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UH Law Center Immigration Clinic students help free Haitian man facing deportation

March 12, 2021 – A Haitian man suffering mental illness was recently released from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center by the diligence of Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, students from the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Clinic and attorneys from Baker Botts and American Gateways law firms.

“Our client was only days away from being physically deported, but we went to the Supreme Court and received a wonderful and thoughtful opinion from Justice Sotomayor written in dissent,” Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic said. “I am so honored to work with talented law students, colleagues and fellow attorneys who all pulled together. He will now be released, and that is due to all the team members' efforts.”

Arguing that the immigration appellate board erred when remanding an immigration judge's initial decision to grant deportation relief, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that if forced to return to Haiti, the deportee would be targeted for “cruel and dehumanizing mistreatment” because of his schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis.

“This is exactly the kind of circumstance that calls for a temporary stay of removal,” Sotomayor said. “(He) is likely to prevail on appeal; he will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay; and the public interest strongly favors protecting (him) from wrongful removal and the terrible suffering awaiting him in Haiti.”

“His release from ICE custody is an enormous victory for our client and Clinic,” Immigration Clinic Clinical Supervising Attorney Parker Sheffy said. “But, it truly underscores the enormous hurdles immigrants must overcome to prevail within the current immigration system. 

“His release was the result of the work of countless hours between multiple legal teams, including the UH Immigration Clinic and students. His release comes after years of litigation and appeals, including to the U.S. Supreme Court, Congressional outreach and intervention, advocacy campaigns and days of action, among many others.”

“From this case, I learned the complex and interesting nature of Immigration Law,” 2L Aletsey Hinojosa said. “However, protecting our clients and achieving social justice makes it all worth it.” 

Hoffman and Sheffy will continue working with students and pro bono partners on his Fifth Circuit case. 

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. 

Additional Immigration Clinic faculty include: 

  • Clinical Fellow and Supervising Attorney Parker Sheffy, who previously worked as a Fellow at the St. Francis Cabrini Center in Houston for two years providing representation to individuals with wide ranging immigration-based issues, including: asylum, special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS), family-based immigration issues, and inadmissibility waivers, among others. While in law school, he served as a law clerk in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, which included working on projects pertinent to immigration policy. 
  • Clinical Supervising Attorney Josephine Sorgwe, who supervises law students on pro bono cases involving crime victims, asylum seekers, and more. Sorgwe also provides direct pro bono legal representation to immigrant victims of crime, domestic violence, and human trafficking under a grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. 
  • Clinical Lecturer Rosemary Vega, who was previously in private practice and a former partner at Tausk & Vega. She was the sole staff attorney at YMCA International Services from 2003-2005. After completing her legal education she worked as a judicial law clerk for seven immigration judges at the Houston Immigration Court through the Department of Justice Honors Program from 2000-2001.

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