UHLC supports successful effort to give law students access to immigration court 

Feb. 4, 2016 – Three appeals supported by the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic were granted recently, overturning an immigration judge’s decision to deny Cornell law students access to immigration court.

 Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, director of the Law Center’s immigration clinic, filed an amicus brief along with Sheila I. Velez Martinez, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, on behalf of the Cornell students. Hoffman also wrote a blog entry addressing the rarity of the decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals to grant the interlocutory appeals, an appeal of a ruling by a trial court that is made before the trial has concluded.

“It should be emphasized that interlocutory appeals are rarely filed and even more rarely granted,” Hoffman said. “I counseled the filing of these interlocutory appeals because in my experience practicing immigration law it is a viable (if rarely used) option. Under these circumstances, it seemed directly relevant and appropriate to righting this particular wrong.”

The immigration judge did not permit law students to represent clients in removal proceedings. The students were working on cases that involved three Central American clients – a gay respondent seeking asylum in the United States, an unaccompanied child who had a pending guardianship action, and proceedings with a mother and her 10-year-old son.

In one case, the judge noted his court was “not a law school clinic,” while in two others he cited a backlogged docket and difficulties with a new translation service.

The BIA’s response to the judge’s order said, “The Immigration Judge’s order contains no indication that the law students did not meet the requirements set out in the regulations… the judge did not explain how either the backlogged courts or the unavailability of interpreters is related to the decision whether to allow the appearance of law students. We find that the Immigration Judge erred in denying the respondent’s request to allow the appearance of a law student on her behalf.”

“I am heartened that the BIA saw through the smokescreen,” Hoffman said. “These decisions by the board can be seen as a sound rejection of the immigration judge’s implicit, erroneous, and misguided message that instead of being part of the problem, law school clinics and law students must be viewed as part of an integrated solution as we move to address the terrible plight of women and children, and in fact of all respondents, stuck in the immigration court system today.”

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