Jan. 24, 2020 - Immigration advocates learned about immigration appellate issues, preserving the record, and how to set the stage for removal proceedings through five panel discussions, a keynote address and a presentation on community lawyering, at the Joseph A. Vail Asylum Law Workshop last Friday at the University of Houston Law Center.
The event, organized by the Immigration Clinic, part of the Law Center's Clinical Legal Education Program, was co-sponsored by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
"Since this was the 20th anniversary of our clinic, and my 10th year as immigration clinic director, we wanted the Asylum Workshop to be special this year," said Geoffrey Hoffman, Clinical Professor and Director of the Immigration Clinic. "We were honored to hear from past Board of Immigration Appeals Member Lory Rosenberg about due process concerns in our immigration courts.
“We also were fortunate to have a former immigration judge, as well as an array of excellent panelists, who shed light on all the important changes in immigration adjudication.”
Former Board of Immigration Appeals member Lory Rosenberg, who spoke in an individual capacity, delivered the keynote address. Rosenberg pointed to rights under the Immigration and Nationality Act and in immigration court that are whittling away under current immigration policies. Some of these rights include the right to notice of hearing, right to be heard, right to counsel at no expense to government, right to hearing open to the public, right to a neutral adjudicator, right to a reasoned decision and the right to a written decision.
"Every day we're losing more and more and more of the aspects of due process that are supposed to be populating the immigration proceedings and the rights of our clients,” Rosenberg said.
The first panel, "The Changed Landscape, including the MPP Program" featured Jodi Goodwin, founder and partner of the Jodi Goodwin Law Office in Harlingen. Hoffman spoke on the “Remain in Mexico” program and other issues surrounding federal litigation, Rosenberg also provided commentary.
The second panel was conducted in a question-and-answer format and covered forms of relief. Discussants were Susham M. Modi, partner and founder of The Modi Law Firm, Ruby Powers, Partner and Founder of Powers Law Group and William K. Zimmer, a retired immigration judge who previously served the U.S. Department of Justice.
Brian Schaeffer, pro bono coordinator at RAICES, served as the moderator and provided a historical basis of refugee and asylum law. He pointed to several statistics that highlighted the infrequency of asylum being granted in the Houston area.
"Since Oct. 1, 2019, only 240 asylum cases were granted in Houston immigration courts, and 5,218 were denied. That works out to 4.6 percent. On average an immigration judge grants between one and two cases per month, but some granted as few as one in the entire previous fiscal year. It's very rare that this happens, and attorneys need to prepare that way. I always say it's a unicorn case."
The third panel was titled, “The Use of Experts in Removal Proceedings including Psychological Assessments and Country Conditions. Panelists were Rosemary Vega, a clinical lecturer at the Law Center's Immigration Clinic and Ann Webb of the UH Graduate College of Social Work. Magali Suárez Candler, partner and founder of Suárez Candler Law, PLLC, was the moderator.
During the workshop’s lunch period, attendees heard from a number of attorneys who discussed community lawyering.
Parker Sheffy, a clinical supervising attorney at the Law Center's Immigration Clinic, moderated the fourth panel, "Nuts and Bolts: Preserving the Record and the ABC's of Appeals." Speakers included Olsa Alikaj-Cano, a partner at Foster LLP, and Elizabeth M. Mendoza, the founder and partner of Elizabeth M. Mendoza, P.C.
The final panel, "Federal Court Litigation and Pending Circuit Court Appellate Cases," included Amanda Waterhouse of Gonzalez Olivieri, LLC., Rosenberg, and was moderated by Hoffman.
About the University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic
The University of Houston Law Center Immigration Clinic was founded in 1999 by Joseph Vail, a former immigration judge and UHLC professor. The clinic has since developed into one of the largest in the nation, specializing in handling asylum applications for victims of torture and persecution, representing victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and crime, and helping those fleeing civil war, genocide or political repression, as well as those facing other immigration-related matters in federal court. Clinic students are assigned a variety of cases under direct faculty supervision and are responsible for handling initial interviews through the conclusion of the case, including trial. Students also assist organizations that serve the immigrant community and give individual assistance to those held in immigration detention centers. Since inception, the clinic has served at no cost more than 2,000 individuals who otherwise could not afford legal services. Under the leadership of Clinical Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, clinic director since 2009, the UH Law Center Immigration Clinic has won the Community Engagement Award, a university-wide honor, and was named “Pro Bono Hero” by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Hoffman works closely with Josephine Sorgwe, a clinical supervising attorney, and Rosemary Vega, a clinical lecturer, in teaching students to handle all aspects of their pro bono, family-based cases.