Immigration Law Week encourages students to become involved

September 15, 2014

Texas A&M School of Law Immigration Law Week

FORT WORTH--Texas A&M University School of Law’s Immigration Law Initiative (ILI) hosted a series of panel discussions, a membership drive and a naturalization clinic for Immigration Law Week, Sept. 8-13. ILI is a service-driven student organization and aims to educate students on ways to stay informed and get involved with immigration law.

Unaccompanied Children at Our Border featured panelists Christine Cooney Mansour (Human Rights Initiative of North Texas); Veronica Garza (Catholic Charities Fort Worth); and The Honorable Clay Jenkins (Dallas County Judge). The talk was co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and was moderated by Associate Professor Sahar Aziz.

Garza, a law school alumna, reported via U.S. Customs and Border Protection that some 660,000 minors, who have come to the U.S. from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, need legal support. Once Border Patrol turns them to the Department of Health and Human Services, organizations like Catholic Charities or Human Rights Initiative, aid them in finding shelter until they receive notice to appear before the immigration court. Both Mansour and Garza expressed that offering this level of support might seem endless, but there are ways for Texas A&M students to assist.

“We can help as a legal community through volunteering,” Garza said.

She encouraged students to work with a sponsor or mentoring attorney on pro-bono cases related to immigration or family matters. Due to the influx in immigrant minors, Garza and Mansour both commented on the reasons why so many youths are being sent to the U.S. unaccompanied. Some want to be reunited with their families. Some are victims of violence or poverty or have been abused or abandoned by their parents.

“There really are so many reasons why there are so many children,” Mansour said. “Each has their own reasons, and we can’t use a blanket solution.”

Three ILI board members were selected for a 2014 Law School Fellowship and spent their summer interning with nonprofits. Congratulations to:

  • Oscar Escoto, Vice President – National Immigration Law Center in Washington D.C.
  • Ryan Gubler, Treasurer –  Catholic Charities of Fort Worth
  • Kayla Hastings, Secretary –  Mosaic Family Services, Immigration and Family Law

Other ILI board members who also interned this summer include:

  • Theresa Blake, Director of Community Outreach – Clerked at County Court in Denton County and Hayes, Berry, White and Vanzant in Denton
  • Chelsea Johnson, Event Coordinator – Interned with Ross Joyner, PLLC

Later in the week, a panel on Intersection of Immigration Law and Other Areas of the Law featured three panelists who spoke on their areas of law, including employment, criminal and family law. Speakers included: Michael O’Keefe Cowles, Equal Justice Center; Eric Navarrette, Navarrette Family Law; and Cody Cofer, Cofer Law. All panelists indicated their work overlaps the immigration law arena in some way or another, and they often have to seek counsel from an international or immigration law expert.

“You can do a lot of damage if you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to immigration, if you primarily practice criminal defense,” Cofer said. “It’s all right to admit you don’t know the answer to your client, then find someone who does to help.”

2L Jesus Marquez, ILI president and one of the planners for the week’s events, said, “Members of the student body as well as law school faculty would like to see A&M take an active role in educating our community about the crisis. Additionally, many students want to know what they can do to become more involved and be a part of the solution – not just spectators.”

A panel on Enforcement and Defense of Immigration Policies featuring Roslyn Gonzalez, Assistant Chief Counsel at the Office of the Chief Counsel Department of Homeland Security and Monica Lira-Bravo of the Lira-Bravo Law Firm, discussed the enforcement and defense practices of immigration laws and policies.

Other events included an Immigration Law Initiative membership and volunteer drive, as well as a citizenship workshop and naturalization clinic where student volunteers partnered with Catholic Charities to help clients apply for citizenship by assisting in the completion of naturalization paperwork.

Texas A&M Law School hosts Immigration WeekPanelists Christine Cooney Mansour, Veronica Garza, and The Honorable Clay Jenkins and moderator Professor Sahar Aziz pose with members of the Texas A&M Law Immigration Law Initiative board and American Constitution Society board who presented the panel "Unaccompanied Children at Our Border" to kickoff a week of hot-topic panel discussions and opportunities for students to get involved as part of TAMU Law's Immigration Law Week.

-- Article by Daniella Wiedel, Communications Specialist at Texas A&M University School of Law.