Friday, September 2, 2016

St. Thomas Human Rights Institute - Helping Asylum Seekers and Refugees Prepare for Court


A 29-year-old Cuban immigrant man suffering from early-onset Parkinson’s was on the brink of ending his life when he walked into STU’s Human Rights Institute. He had lost his job because of symptoms related to his disease, and was living in his car. He hit rock bottom when the car’s tires blew out and the car was towed.

“He walked into our office with two pieces of paper – one with the address of his parents, who live in Cuba, and a letter, essentially his suicide letter. He came to us in this moment of desperation because the institute was all he had,” said Christine Reis, a lawyer and director of St. Thomas University's Human Rights Institute.


Within hours, the paralegal working his case had her husband buy him new tires, get his car out of the towing yard, and colleagues helped her raise money for him. Within days the institute found him a place to live – special housing for people with his condition – and worked with Jackson Memorial Hospital to get him the attention and medications he needed to lead a better life. And within six months, he was on his way to becoming a citizen, and most importantly, he was a completely different, happier person.

“The office [Human Rights Institute] is a great example of what STU is – a family always willing to help one another and others,” Reis said.

Since its inception in 1992, STU’s Human Trafficking Institute has been helping people who have refugee or asylum status become permanent residents, as well as guiding them through complicated legal processes. Over the years, the institute has seen several cases like the one mentioned above ranging from people in the final stages of cancer, to those with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We deal with so many individuals all with a unique, sometimes heart-wrenching story to tell, and we do our best to help them in any way we can,” said Reis. “Our ultimate goal is for these individuals (and sometimes families) to acclimate and become United States citizens with all of its rights and privileges.”

There are similar organizations in South Florida, but STU’s Human Rights Institute is the only one that offers its services completely free of charge – there are no hidden fees or additional charges. And if other services are needed – psychological, special needs, housing – the institute has strong professional relationships with other service providers in the community, and helps guide individuals in the right direction.

“The institute takes care of the legal aspects of their situation, but it has tentacles that reach out to different services,” said Reis.

With offices located in Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach, the institute helps about 200 people a month, and Reis says, she hopes to continue to carry out the institute’s mission for many years to come.

Student Spotlight: Disabled Law Student Dedicates Himself to the Service of Others

Antonio Dowels
Over the course of his life, St. Thomas Law student Antonio "Tony" Dowels has had to face adversity straight in the eye.  Nine years ago, as a high-school senior,  a life-changing, near-death experience left him confined to a wheelchair, but also gave him renewed determination to continue his selfless focus on service to others that had been a part of his upbringing ever since he was only five years old  attending church with his mother and grandmother.

After graduating from high school, Tony attended the University of Florida where he earned his degree in sports management. Upon earning that degree,  he made the decision to not only pursue his law degree, but to simultaneously pursue his Masters degree in Sports Administration in one of St. Thomas Law's joint-degree programs.

His initial career goal was to be a sports agent, but as his studies progressed, he rediscovered his passion for service. With that in mind, he met with his law school career counselor, Robert Jack, in pursuit of internships and pro bono opportunities in public service. As a law student, time is at a premium, yet Tony made the decision to add 'avid volunteer' to his list of titles.

"Antonio is a law student who serves others without expecting recognition or anything in return," noted Jack. "He plans, coordinates and often brings other students in carpools to volunteering events throughout the year. His enthusiasm for pro bono service is contagious and he is a notable example of St. Thomas Law’s commitment to pro bono and public service."

Antonio shown in packing session at Feed My Staving Children
(Photo Courtesy of fmsc.com)
For two weeks just prior to the end of last semester, Tony joined the team of volunteers at Feed My Starving Children - an organization that sends hand-pack meals, specially formulated for malnourished children, to partners around the world where they are used to operate orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs.

Additionally, two afternoons per week, he can be found at His House Children's Home. His House offers a home to abused, abandoned and neglected children in South Florida. For two hours, he tutors the children in math, reading and science and discovered a new affinity for teaching along the way. Tony described the interactions with these children as "real" and "honest."

"My wheelchair became an icebreaker," stated Tony.  "The children are fascinated with all the lights on the wheels,"

Tony was so moved by the experience at His House that he went one step further and began to assist in the organization's fundraising efforts with support from the St. Thomas law family. All the funds raised went towards the operation of the home.

This past summer, while completing courses for the MBA portion of his joint degree, Tony began interning with a non-profit start up in Miami. The project, simply named Student Loan Legal Assistance, Inc. is being developed to aid students who are struggling with burdens of student loans. The project is allowing Tony to further develop his fundraising and grant-writing skills for the important, and often overlooked, issue of student debt.

We proudly highlight these selfless efforts by Antonio and other students who continue to embody the spirit and mission of St. Thomas Law.

Student Spotlight: Disabled Law Student Dedicates Himself to the Service of Others

Antonio Dowels
Over the course of his life, St. Thomas Law student Antonio "Tony" Dowels has had to face adversity straight in the eye.  Nine years ago, as a high-school senior,  a life-changing, near-death experience left him confined to a wheelchair, but also gave him renewed determination to continue his selfless focus on service to others that had been a part of his upbringing ever since he was only five years old  attending church with his mother and grandmother.

