University of Houston Law Center to coordinate pro bono legal services for unaccompanied alien children in border crisis
While the future of thousands of unaccompanied, undocumented children crossing the southern border is debated in Washington, DC, the University of Houston Law Center is gearing up to help the potential wave of Central American youths that could be brought here.
“The situation is very fluid, but we have to prepare now so that we are ready on the ground when the children arrive,” said the director of the school’s clinic program, Janet Heppard, associate professor of clinical practice. “Our clinics have several years of experience with these cases, so we feel we are up to the task.”
President Obama has requested $3.7 billion to help deal with the growing flood of children, but passage seems unlikely before Congress adjourns for its August recess. The main roadblock is whether to amend a 2008 law passed under the Bush Administration that guarantees these minors, many of whom are fleeing violence in their home countries, a hearing before an immigration judge.
The Law Center’s Immigration and Civil law clinics are planning a number of initiatives in anticipation of perhaps hundreds of these minors -- Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs -- being sent here pending immigration hearings.
“The problem of ensuring adequate due process protections for these unaccompanied alien children is an urgent one,” said Geoffrey Hoffman, clinical associate professor and director of the Immigration Clinic. “Due to the large numbers -- estimated to be 90,000 this fiscal year -- we will all have to work together to help this vulnerable population.
“The UH Law Center has been working with pro bono organizations in Houston, as well as the Houston Bar Association and other area schools to address this issue. Our UAC Initiative aims to get our clinical students involved at the ground level working with individuals and groups of UACs.”
UH Law Center students will conduct intakes relating to potential UAC issues under the direct supervision of Immigration Clinic professors.
Students in the Civil Clinic will assist with all family law aspects of special immigrant juvenile cases under the supervision of Heppard and Barbara Stalder, a staff attorney and coordinator of student civil legal services.
Students will participate in conducting LOPs (Legal Orientation Programs) in the local Immigration Court to groups of UACs. These programs provide children with general information about their potential claims and the immigration court process.
Law students are working with the Youth Empowerment Alliance, a University-wide student organization that helps immigrant children -- they are currently doing a clothing/toy drive for items to be sent to detained UACs.
Clinics are planning a number of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs on UAC issues in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Houston Bar Association, pro bono organizations, members of the private bar and the two other law schools in Houston, South Texas College of Law and Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
The first of these CLE programs, co-sponsored by the Harris County Attorney’s Office and the three local law schools, will be held Thursday, July 31, at the Houston Community College campus, 5601 West Loop. Hoffman and Janet Beck, a clinical assistant professor in the Immigration Clinic, will participate in various panels during the afternoon program titled: The Rights of Unaccompanied Alien Children and the Duties of Federal, State and Local Governments.
In addition to these planned initiatives, the Immigration Clinic currently handles a number of special immigrant juvenile cases relating to UACs, including asylum, trafficking and crime victim cases. This direct representation of immigrant minors will continue next semester.
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The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 39,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.
The University of Houston Law Center is the leading law school in the nation's fourth-largest city. Founded in 1947, it is a top-tier institution awarding Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. The Law Center is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools.