Year-long effort by UHLC Immigration Clinic halts deportation of legal immigrant

Aug. 7, 2018 — University of Houston Law Center faculty, students and alumni working through the school's Immigration Clinic helped convince a federal judge to order an immigration court to review the case of a legal immigrant, ultimately resulting in the immigration court granting relief from deportation.

The 34-year-old Somali refugee had been held in federal detention for nearly two years after being arrested for possession of "khat," an herbal stimulant commonly chewed or brewed into tea in East Africa, but listed as a controlled substance in the U.S.

The married father of four had been working as a truck driver since arriving in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 2004. In a pretrial agreement, he was ordered to perform community service and pay a small fine.

"Even though he had just a pre-trial intervention agreement, it got him in trouble with immigration, which considered it a conviction," said Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic.

Over the course of a year, the clinic team filed a motion to reconsider with the Board of Immigration Appeals, assisted on an appeal filed with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and ultimately sought a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas ordered the immigration court to conduct a "merits hearing" to show why the man should be deported.

"Immigration agreed he was eligible to apply for cancellation of removal," Hoffman explained, "because he had not been convicted of an aggravated felony."

"We did everything we could do for this client," Hoffman said, "and we were successful."

The man is now eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship in five years.

Hoffman credited UHLC 3L students, Anthony Foster and Anne Stieg, with drafting the habeas corpus petition and filing it in federal court under the supervision of Clinical Lecturer Rosemary Vega.

Vega also assisted two alumnae, Christine Truong '14 and Magali Suarez Candler '89, throughout the proceedings. Both graduates have solo immigration practices in Houston.

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