After graduating from high school, Tony attended the University of Florida where he earned his degree in sports management. Upon earning that degree,  he made the decision to not only pursue his law degree, but to simultaneously pursue his Masters degree in Sports Administration in one of St. Thomas Law's joint-degree programs.

His initial career goal was to be a sports agent but, as his studies progressed, he rediscovered his passion for service. With that in mind, he met with his law school career counselor, Robert Jack, in pursuit of internships and pro bono opportunities in public service. As a law student, time is at a premium, yet Tony made the decision to add 'avid volunteer' to his list of titles.

"Antonio is a law student who serves others without expecting recognition or anything in return," noted Jack. "He plans, coordinates and often brings other students in carpools to volunteering events throughout the year. His enthusiasm for pro bono service is contagious and he is a notable example of St. Thomas Law’s commitment to pro bono and public service."

Antonio shown in packing session at Feed My Staving Children
(Photo Courtesy of fmsc.com)
For two weeks just prior to the end of last semester, Tony joined the team of volunteers at Feed My Starving Children - an organization that sends hand-pack meals, specially formulated for malnourished children, to partners around the world where they are used to operate orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs.

Additionally, two afternoons per week, he can be found at His House Children's Home. His House offers a home to abused, abandoned and neglected children in South Florida. For two hours, he tutors the children in math, reading and science and discovered a new affinity for teaching along the way. Tony described the interactions with these children as "real" and "honest."

"My wheelchair became an icebreaker," stated Tony.  "The children are fascinated with all the lights on the wheels,"

Tony was so moved by the experience at His House that he went one step further and began to assist in the organization's fundraising efforts with support from the St. Thomas law family. All the funds raised went towards the operation of the home.

This past summer, while completing courses for the MBA portion of his joint degree, Tony began interning with a non-profit start up in Miami. The project, simply named Miami Funding Corporation is being developed to aid students who are struggling with burdens of student loans. The project is allowing Tony to further develop his fundraising and grant-writing skills for the important, and often overlooked, issue of student debt.

We proudly highlight these selfless efforts by Antonio and other students who continue to embody the spirit and mission of St. Thomas Law.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: Another St. Thomas Law Alum Makes Partner

Julie Harris Nelson '94
St. Thomas Law congratulates alum Julie Harris Nelson who was recently named partner in the South Florida office of Roig Lawyers.

Mrs. Harris Nelson began her legal career as an Assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade County under Katherine Fernandez Rundle. She later began practicing insurance defense with an emphasis on premises liability and bodily injury.

While attending St. Thomas Law she was a member of Black Law Students Association, the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Appellate Moot Court and Trial Court Teams, and the Peter Faye Inns of Court.

She served as summer federal law clerk to the Honorable William Hoeveler in 1992.  In 1993 and 1994 she served as a law clerk for the City of Miami Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Transportation.

Roig Lawyers is a minority owned, multi-practice Florida litigation firm with a growing presence in the Florida legal market. They currently have over 100 attorneys in six offices throughout the state.

Friday, August 12, 2016

St. Thomas Law Wraps up Summer 2016 with Human Trafficking Academy

On August 1, 2016 over  95 advocates, students, and academics arrived at St. Thomas Law's for the week-long Human Trafficking Academy. The academy, presented by the law school's LL.M./ J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights, offered 17 intensive and interactive courses, taught by top-level experts and practitioners with long-time experience in working in the field of anti-trafficking.


Founded and directed by Professor Roza Pati in 2011, the academy also focuses on education, research, and outreach. It has affected law, policy and practice in combating human trafficking nationally and internationally. Through its education prong, it has certified over 450 professionals of various disciplines: attorneys, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, social service providers, child protection investigators, health care providers, academics, students, faith-based organizations, and also human trafficking survivors. 
St. Thomas Law's 2016 Human Trafficking Academy

In its outreach function, it has developed relationships with and coached over 7000 individuals locally, nationally and internationally, within the private and public sector. While the research component successfully overseas and supports the development and implementation of relevent publications, doctoral and master’s theses, symposia, seminars and conferences.

Attendees also benefited from the opportunity to share and discuss aspects of their own work experience in combating human trafficking. 


TESTIMONIALS FROM ATTENDEES:

The training materials and expert speakers are priceless.

 “I have to say that in this course, I have been pleasantly surprised how good and engaging all the instructors were. I have never had that experience before! Bravo!!

"The atmosphere allowed great exchange of resources between all the different organizations, lawyers, law enforcement, advocates and good Samaritans. I benefited greatly and will be able to use the tools in our organization and local community in Texas.”

I will highly recommend it to my friends and colleagues working or not working in the field,” 

This Academy has been a God-send!”

"We, at St. Thomas Law’s LL.M./ J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights are humbled and honored by such appreciation,” stated academy director, Dr. Roza Pati. “Providing our community of professionals with the most up-to-date knowledge, best tools and most effective skills to combat human trafficking is not just our natural profession as educators but, in our Catholic tradition, it is also a noble cause. It is our mission, our calling.”






Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer of Selflessness - Immigration Law Students Aid Immigrant Families at Karnes Detention Center in Texas

This past summer, a scouting mission led by Professor Lauren Gilbert and three St. Thomas Law students - Cristina Hernandez, Rebecca Tabares, Hiriana Tuch - volunteered at the Karnes Family Detention Center in Texas. The goal of the mission was to assist detained Central American women and children with their asylum claims.

Cristina Hernandez (3L)
The group partnered with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) a non-profit agency, whose name translates to “roots” in Spanish.

The Karnes Detention Center holds about 500 women and children - mostly asylum seekers fleeing gangs, gender violence and/or state sponsored violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These women and children, who are seeking refuge in the United States, are detained at the border and placed into expedited removal proceedings. They are subject to immediate deportation if they cannot pass a credible fear interview.

Third-year student Rebecca Tabares stated that working at Karnes Detention Center was an eye opening experience because she was able to connect with women who had just entered the United States in search of the same thing her family once searched for -  freedom and the opportunity for a better life.

Rebecca Tabares (3L)
The asylum process evaluates persons who attempt to enter without proper travel documents but who indicate a fear of returning to their countries and get a credible fear interview (CFI) with an Asylum Officer (AO). They must convince the AO that they face serious harm, targeted at them, and that this harm would be inflicted because of one of five protected grounds: their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or their membership in a particular social group (PSG). If they pass their CFI, they get a full hearing before an Immigration Judge and are eligible for release from detention, usually with an ankle monitor. If they fail the interview, they get a brief hearing before an Immigration Judge, via video-conference. If the judge overturns the AO’s decision, they are eligible for release and a full hearing. If the judge affirms, they can be immediately deported, unless the Karnes team can convince Homeland Security that there was some defect in the process entitling them to another chance to be heard.

Professor Lauren Gilbert
The St. Thomas Law team quickly became a part of the Karnes team and helped dozens of Central American women and children at various stages of the process, from initial intakes, to CFI preps, to IJ reviews. The work was non-stop. Third-year law students, Rebecca Tabares and Hiriana Tuch prepped a Honduran woman, with a two year old daughter, for her CFI. This involved hearing her story, developing a case theory, and preparing her for her interview. Hiriana attended the CFI. Rebecca assisted a woman who had received contraindicated medical treatment at Karnes, drafting a detailed declaration. Cristina Hernandez helped a young Salvadoran woman with a little boy who had failed her CFI. She met with her, drafted her declaration, developed a case theory, and accompanied her to her Immigration Judge Review.

At the last moment, the Immigration Judge reset the case for the following week. Undaunted, Cristina prepared a legal brief for her client, which was accepted by the Court. The following week, all three students learned that these women and their kids were being released.

Karnes Detention Center. Texas
"Participating in the Karnes project allowed me to change the life of one Central American family forever, stated Cristina. "It was one of my most rewarding experiences both in as well as out of law school."

Professor Gilbert has consistently provided hands-on, immersive  experiences and opportunities for her Immigration Law students and, in the process, provides invaluable assistance to immigrant women and children; may of whom fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

Her message has also found a national audience.  Her most recent article, Expedited Removal Process asCold as ICE: A Response to Jeh Johnson, was recently published by The Hill, an online daily publication read by lawmakers and policymakers alike, as a Congress Blog.








Friday, July 29, 2016

St. Thomas Law Welcomes Human Rights Delegation from Thailand

Strengthening Foreign Relations “One Handshake at a Time”

On July 22, 2016, St. Thomas University School of Law hosted a delegation from Thailand during a visit coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and Professor Roza Pati. The distinguished guests were welcomed by Dean Alfredo Garcia. 

The delegation, whose focus is primarily on combating human trafficking, consisted of Assistant Secretary to the Deputy Attorney General of Thailand, the Deputy Superintendent of the Police Special Operations Unit for Region 1, the Chief of Prevention and Suppression of the Anti-Trafficking Center and the Program Coordinator of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Alliance. 





Professor Pati conducted a presentation and discussed the differences in policy and legislation related to human trafficking, as well as the challenges that the anti-trafficking efforts encounter in a country like Thailand that is not only plagued in trafficking internally, but also serves as a destination country for many Burmese and Nepalese migrants that end up being trafficked. The discussion was particularly geared towards issues surrounding investigating and prosecuting trafficking at sea, in fishing industry. 

St. Thomas Law has long been a leader in the fight against human trafficking. We are committed to protecting human rights and social justice—and to teaching, training, and empowering the next generation of human rights advocates and decision makers through our globally unique LL.M. Program; and, committed to original research in the field through our J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights.

Through programs like our Human Trafficking Academy, we address the cutting edge of global issues of concern and train students to solve these problems responsibly; and through our Human Rights Institute we dedicate ourselves to helping those in need in our own community. 

Locally and globally, we are devoted to shining a light on current human rights issues through annual conferences and symposia, our Intercultural Human Rights Law Review, ranked No. 9 in the world, and our International Moot Court Program.