This year at CLINIC’s Annual Convening in Austin, Texas, CLINIC presented the 2012 Pro Bono Award to the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center for their longstanding support of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Pro Bono Project. Maria Odom, Executive Director of CLINC, presented Professor Hoffman and Professor Beck, with the 2012 pro bono award. The Immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center has consistently and generously dedicated its time and knowledge to the BIA project.
Most notably, the Houston Law Center stands out for their contributions to the fight for improved access to justice for noncitizens with mental health issues. In May 2011, the Houston Law Center won a precedent-setting decision that affects thousands of deportation competency cases across the nation. Matter of M-A-M sets forth a framework for immigration judges to follow when hearing cases involving respondents with mental competency issues. Prior to this decision, attorneys and immigration judges had limited guidance about safeguards that might be available to ensure a fair hearing in immigration court for individuals with mental competency issues. As a result, many such individuals have been ordered deported without any assessment of their abilities in proceedings. Others have languished in jail indefinitely while immigration judges delayed proceedings - hoping that they would find representation or that their conditions would improve. The fight to improve access to justice for individuals with mental health issues is far from over. But now, thanks to the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston, significant inroads have been made on behalf of noncitizens will mental health issues.