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Appellate Litigation Clinic Wins Tangled Immigration Case

Professor Richard Frankel and students from Appellate Litigation Clinic win immigration case

Top: Professor Richard Frankel, Robert Alexander, Lauren Runza, Emily Hart

Bottom: Nicole Martini, Travis Aldous, Kalani Linnell, Andrew Ho

December 06, 2016

It took two years, but the efforts of students in the Appellate Litigation Clinic paid off when a federal court affirmed the citizenship of a man who had been wrongfully deported to Mexico.

Professor Richard Frankel, who directs the clinic, supervised students in the complex case, as it moved from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The case involved Benito Jesus Cardenas-Garcia, a Mexican-born man who began living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident when he was a teen.   Cardenas faced deportation after being convicted of a crime.  When the immigration courts rejected his bid to stay in the U.S., he appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“That’s when we got the case,” Frankel said, noting that the government deported Cardenas to Mexico after he filed his appeal.

Robert Alexander, ’16, and Lauren Runza, ’15, wrote an outstanding brief urging the Fifth Circuit to urge them to reverse the deportation, Frankel said.  While researching a number of arguments, they discovered that Cardenas may in fact be a U.S. citizen.  They succeeded in convincing the U.S. government to transfer the case to federal district court to determine if he is a U.S. citizen.

At that point, Emily Hart and Nicole Martini, both ’16, jumped in to help track down witnesses and other evidence, and to help prepare them for the hearing. Along the way, 2Ls Travis Aldous and Kalani Linnell helped prepare the case for trial.

“It was a wonderful team effort,” Frankel said. “Several different students played critical roles during all the various stages of this long case. We also received substantial pro bono assistance from co-counsel in Texas, Jodi Goodwin of Harlingen, Tex., who conducted the trial proceedings, and Cathy Potter, also of Harlingen, who prepared witnesses and appeared at depositions. Overall, it was a great learning experience to work with such seasoned and capable attorneys.”

The team determined that Cardenas’s father – who was born in Mexico of parents who were U.S. citizens – was actually a U.S. citizen who had lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years before Cardenas was born, which made Cardenas a citizen who should not have been deported.

But, Frankel explained, because the relevant time period covered the 1950s and 1960s, it was hard to document where his father was living 50-60 years ago, which hampered Cardenas’s claim.

After engaging an investigator and conducting interviews with Cardenas’s relatives in Texas and Mexico, the team pieced together a persuasive narrative that proved their client was a U.S. citizen. Ultimately, the judge agreed and determined that Cardenas had met his legal burden to prove his citizenship.

“There were a lot of moving pieces in this case,” said Frankel, who said Aldous and 2L Andrew Ho are still working on Cardenas's behalf to arrange for his passport.