Two students from Miami Law's Immigration Clinic – Tom Oglesby, 2L, and Melissa Sanchez, 3L – saved a long-term permanent resident from deportation by successfully arguing in court that his Florida conviction did not require that he be deported.
The case is a compelling illustration of what the U.S. Supreme Court characterized last week as the inextricable link between certain criminal plea agreements and deportation. In Padilla v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court recognized for the first time the constitutional right of criminal defendants to have their defense lawyer explain the immigration consequences of plea agreements.
Yvens Derilus came to the United States from Haiti as a young child and has been a lawful permanent resident of this country for nearly ten years. He was detained and placed in deportation proceedings after entering into an ill-advised plea agreement for child neglect which he agreed to in exchange for release from jail.
The students spent countless hours developing and briefing their winning argument in immigration court.
"I feel honored to have been involved in Yvens' case," said Sanchez. "I hope that our winning argument will prevent other lawful residents from being deported."
"Yvens' case has been exciting because of its breadth of legal issues, and the opportunity to present a novel legal argument which has yet to be decided in the Board of Immigration Appeals," said Oglesby.
Derilus was extremely grateful for the students' help. "Just when I gave up, they gave me hope. They are the best legal representatives ever," he said.
The students are continuing to assist Derilus by helping him apply for citizenship and helping pro bono defense counsel vacate his conviction.
"The case underscores the importance of last week's historic message from the Supreme Court," said Rebecca Sharpless, who directs the Immigration Clinic. "Mr. Derilus, like many immigrants facing criminal charges, took a plea deal on the advice of his lawyer without understanding that it would lead to deportation proceedings. It was only through the extraordinary lawyering of his student representatives in immigration court that he avoided deportation. Most immigrants are not so lucky."
The Immigration Clinic was established in the fall of 2009 and provides a challenging opportunity for students to advocate on behalf of immigrants in a wide variety of complex immigration proceedings. In addition to helping individual clients, students collaborate with other immigrant rights groups on projects that reform the law and advance the cause of social justice for immigrants. The clinic is dedicated to being an integral part of the wider immigrant and human rights advocacy community in South Florida and the nation.