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Immigration Law & Policy Clinic 2020 Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

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ILPC students testifying before Colorado’s House Judiciary Committee

Immigration Law and Policy Clinic students Omar Silva (r) and Alan Brozovich (second from r) testifying before Colorado’s House Judiciary Committee, reporting on the results of their quantitative and qualitative research into the extent and impact of immigration courthouse arrests in Colorado.

Immigration Law & Policy Clinic 2020 Highlights

The Immigration Law & Policy Clinic (ILPC) continues to defend the rights of immigrants ensnared at the intersection of criminal and immigration law. Since last year, ILPC students have worked under the supervision of Professor Christopher Lasch and Clinical Teaching Fellow Tania Valdez. The teaching team recently welcomed Visiting Professor Hans Meyer, who brings a wealth of experience both in immigration and criminal defense.

The ILPC started 2020 off with a bang. In January, the ILPC secured the release of a Lawful Permanent Resident from immigration detention, after successfully defending him against deportation and preparing a habeas petition. Then, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals appointed the ILPC to represent a pro se litigant.
Student attorneys Edgar Chavarria, Omar Silva, and Kimberly Langona prepared a thorough briefing on a complex issue of statutory interpretation. At oral argument in September, a Tenth Circuit judge commented that student attorney Edgar Chavarria earned an “A++” for his advocacy. Clinical Fellow Tania Valdez also argued a case involving mental competency and asylum-related issues before the Tenth Circuit in November.

Other significant victories during the spring and summer included innovating and conducting an entirely virtual DACA renewal workshop for DACA recipients in Colorado, Texas, and California; winning a $1,500 bond for a resident of Fort Collins, Colorado, despite the entire representation and bond hearing being conducted by phone due to the pandemic; winning cancellation of removal for a long-time resident of Utah who had been detained in Aurora, unable to see his wife and children for months; and assisting one of the survivors of the horrific El Paso, Texas, shooting in successfully obtaining U.S. citizenship—an important victory leading up to the 2020 election.

Despite the challenges of distance learning and distance representation, ILPC student attorneys continued to take on some of the most difficult cases for detained clients who would otherwise be unable to obtain representation. As numbers of detainees testing positive for coronavirus in the detention center in Aurora, Colorado, continued to rise, ILPC student attorneys fought hard for their release. This semester, six ILPC student attorneys represented clients in detained immigration matters. Student attorneys Joseph Robertson, Lauren Jones, Nicole King, and Eric Nguyen collectively were able to win release on bond for three clients who had been detained for months in cases involving complex crimmigration issues and complicated facts. Student attorneys Kendall Merrill and Skylar Larson fought tooth and nail for their client over the course of the semester after an initial bond denial, challenging the immigration judge’s decision by filing motions to reconsider, appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals, helping obtain post-conviction relief because their client did not receive effective assistance from criminal defense counsel under the Sixth Amendment, and eventually filing a new bond motion. Their client was finally granted release on bond and was able to return home to his family just before Thanksgiving.

In addition to their work on detained cases, ILPC students have focused on major policy reforms. In the spring of 2020, the ILPC helped research, file open records requests and compile findings, and testify in support of SB 20-083, state legislation barring ICE civil arrests at courthouses. On March 23, 2020, the bill was signed into law by Governor Polis, creating the most comprehensive protections in the country for noncitizens seeking access to justice at state and municipal courthouses. In addition to state policy work, ILPC students have submitted detailed comments to critique proposed changes by the current administration to the asylum process and the trial and appellate structure of the immigration court system.

Recognizing that ILPC clients may be dealing with mental health issues, including the immediate traumas of incarceration and long-term separation from their families and communities during this difficult moment, the clinic works with Kelly Nicks, a graduate student in the University of Denver School of Social Work, to offer clients more holistic representation that fully addresses their needs.


ILPC Faculty Highlights

Clinical Fellow Tania Valdez


Pleading the Fifth in Immigration Court: A Regulatory Proposal, 98 Wash. U. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2021).