Aug. 1, 2014 – A cross section of immigration experts, including University of Houston Law Center faculty, provided a crash course in the law Thursday to an auditorium full of lawyers and urged them to volunteer their services to ease the ongoing crisis of migrant children crossing the border.
Geoffrey Hoffman, UHLC clinical associate professor and director of the school’s Immigration Clinic, and Janet Beck, clinical assistant professor, were among nearly 30 speakers who detailed aspects of immigration law that are applicable to the ongoing “humanitarian crisis” and described services available through social service agencies.
The four-hour free CLE program was organized by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office and co-sponsored by the Law Center, the city’s two other law schools, and numerous law firms and non-profit organizations. Attendance was capped at 500, nearly filling the auditorium of the Houston Community College campus on the West Loop.
Hoffman explained the complicated process of obtaining asylum, one avenue of legal relief for the estimated 57,000 “Unaccompanied Alien Children” who have crossed the border since October. He described how applicants must prove persecution, or the fear of persecution, in their homeland by virtue of being a member of a PSG, or “Particular Social Group,” or other statutory ground. Persecution, he said, might come from criminals -- pressure to join a gang or retaliation for witnessing a crime – or due to race or ethnicity, religion, nationality, political beliefs, social standing, or any number of other factors.
He outlined a number of ethical and other issues attorneys might face in dealing with the young migrants, including language barriers, trauma resulting from their experiences, their capacity to understand and consent to various legal strategies, possible disabilities, and potential conflicts between the child and parents.
Hoffman suggested techniques for dealing with these minors, including shorter meetings, non-judgmental conversations, open-ended questions designed to get the child talking about their experiences, a show of empathy for their situation, and constant contact as the process moves along.
“Don’t cut corners,” Hoffman advised the room full of lawyers. “Asylum law is very specific. You can’t use canned briefs. This is a lot of work,” he concluded, “but very satisfying.”
In a later panel discussion, Beck described the dual mission of the UHLC Immigration Clinic as teaching future lawyers and helping needy members of the community. “We like to take the complicated cases, not the plain vanilla cases involving citizenship,” she said in explaining how the program is gearing up to assist the young border migrants.
She urged members of the audience to serve as mentors to assist volunteers with the American Immigration Lawyer Association (AILA) Houston Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) Taskforce created in partnership with several pro bono groups. Attorneys are needed in all practice areas, but especially family law, she said.
Other highlights include: