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UH Law Center immigration scholars unpack U.S. Supreme Court's DACA decision in virtual seminar

Leonard Scarcella ’67

Geoffrey Hoffman, a Clinical Professor and Director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center.

July 8, 2020 - Clinical faculty from the University of Houston Law Center's Immigration Clinic analyzed the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in the Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California during a continuing legal education session last week, "The DACA Decision -- Its Significance Moving Forward," was held via Zoom. The 5-4 decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on June 18.

In his opening remarks, Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic discussed the parameters of the decision.

"This decision had to do with the attempted rescission of DACA and whether that rescission was lawful or not," Hoffman said. "The Supreme Court soundly rejected the government’s threshold argument that there should be no judicial review over the decision to rescind DACA.

“The only question left to be decided was whether or not the government's attempt to rescind the program was lawful. The Court was clear that they were not discussing whether DACA was a sound policy.”

As Hoffman discussed, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion can be interpreted as providing a roadmap for a way forward on DACA. Click here to see Hoffman’s blog post in the Yale Journal on Regulation expanding on this topic.

Leonard Scarcella ’67

Rosemary Vega, a Clinical Lecturer at the Immigration Clinic

The second speaker, Lecturer Rosemary Vega, said following the decision it remains unclear whether first-time DACA applications will be accepted.

"I would probably say that the answer is yes, but do not rush to fill out an application just yet until there is guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services," Vega said.

"If you are considering doing first-time initial applications, please talk to your clients. Have them sign acknowledgments. The same goes for renewals."

Clinical supervising attorney Parker Sheffy reminded the audience that eligibility for DACA applies to childhood arrivals who have never been in removal proceedings or who had removal proceedings that were terminated and childhood arrivals with a final removal order or voluntary departure order.

Leonard Scarcella ’67

Parker Sheffy, a Clinical Fellow and Supervising Attorney at the Immigration Clinic

"In addition to all of the individuals who have had DACA in the past, individuals who have not had DACA in the past, but otherwise qualify and fall within those categories would be eligible to submit an initial application," Sheffy said.

The final speaker, Legal Clinic Supervisor Josephine Sorgwe, discussed other forms or relief that might be available to immigration attorneys.

"DACA is revolutionary and it was able to help so many people," Sorgwe said. "However, it is not a permanent form of status. It does not give you lawful status. It is incredibly temporary in nature, and we have seen it may be rescinded or modified at any point. As a result of that, we want to make sure clients or prospective clients have been screened for other forms of relief that could be more permanent, and could actually place them to a path to citizenship."

Leonard Scarcella ’67

Josephine Sorgwe, a Clinical Supervising Attorney at the Immigration Clinic.

Among these options included seeking an adjustment of status to an individual who was admitted or paroled into the country lawfully who now may have a qualifying relative.

"The only way you're going to know is if you ask questions," Sorgwe said. “Who are their family members and what is the immigration status of those family members? In some cases you might have someone who can apply for naturalization. In addition you want to be able to see if there are forms of humanitarian relief available to them."

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.

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