Two immigrant detainees have been released from custody, thanks to a new Immigration Appeals Practicum (IAP) created by Munger, Tolles & Olson in partnership with Southwestern Law School. The two cases were the first for the IAP, which started in fall 2010.
 
Munger Tolles attorneys, partnering with Southwestern students participating in the program, represent pro bono clients in appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the highest U.S. administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.
 
Attorney Avi Braz and student John Guo recently represented Alejandro Lopez-Valadez, a permanent resident who has lived in the United States for 20 years and faced deportation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on claims that he had been convicted of possession for sale of a controlled substance. Mr. Valadez sought to terminate his removal proceeding based on the department’s failure to prove the facts underlying his conviction by clear and convincing evidence. On Dec. 23, 2010, Mr. Valadez won the right to remain in the U.S. from the BIA after two separate briefs were filed in the case. 
 
Attorney Marina Torres and student Christianne Macaraeg recently represented Felix Jimenez-Lopez, also a permanent resident in the U.S. for 20 years and also facing removal proceedings. Although an Immigration Judge had terminated the proceedings, the DHS appealed. The BIA dismissed DHS’s appeal on Dec. 10, 2010. Mr. Jimenez-Lopez was kept in detention while DHS’s appeal to the BIA was pending, spending almost a year in detention at a facility in Eloy, Arizona. He was able to rejoin his family in time for the holidays. 
 
Mr. Braz, the firm’s IAP Program Coordinator, attributes his interest in immigration work to the experience he had working on a pro bono BIA appeal for the firm which inspired him to develop the practicum. Mr. Braz runs the new program along with the help of Professor Andrea Ramos, director of Southwestern’s Immigration Law Clinic.
 
Up to three participating students per semester conduct preliminary research and collaborate with a supervising attorney to draft, refine and perfect their brief. The attorney and student then work together to file the brief with the BIA. Participating students earn three units of ungraded externship credit. 
 
“The program allows students to work with top notch attorneys from one of the best law firms in Los Angeles,” Professor Ramos said. “Under close supervision, students hone their research and writing skills while at the same time providing a public service to individuals who cannot afford legal representation.”
 
Mr. Braz points out that the program is beneficial for all involved. “It’s about helping clients who lack financial resources to deal with the complicated legal problems created by the manner in which our immigration system operates. As an added bonus, both attorneys and students will have the opportunity to improve their craft while working on incredibly challenging and interesting legal issues.”