Immigrant Rights Clinic Director on Forefront of Helping Immigrants

October 25, 2017

Fatma MaroufThe director of Aggie Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, and a fierce human rights advocate, Professor Fatma Marouf.

When Sara Beltran-Hernandez, a Salvadoran asylum seeker, collapsed in immigration detention and was hospitalized with a brain tumor last spring, Professor Fatma Marouf sprang into action.

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Collaborating with Amnesty International, which drew national media attention to the case, the Texas A&M School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic filed a writ of habeas corpus and a bond motion to get Sara released from detention. Students are now working on Sara’s Fifth Circuit appeal and a motion to reopen her case.

Najmu Mohseen ’18 is one of the students fighting for Sara to remain in the United States. “Being able to work on a real person’s asylum case as a law student has been an invaluable experience,” she said. “While learning about immigration law through classes is great, having hands-on experience helps reinforce the important role that lawyers play.”

Marouf explained that Sara’s case shows how immigration priorities have changed. “She shouldn’t be a priority for removal,” Marouf said. “She is a mother of two young children with no criminal history and critical medical needs. Fighting her deportation is the humanitarian thing to do.”

Clinic student wins remand from 5th Circuit

Elizabeth Anderson ’17, who enrolled in the clinic last spring, won a Fifth Circuit appeal involving an asylum seeker from Mexico. The client had represented herself in the earlier proceedings, so there wasn’t much of a record. Anderson spent weeks doing legal research and identifying weaknesses in the decision being challenged.

Facts of the case:

  • An asylum seeker from Mexico whose life was repeatedly threatened after she witnessed a crime.

  • Numerous complicated legal issues presented in an opening brief prompting remand.

  • Resulted in client protection under the Convention Against Torture.

After the clinic filed the opening brief, the government agreed to remand the case.

“Professor Marouf helped guide the process, but the bulk of this research and writing is on us,” Anderson said. “And I love that about the clinic experience. Sure, there’s coaching, but in the end, you are the one diving in, learning to think like a lawyer and finding the strengths and weaknesses of your own cases.”

Anderson explained that, as a result of the Fifth Circuit decision, the client will have another chance to obtain evidence to support her claim.

As an advanced student in the clinic, she is now working on an appeal involving a transgender client who was pro se before the immigration court. “You can really see what a difference an attorney makes,” Anderson said.

Marouf’s work outside the clinic

Separate from her clinic work, Marouf has been actively involved in litigation challenging the “travel ban” (the executive order restricting entry from six countries and limiting refugee admissions). Marouf authored amicus briefs on the statutory issues in the case for the Ninth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit. She also submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our main argument is that the Immigration and Nationality Act as a whole constrains the president’s power,” Marouf said. “Congress has already identified the classes of people who may and may not be admitted to the United States. The president should not interfere with that scheme; his power to restrict entry should really be reserved for diplomatic and military affairs.”

Marouf has also stepped in to help members of the A&M community. She secured the release of an undergraduate who was detained at an immigration checkpoint and nearly deported. “It was a very traumatic experience for her,” Marouf said. “She’s lived in this country since she was a child, and suddenly she’s placed in a freezing cell, yelled at, and transported to detention centers in the middle of the night. All she wants to do is graduate, apply her knowledge, and give back to the community.”

When visiting scholar Henry Rousso was detained at a Houston airport and threatened with deportation, Marouf and immigration attorney Jason Mills also intervened, securing his release. “We’re seeing people being interrogated and detained for no reason or the wrong reason,” Marouf said. “Immigration officers feel very empowered right now, and they don’t always know the law.”

One of the most recent changes in immigration law is the rescission of DACA, the program that allows individuals who came to the United States as children, attended school, and don’t have a criminal record to work lawfully without fear of deportation. Marouf, together with other faculty and students, helped educate the community about the changes, including the renewal process for those who qualify. Marouf affirmed, “Aggies stick together.”