FAQs for prospective students
What kinds of cases does the Immigration Clinic handle?
The Immigration Clinic focuses on representing immigrants facing deportation in proceedings before the Immigration Court and Board of Immigration Appeals and in related federal court litigation. The Clinic also represents clients in seeking benefits before US Citizenship and Immigration Services, such as U and T visas for survivors of crime and trafficking and Special Immigrant Juvenile petitions, while defending clients in their deportation cases. In recent years, many of our clients have been asylum seekers from Central America. However, we have clients from all over the world. Recently, we have had clients from Cameroon, Pakistan, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Almost all of the Clinic’s clients have been in immigration detention at some point, and every semester we handle a few cases of individuals who are still in detention.Back to top
What types of lawyering can student attorneys expect to do in the Immigration Clinic?
The student attorneys in the Immigration Clinic take on the primary responsibility for the representation in their cases. That means that the student attorneys meet with clients independently and serve as “first chair” at hearings, including final merits hearings akin to trials. All student attorneys in the Immigration Clinic engage have extensive contact with their clients – albeit mostly remotely during the pandemic - so there is significant opportunity to develop interviewing and communication skills. All students will also engage with legal analysis of complicated immigration concepts. Student attorneys will engage with the larger policy questions raised by the immigration systems that their clients are trying to navigate.
For our cases in Immigration Court, student attorneys develop oral advocacy, brief writing, and other trial skills. Final merits hearings in Immigration Court are half-day or day-long trials with witness examination, evidentiary admissions, and closing arguments.
COVID has interrupted some of the Clinic’s courtroom advocacy. The San Antonio Immigration Court, where we practice, was closed for non-detained cases for the last year, although we anticipate a reopening of the court later in 2021. Until the court reopens, litigation work has focused on written advocacy at the appellate levels and in federal court habeas proceedings.Back to top
How many cases do student attorneys in the Immigration Clinic handle? Do student attorneys work alone or in teams?
All students are assigned to teams, almost always teams of two (occasionally teams of three). Those teams that will be handling a merits hearing will typically only have one case assigned for the entire semester. Teams that do not have a merits hearing will generally have two to four cases assigned. These cases will have some important adjudication that needs to take place during the semester. The work might involve submission of an application for a visa for trafficking or other violence survivors, advocacy seeking release from detention, or a hearing in family court for a child who qualifies for immigration status after abandonment, abuse or neglect. Students in the Clinic will work in a collaborative and interdisciplinary setting. The Clinic hosts undergraduate student interns who support case work as well as social work student interns.Back to top
Are there prerequisites for the Immigration Clinic? Do student attorneys in the Immigration Clinic need to speak Spanish?
There are no prerequisites for the Immigration Clinic. Some students find it useful to take Immigration Law before or contemporaneously with the Immigration Clinic, but there is no requirement that you do so. The Clinic syllabus includes classes on substantive law and procedure early in the semester so that student attorneys are prepared to handle cases effectively.
There is no language requirement for participation in the Clinic. In pairing students, the Clinic looks at language skills. There will often be at least one member of the team who can communicate in the client’s own language. The Clinic also has several undergraduate interns who can assist with translation and interpretation and has developed a pool of volunteer translators/interpreters as well.Back to top
What time commitment does the Immigration Clinic require?
Previous students assess that they spend about 10-20 hours per week on Clinic casework. The time commitment will depend on the demands of the assigned case and any deadlines set by the Immigration Court or immigration agencies. Generally, students spend an increasing number of hours on their cases as the semester progresses since the major adjudicative moments happen near the end of the semester. Finally, the Clinic holds two 90-minute classes per week. We have extra class hours in the first weeks of the semester for orientation.Back to top
How has COVID impacted the work of the Immigration Clinic?
We hope to return to in-person classes and work for the fall 2021 semester, but we have adapted to allow for remote learning and casework so that we have a model that we can use should it become necessary this fall. During the pandemic, classes have been held online. Client communications have been remote via phone or video. Some casework involving immigration forms and court filings has involved work in the Immigration Clinic suite at the law school. We continue to assist asylum seekers in their cases before the Immigration Court; however, the Immigration Court has not been holding hearings for non-detained individuals. We are representing clients on appeal before the administrative Board of Immigration Appeals and in federal court in habeas petitions. The Clinic has also continued representing clients in “affirmative” cases before US Citizenship and Immigration Services.Back to top