UT law students represent immigrants at clinic

Catherine Marfin

UT law students have been representing immigrant families who have experienced persecution from their home countries for over a decade.

Each semester, the UT Immigration Clinic selects a dozen law students to represent low-income immigrants from all over the world, both in federal courts and the Department of Homeland Security.

The clinic focuses on immigrants seeking protection, or asylum status, from political, religious and gender-based violence in their home countries. Unlike in criminal cases, immigrants are not provided with an appointed counsel. Without the students at the immigration clinic, many of these immigrants would not receive the help they need to escape persecution and abuse in their home countries, according to Elissa Steglich, an attorney at law and clinical professor at the Immigration Clinic.

“For me, the most rewarding part is seeing the students take responsibility for these cases,” Steglich said. “We are working to provide quality representation to those who would otherwise lack it.”

Since law professor Barbara Hines founded the clinic in 1999, it has partnered with a variety of non-profit legal organizations that also work to represent immigrants. While the Immigration Clinic has represented immigrants from all over the world, the majority of its clients are from Central America. The clinic currently has 30 cases open, according to Steglich.

“[Working with this clinic] is the best thing I’ve done in law school,” Michael O’Brien, a second-year law student, said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something that has a real impact on people who are dealing with issues that people in this country have never had to deal with.”  

Students working for the Immigration Clinic have been combating family detention policies since early 2006, when the T. Don Hutto center in Taylor, Texas, began detaining immigrant women. The clinic succeeded in ending detention practices at the Hutto immigration center in 2009 but has since been working against family detention practices in facilities in Karnes City and Dilly, Texas.

According to Steglich, the program has had a 100 percent success rate in that none of their clients have ever been deported.

“This work definitely gives a voice to the voiceless,” said Julio Gonzales, Plan II and sociology junior and intern for the program. “The students here are dealing with people who don’t have a lot of power. They’re making sure they can live a life like those of us who were privileged enough to be born in America.”