St. Thomas Law Immigration Clinic Students Celebrate a Semester of Real-World Successes

By November 20, 2018STU News

The law student representatives from the St. Thomas Law Immigration Clinic are celebrating numerous victories in Immigration court this semester.

With the assistance our nationally-recognized Professor Michael Vastine, and the invaluable support of the Immigration Coordinator, Yanick Laroche, the law student representatives worked tirelessly, representing indigent individuals in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Students in the Immigration Clinic conducted all aspects of client representation, from client intake and case development, to representation in hearings, compilation and submission of evidence, examination of witnesses (including experts where required), and all oral and closing arguments.



Patrick McKenna (2L), Susan Papagikos (3L), and Professor Michael Vastine

Susan Papagikos (3L) and Patrick McKenna (2L) successfully represented a detained U.S. Permanent Resident who faced deportation.  They sought relief highlighting the client’s good moral character throughout the years, his positive work history, and by contrasting that with the life he would face if he were deported back to Cuba.  The Judge agreed with the student litigants and cancelled the removal application and the client was released from detention.

Valerie Zeppilli (3L), Professor Michael Vastine, and Paul Schoenberger (3L)

Valerie Zeppilli (3L) and Paul Schoenberger (3L) were challenged with a cancellation of removal case in the detained setting. The client was detained in Moore Haven, Florida, and the court hearings at the immigration court within the Krome Detention Center.  The student litigants were able to highlight positive aspects of their client’s life, juxtaposing her relationship with her family and strong work history with her legal transgressions.  Valerie and Paul submitted over thirty exhibits and were able to convince the immigration judge. Their client was reunited with her daughter and grandson, shortly thereafter.

Jessica Dessources-Augustin (2L), Professor Vastine, and Ana Gracia (3L)

Jessica Dessources-Augustin (2L) and Ana Gracia (3L) won a challenging appeal based on allegations that their client had committed a “crime of violence” that triggered automatic deportation without eligibility for any discretionary judicial relief. They argued that the law was applied incorrectly by the Immigration Judge and that the intervening decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018), confirmed their legal theory.  A three-member panel of the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, and terminated removal proceedings for their long-detained client, preventing him from being deported to Haiti.

Nathalia Lozano (3L), Professor Vastine, and Alexsandra Simoes (3L)

Nathalia Lozano (3L) and Alexsandra Simoes (3L) won a preliminary hearing for their client.  Their argument turned on the application of the highly technical “categorical approach,” that arises in the federal sentencing and immigration contexts.  Nathalia and Alexsandra argued that the Florida statutes at issue were categorically broader than the federal standard that caused deportability, and a violation of either statute could not be a basis for removing a resident (green card holder) from the United States.  The judge agreed and ordered the government to attempt to overcome these arguments and meet its burden of proof in formal briefs.

Otto Ruiz Frantzen (3L), Vanessa Baez (3L), Professor Vastine

Otto Ruiz Frantzen (3L) and Vanessa Baez (3L) prevailed on a challenging Cancellation of Removal case, in the detained setting, which involved a client’s criminal history that was intertwined with his homelessness, mental illness and addiction. Ultimately, they convinced the judge that the client merited a second chance.


About St. Thomas Law’s Immigration ClinicThe mission of the St. Thomas Law School Immigration Clinic is to inspire in law students a life-long commitment to serve uprooted persons at the margins of society, to enable students to challenge and address those human structures and institutions that divide communities, and foster discrimination against newcomers.

This is a year-long clinic available to second- and third-year law students and designed to provide the legal, ethical, and moral tools needed to provide high-quality immigration services to the under-served community. Students represent asylum seekers, battered spouses and children, and other non-citizens seeking immigration relief in Immigration Court, before the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Department of Homeland Security. 


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Kendra Parker

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