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No longer Adrift: UH Immigration Clinic Helps Answer Asylum-Seekers' Prayers

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Selected segments of the article follow. For the complete article click on the link below to be directed to the full Texas Lawyer Article.

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UH law Dean Nancy B. Rapoport says the clinic "supports the very foundation of our country â€" - the idea that immigrants can come here and make new lives, free from political prosecution or terror." She adds, "To be able to teach our students how to save people's lives in this way is one of the most powerful demonstrations of why law schools â€" especially public law schools â€" exist."

The idea of a clinic appealed to Vail. Like Marrus, he was floored by the fact that Houston had the fourth-largest immigrant population in the nation and few legal-aid resources for immigrants aside from Catholic Charities and the YMCA, each of which, he says, had only one staff attorney at the time. The UH Law Center was eager to launch the program; and there was a "pool of untapped talent here in the law students," Vail says.

In addition to running the clinic, Vail, who is board certified in immigration and nationality law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, teaches immigration law.

Besides Vail and Chandler, three other staff attorneys work at the clinic: Thomas Perkinson, Diana Velardo and Jennifer Moya.

Chandler says the clinic is funded by a combination of private and state funds. The private funds primarily result from the clinic's annual fundraising event, dubbed "The Arrival Awards," in which three immigrants now living in the Houston area who have achieved financial success in this country are honored at a formal dinner. Last year's event netted over $100,000, Vail says. The 2006 Arrival Awards will take place on Feb. 1 at the Hilton Americas in Houston.

State funds include grants from the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation (TEAJF), a nonprofit corporation created by the Texas Supreme Court in 1984 to provide Texans with equal access to justice, regardless of income. In 2005, TEAJF awarded two grants totaling more than $62,000 to the clinic, including a $32,545 Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grant as part of a coalition with Catholic Charities and YMCA International Services, and a Crime Victims Civil Legal Services (CVCLS) 2005 grant of $30,000 toward representing low-income, indigent victims of crime. Chandler says that the IOLTA grant for 2006 has been increased to approximately $50,000.

In addition to the IOLTA and the CVCLS funds administrated through TEAJF, the clinic also receives approximately $49,000 through an Office of Victims Assistance Grant from Texas Attorney

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Typically, each semester 10 students elect to participate in the immigration clinic, for which they receive four hours of class credit, but for the spring 2006 semester, which began on Jan. 11, 20 students signed up for the clinic â€" 17 first-timers and three who are returning for a second semester. Each student commits to putting in 240 hours a semester in the clinic.

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