Students and clinic director in courtroom.

Immigration Clinic

Students in the Immigration Clinic represent vulnerable low-income immigrants from all over the world before the immigration and federal courts and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Students gain hands-on experience by taking on the primary responsibility and decision-making authority for their cases, under the mentorship of the clinic directors.

The clinic’s caseload varies each semester, but we primarily focus on detention and deportation defense and asylum cases. Students participate in the defense of immigrants detained at the various area immigration jails as well.

Students also engage in larger national and international human rights advocacy projects and collaborate with national organizations to reform and improve the rights of immigrants in the United States. For example, the clinic has been involved in efforts to challenge federal immigration enforcement by local authorities and to reveal the human rights impacts of border wall construction in south Texas.

Clinic client with members of Congress at press conference on family detention.
Clinic client with members of Congress at press conference on family detention.

Through client representation, advocacy and classroom instruction, students learn substantive immigration law, develop interviewing and client relationship skills, practice and master a variety of legal advocacy techniques. Students explore different models for effective and collaborative lawyering.

Clinic faculty and several clinic alumni at press conference questioning involvement of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office with federal immigration enforcement agencies.
Clinic faculty and several clinic alumni at press conference questioning involvement of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

Over the last ten years, the clinic trained more than 150 law students to become effective, passionate and ethical advocates.  The clinic represented almost 250 immigrant clients who were navigating complex immigration proceedings.  Student attorneys in the clinic have represented clients from countries as varied as Senegal, Nepal, Rwanda, Eritrea, Mexico, India, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil.

Cases and Projects

Challenging Family Detention

Starting in 2006 with the opening of the federal government’s T. Don Hutto family immigration detention center in Taylor, Texas, the clinic has engaged in impact litigation as well as individual representation to end family detention practices. Working in collaboration with other groups, the clinic succeeded in ending family detention at Hutto in 2009.

The Documentary film The Least of These features UT Immigration Clinic’s legal work on behalf of detained families at Hutto.

In 2014, the federal government returned to its family detention practices, holding mothers and children in massive detention facilities in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas. The clinic resumed its work to end family detention and to provide representation to detained families. Clinic students helped more than a dozen Central American families achieve release from detention so that they could be reunited with relatives elsewhere in the United States while they pursue their asylum claims.

Clinic students also won a refugee claim on the merits for a Honduran mother and her nine-year old son who were detained for six months, and the clinic continues to represent several other families who await their final hearings. In collaboration with the ACLU and the law firm of Covington & Burling, the clinic pursued federal litigation and won a reversal of the government’s policy initially refusing to release families on bond.

The clinic also collaborated with the Civil Rights Clinic to engage in other advocacy efforts relating to family detention, including preparation of a brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Defending against Removal and Seeking Status for Migrants

Helping Asylum Seekers

The clinic handles asylum cases for immigrants seeking protection based on political, religious, or gender-based violence or other persecution in their home countries. Our asylum clients either are detained in Texas detention centers or are living in the Austin area.

Student attorneys and client after asylum hearing at the San Antonio Immigration Court.
Student attorneys and client after asylum hearing at the San Antonio Immigration Court.

In recent years, clinic students handled several cutting-edge asylum claims from Mexico filed by individuals fleeing drug-related violence and government repression of human rights defenders. Most notably, in several hearings in the San Antonio Immigration Court over the period of a year, clinic students successfully represented more than a dozen members of a large family of Mexican activists from the Juarez Valley region of Mexico in their applications for asylum. The clinic has also participated in a national initiative to secure pro-bono representation for Mexican asylum seekers as well as provide documentation and expert witnesses to support these cases.

Assisting Victims of Domestic Violence and Other Crimes

The clinic assists immigrant crime victims obtain permission to remain in the United States. Through legislation passed in 2000 and the creation of the U visa, immigrant crime victims who have cooperated with law enforcement and who have suffered significant psychological or physical injury as a result of the criminal activity may be able to stay in the United States and eventually obtain residency.  The Violence Against Women Act also creates a path to stable immigration status for certain survivors of domestic violence.

The clinic successfully represented several DREAMers who were undocumented students at the University of Texas when they were injured in a serious car accident. Our clients obtained U visas as a result of the clinic students’ advocacy and representation. Several other U visa applications are pending. The clinic has also achieved status for women and youth under the Violence Against Women Act and continues to handle several cases under its provisions.

Coming Out of the Shadows from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.

Cancellation of Removal and Adjustment of Status Claims

Clinic students represented individuals with long-time ties and family connections in the United States who are placed in deportation proceedings. For example, clinic students represented a single father in deportation proceedings before the San Antonio Immigration Court. The client had traveled to the United States from Mexico as a small child and had grown up in a small Texas town; he is currently raising two young daughters born here. The client could not regularize his status along with the rest of his family because of technicalities in the law and faced deportation proceedings after a traffic stop led to immigration detention. The student attorneys conducted a full-day hearing involving submission of evidence, direct examination of several witnesses and a closing argument. An immigration judge recently granted the client permanent resident status.

Clinic students in Immigration Court before a client's final hearing.
Clinic students in Immigration Court before a client’s final hearing.

Citizenship Claims

The clinic represents clients who were born abroad but who are United States citizens through their parents when their status has not been recognized by immigration authorities. For example, clinic students successfully argued that an intending DACA applicant born in Mexico was actually a U.S. citizen. This young woman, born in Mexico to a U.S. citizen mother, now holds a certificate of U.S. citizenship. She has the stability she needs to raise her young child born in the United States. In another case, students obtained recognition of U.S. citizenship for a man born in Mexico who faced deportation.

Denise Gilman and student attorneys outside of USCIS offices following a client's naturalization interview.
Denise Gilman and student attorneys outside of USCIS offices following a client’s naturalization interview.

Work with DREAMEers

After the administration’s implementation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in June 2012, the clinic led efforts to assist DREAMers in filing applications under the program and developed model materials for group workshops that have been used throughout the country. Clinic students and other volunteers participated in 13 DACA workshops in Austin over a single year.

Clinic student counseling DACA applicant
Brittany Perkins, ’13, counsels a DACA applicant during one of the clinic’s workshops.

Read more about the clinic’s work with DACA clinics.

View All Cases and Projects