fbpx Immigration Law - STCL Houston

Immigration Law


Immigration law has increased in complexity over the years. As a result, the need for attorneys to represent individuals and companies on a variety of different immigration-related topics has grown.

The Immigration and Nationality Act controls the various options for individuals wishing to come to the United States. Generally, individuals are divided into two groups based on their intent. The first group is comprised of “immigrants” who wish to reside permanently in the United States; there are many immigrant visas available for individuals who desire to come to the United States permanently. The second group is “nonimmigrants” who intend to visit or work in the United States temporarily. Examples of nonimmigrant visas include student visas and tourist visas.

Three main areas of practice in the immigration field are family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, and immigration grounded in humanitarian concerns. Family-based immigration includes visas and other options that promote family reunification. Employment-based immigration encompasses visas that provide temporary or permanent work authorization; this practice area also covers compliance matters. Humanitarian immigration includes visas and other protections that provide temporary or permanent relief in various compelling humanitarian scenarios.

Immigration attorneys do not just help individuals obtain immigration benefits; attorneys may also represent clients when the government seeks to deport them. Aside from these central practice areas, immigration attorneys also assist clients in a variety of other capacities. The materials that follow will discuss the main practice areas as well as the potential venues where an immigration attorney may practice.

As described below, immigration attorneys’ responsibilities often require them to interact with administrative agencies. For this reason (among others), coursework in Administrative Law is essential, regardless of the type of immigration practice a student wishes to pursue.

Additionally, through the Government Process Clinic/Academic Internship, students can seek to arrange internships with local, state, or federal government agencies that address immigration-related matters. Through the Judicial Process Clinic/Academic Internship, students can seek to arrange internships at an immigration court. The central government agencies in the immigration field are reviewed below and on the accompanying resources page. 

Family-Based Immigration

U.S. immigration law is strongly grounded in the philosophy of family reunification. That being so, immigration law provides numerous family-based visas.

There are two types of family relationships that may qualify for a family-based visa. The first is immediate relatives, which includes parents or spouses of U.S. citizens. Visas based on these relationships are quickly processed—relatively speaking—because there is no cap on the number of family-based visas the government may issue in a given year. Non-immediate relatives must wait longer—sometimes, even decades.

Immigration attorneys practicing in this area understand the types of familial relationships that may qualify for family visas, and they are able to navigate the often tedious application process both in the United States and abroad at consulates. They are also able to analyze various waivers for conduct that ordinarily disqualifies a prospective immigrant’s admission and work through the filing and interview process. Additionally, attorneys must learn how to properly document a bona fide relationship to ensure visa qualification.

Employment-Based Immigration

Another major undercurrent of immigration law is the goal of bringing in qualified employees for U.S. employers. The law provides for numerous visas that permit employers to do so. As a result, immigration attorneys work with employers who seek to hire foreign nationals. Attorneys will help employers understand the types of potentially applicable work visas and file the necessary paperwork. There are nonimmigrant work visas such as the H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B, and there are immigrant visas as well.

Before an individual can obtain an employment visa, the prospective employer may have to secure a labor certification approval from the U.S. Department of Labor. The bulk of corporate practice revolves around the labor certification, which is a testing of the U.S. labor market to ensure that the prospective employee is not displacing a comparably qualified U.S. worker. For attorneys practicing in this capacity, the ability to carefully craft a job description is very important.

Since the employment categories also vary in terms of requirements, waiting time, and eligibility to file, attorneys must be familiar with the specific criteria for each employment visa and any changes to the relevant caps. Within certain categories, the number of people who desire an employment visa is typically much higher than the number of employment visas issued by the government in a given year. Consequently, attorneys must know how to maximize their clients’ chances of securing work visas for their prospective employees.

In addition to securing work visas, another growing subset of employment immigration practice is “I-9 compliance” work. Immigration attorneys are retained to help businesses comply with ongoing immigration-related obligations. For instance, attorneys may be called on to help employers avoid sanctions for failing to properly verify, document, and retain paperwork on the immigration status of their employees and help clients make sure that the systems they have in place are adequate to comply with all federal standards.

Immigration attorneys also provide counsel when the government claims that a business is not complying with labor requirements applicable to foreign workers. The government may levy both criminal and civil fines and sanctions against employers found to be in violation.

Humanitarian-Based Visas and Protections

Immigration law provides various opportunities for individuals to obtain visas and protective status based on harms they have suffered or fear to suffer if they return to their home countries. One such form of protection is asylum. Asylum is available for individuals who fear they will be persecuted for certain enumerated reasons. Asylum applications may be filed affirmatively with the government or defensively after the government has placed the client in a removal proceeding.

Withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture are related forms of protection; both are based on an individual’s fear of returning to his or her home country.

Individuals may qualify for certain types of visas because they have been victimized or face danger in various scenarios. Examples include T visas for victims of human trafficking, U visas for victims of violent crime, VAWA for violence against women or men in relationships with U.S. citizens or green card holders, Temporary Protected Status for individuals facing dangerous conditions in their home countries, and Humanitarian Parole for individuals who must come to the United States for a compelling need. 

