UHLC Immigration Clinic secures the release of two detained families

Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, director of the UHLC Immigration Clinic, discusses a case with students Hee Jin Chang and Hannah Young. The team recently secured the release on bond of two families from the Karnes Detention Center.

Feb. 6, 2015 -- Faculty and students with the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Clinic recently were able to secure the release on bond of two Central American families from the Karnes County Residential Center, a federal detention facility outside San Antonio.

Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic, supervised students Hee Jin Chang and Hannah Young and worked with Susham Modi, an adjunct professor and clinical supervising attorney, and Veronica Bernal, a clinical fellow, to convince an immigration judge to grant the two families bonds of $8,000 apiece

“I am so proud of our students and faculty and their continued efforts on these Karnes cases helping immigrant families to get out on bond,” Hoffman said.

The first family, a mother and young child, was able to post bond through a family friend and was released in October. The Immigration Clinic worked with the San Antonio-based nonprofit group RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to secure funds for the bond for the second family, a woman with two young children, in early January. 

Now that both families have been released from the facility, they are pursuing their separate claims for asylum in the U.S. The clinic was able to find pro bono representation for the first family.

Meanwhile, the clinic is still awaiting a ruling on the asylum claim of the second family represented by Hoffman, Bernal, Chang and Young in a hearing before the San Antonio immigration judge in late December.

Chang, who emigrated as a child from Seoul, South Korea, sat first chair during the six-hour hearing. She said it was difficult preparing for the hearing while studying for law school finals, but listening to the clients’ stories was an important aspect of the case

“It was scary. Looking back on it now, what was I thinking? I’ve had one semester, barely, in an immigration clinic. Only a second-year in law school, and I’m supposed to be responsible for three people’s lives,” she said.

While Chang and Young presented most of the case during the hearing, Hoffman sat beside them and was allowed by the judge to make objections.

“You get emotionally invested, especially when there’s children involved,” said Young. “You just start to care about them a lot.”

Young said the experience was invaluable. “You just don’t get experience like that in law school very often,” she said.

Modi, one of the supervising attorneys, explained that an asylum claim is based on two primary factors: whether the detainee family poses a flight risk and whether there are security concerns, such as a history of criminal activity.

In the case of the first family, Modi said, the team was able to provide sufficient documentary evidence that the Asylum Office made a determination of “positive credible fear.”

“You see that person who’s gone through so much back home, and what happens when they first come in, they’ve been detained,” Modi said. “Add on top of that a child put in the same situation. They would probably be in that situation still if it weren’t for good pro bono counsel.”

Modi noted that a major part of any attorney’s professional duty is to serve the needs of the community. He said the students’ contributions are critical for the clinic’s success.

“It’s the students who help the community and there’s a huge need in this particular field,” he said.

Read about a later victory by the UHLC Immigration Clinic here.

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