium for Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan who were resettled in Minnesota.  Brenes worked closely with MN Law faculty including Steve Meili, whose clinic receives referrals for asylum cases from The Advocates and Linus Chan, who collaborates with The Advocates to manage and adapt the MN Detention Project, Bond Project and Immigration Court Observation Project.

Brenes has a long history of working closely with Binger Center Institutional partners.  While at The Advocates, Brenes worked closely with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota on joint grants to represent immigrants in detention and others in removal proceedings. She also supported hundreds of pro bono attorneys from firms including Robins Kaplan LLP, Dorsey & Whitney LLP and Faegre Drinker, the three law firm partners of the Binger Center.

Brenes’ legal training and formation was rooted in interprofessional clinical education while studying and teaching at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and its Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services. She received the John R. Roach Fellowship in recognition of her commitment to Public Interest Law.  Black letter law is an important seed for budding lawyers, but in order to successfully practice in public interest immigration law, this base knowledge must be fed with skills to navigate the myriad of pressures weighing on low-income noncitizens. Collaborating with professionals with expertise in mental health and other fields enhances legal problem solving and strengthens holistic client services. Brenes incorporates this philosophy in her work with the Center’s students and partners in order to fulfill the Center’s core mission to lighten the legal load noncitizens are forced to carry in an unwelcoming legal system and often hostile political environment in which we all need them to thrive.

Brenes’ connections to UMN extend beyond her professional capacity.  Her brother is a graduate of the College of Science and Engineering.  Her mother worked as a nurse in the UMN Neurology Dept and later at Boynton Health Center for over 35 years.  

Immigration Law Field Placement

Rural Immigrant Access Clinic

Rural Immigrant Access Clinic Student Directors


Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell (West Academic, 8th ed., 2023)
David Weissbrodt
Laura Danielson
Howard S. Myers III
Sarah K. Peterson

Journal Articles

Mental Health Professionals and Affirmative Applications for Immigration Benefits: A Critical Review of Administrative Appeals Office Cases Involving Extreme Hardship and Mental Harm, 11-04 Immigration Briefings 1 (Apr. 2011)
Virgil Wiebe

Book Chapters

Protection-Based Relief: Forging a Path to Permanent Status, in Immigration Practice Deskbook (Hon. Nelson L. Peralta & Paschal O. Nwokocha, eds. Minnesota CLE, 2018 revision; 2020 revision)
Allison Griffith
Lindsey Greising

Other Publications

The Bind with Immigration Bonds, 81:5 Hennepin Lawyer 22 (May 2012)
Lawyer as Counselor: Know the Signs and When to Look for Help While Working with Clients with Mental Health Needs, VII:3 Hearsay [Minnesota State Bar Association] (Spr/Summ 2011)
Executive Director
James H. Binger Center for New Americans