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UHLC’s Vail Asylum Law Workshop keynote speaker says Biden administration's executive orders signal shift in immigration policy


Ira Kurzban provided analysis on the future of immigration policy in the U.S. at the 2021 Joseph A. Vail Asylum Law Workshop.

Feb. 3, 2021 - Ira J. Kurzban said he envisions the U.S. government taking a different approach to immigration under President Joe Biden in some instances, but the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present unique challenges immigrants and their legal representation. 

Kurzban served as the keynote speaker at the virtual Joseph A. Vail Asylum Law Workshop, “Immigration in the Time of COVID-19: Asylum and Beyond,” hosted by the University of Houston Law Center's Clinical Legal Education Program. He is the author of Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook, the widely used one-volume immigration source in the U.S., and an adjunct professor for Immigration and Nationality Law at the University of Miami School of Law. Kurzban has been published extensively as an immigration law expert in numerous publications.  

He pointed to numerous other executive orders taken by Biden on Jan. 20 that seek to undo actions taken during the Trump administration, including ending the Muslim ban, fortifying and preserving DACA, ensuring the census be taken lawfully and ending funding for a border wall. 

"The previous administration totally transformed the immigration laws of the United States without one new statute," Kurzban said. "They did it by making over 1,000 changes in immigration law in the four years that they were there. Many of those changes were in forms and in procedures.  

"There's a lot to be undone to move forward. But it's not just a matter of undoing some of these things, and I'm not sure all of them will be undone. But the discussion is about moving forward in a more humane, non-anti-immigrant policy that particularly helps people at the border and changes the attitude of the dehumanization that brought towards immigrants." 

Kurzban also discussed subsequent executive orders issued by Biden on Jan. 21 and Jan 25. That involve the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration. 

"This is a very difficult, challenging issue as to what we do as a country with respect to not allowing people to travel into the country,” Kurzban said. “This administration has come down on the side of protecting Americans. Biden re-imposed a ban on European Union countries and travel is also banned from South Africa and Schengen countries. A negative COVID test must also be shown before coming into the United States. 

"Those will complicate for how visas are issued in the future, and the COVID bans are probably going to be in effect for quite some time."  

The workshop also featured three panel discussions. The first, "Assessing the Damage to Asylum and Beyond; Looking Forward to the New Administration-Setting the Stage for Removal Proceedings in the New Era" featured speakers Magali Suárez Candler, Partner and Founder, Suárez Candler Law, PLLC and Amanda Waterhouse, Attorney, Gonzalez Olivieri LLC. Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, Director of the Immigration Clinic served as moderator and also provided commentary. 

The second panel, "Forms of Relief (Humanitarian Relief, Deferred Action, Adjustment, Termination of Proceedings, Other Relief, and Distinguishing Between Asylum, Withholding and CAT relief)" was moderated by Susham M. Modi, partner and founder of The Modi Law Firm, PLLC. Panelists were Ruby Powers, Partner and Founder, Powers Law Group P.C., R. Parker Sheffy and Josephine Sorgwe, Clinical Supervising Attorneys at the Law Center's Immigration Clinic. 

The final panel, "The Use of Experts in Removal Proceedings including Psychological assessments and Country Conditions," was moderated by Rosemary Vega, a Clinical Lecturer at the Law Center's Immigration Clinic. Participants included Ann Webb, Ph.D., University of Houston School of Social Work and Elizabeth M. Mendoza, Partner and Founder, Elizabeth M. Mendoza, P.C. 

More than 400 people attended the virtual workshop that was approved for four hours of Texas continuing legal education credit with one hour of ethics. 

"It was an amazing experience to put on this event with renowned legal experts, including Ira J. Kurzban, at this pivotal time for immigration law," Hoffman said.  "I was heartened to see the response of the community as well, in that we had well over 400 in attendance." 

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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