Citizenship and Naturalization

Immigration attorneys assist clients who wish to become citizens of the United States. There are various means through which an individual can become a U.S. citizen, such as birth, naturalization, and derivation. Immigration attorneys practicing in this space must be familiar with the law surrounding all these various means. They must analyze various factual scenarios, research the applicable law, and steward clients through the procedures. Denials of U.S. citizenship naturalization applications are first appealed through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and then contested in federal district court.

Outbound Immigration

Another area of practice is “outbound” immigration, where attorneys assist U.S. citizens or even foreigners legally within the United States to find and receive the appropriate visa to relocate to another country. This area of practice tends to partner practitioners with attorneys in the foreign country where the client seeks to relocate. In general, familiarity with international law is not a prerequisite for this practice area, but foreign language skills are particularly important.

Removal Proceedings

When the government believes that an individual does not have a legal basis for being in the United States, the government may try to remove the individual from the country—“removal” being the technical term for deportation. Individuals can be removable for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that they entered the United States without authorization, they entered the United States with a valid non-immigrant visa but it has expired, or perhaps they are non-citizens convicted of crimes while in the United States.

There are several mechanisms the government may use to try to remove an individual, including reinstatement of removal, expedited removal, and more formal removal proceedings. The first two options involve quick processes; an attorney must understand when and whether each applies to the client.

The more formal removal proceedings take place in front of immigration judges. These administrative proceedings are less formal than proceedings in Article III courts, but a successful attorney must still be versed in the general stages of the litigation process, including filing for bond, interviewing clients, collecting evidence, examining witnesses, and submitting relevant documentation.

In some instances, an immigration attorney may be able to successfully challenge the government’s claim that the client is removable. More often, however, the core of the case is proving that a client qualifies for potential avenues of relief from removal available under the law, such as asylum, cancellation of removal, and adjustment of status.

Attorneys who represent individuals in removal proceedings must be well-versed on the intersection between criminal law and immigration law, which is called “crimmigration.” The manner in which immigration law characterizes crimes can have significant implications for whether a client is removable or eligible for relief from removal. Crimmigration has emerged as a separate area of specialized practice.

Removal decisions can be appealed to an appellate body within the adjudicating administrative agency and then to the federal courts of appeals, so attorneys practicing in this area should have solid persuasive writing and oral advocacy skills.

Immigration Matters Litigated in Federal District Court

As noted above, appeals of removal orders go straight from an administrative appellate body to the federal courts of appeals. Several types of immigration cases, however, may be brought in federal district court, including class action lawsuits decrying wrongful application of the law; mandamus or Administrative Procedures Act actions that seek to compel the government to act; declaratory judgments to find U.S. citizenship; and seeking redress under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Bivens, and other constitutional protections.

In addition to the immigration courses listed on the accompanying pathway, students who seek to practice in this area would also benefit from coursework in Civil Pretrial Advocacy and Civil Trial Advocacy. Students should be aware, however, that federal district court practice does not comprise the bulk of most immigration attorneys’ workloads.

Practice Venues

Law Firms

Full-service, large law firms often have an immigration section that focuses predominantly on employment-based immigration issues. These firms may occasionally represent an individual in removal proceedings as part of their pro bono efforts. Larger firms specializing solely in immigration matters typically offer the full array of immigration services set forth above. Smaller immigration firms tend to concentrate on either employment or family issues; the latter may also include removal work and assistance on humanitarian-based matters.

Immigration law is a particularly ripe area for solo practitioners or small firm practice. Attorneys practicing in such capacities often develop expertise in specific practice spaces. For example, they may choose to concentrate on family-based immigration, humanitarian protections and visas, and removal proceedings.

Solo practitioners are less likely to handle employment-based immigration matters. An immigration attorney who operates a solo practice or works in a small firm will need to understand how to successfully run a law office. In this respect, STCL Houston’s Law Office Management course would be beneficial. For additional information, please review the Solo & Small Firm Practice Subject Overview.

Public Interest Groups

A small number of attorneys work for public interest organizations that either specialize in immigration matters or address immigration as one of many subject matters. The types of immigration issues that public interest groups tend to focus on include humanitarian protections and visas, defense against removal, responses to recent administrative actions such as DACA, and possibly some family-based immigration matters. Conversely, public interest groups are rarely involved in employment-based immigration unless they are advocating for a change to the legal framework.

Some advocacy groups also file class action lawsuits in federal district court on behalf of a class of immigrants. Examples of such class action lawsuits would include challenges to the conditions in immigration detention facilities around the country and complaints about the length of time it takes federal agencies to adjudicate immigration applications.

Additionally, these groups might lobby, produce studies, or draft policy papers that advocate for certain reforms to immigration law. For additional information, please review the Public Interest Law Subject Overview.

Working For Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

A number of federal agencies employ attorneys in various immigration-related capacities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, represents the government in removal proceedings before immigration judges and the administrative appellate body.

The Office of Immigration Litigation, which is a component of the Department of Justice, represents the government in federal district and appellate courts. The Department of Justice also houses the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). EOIR is comprised of the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals—the appellate body that hears appeals of immigration judge decisions. EOIR employs immigration attorneys in a variety of capacities.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security, employs attorneys as adjudication officers, asylum officers, and in their general counsel’s offices. Customs and Border Patrol also employs attorneys to provide legal advice on immigration-related matters.

Assistant United States Attorneys who work in the civil unit of their offices throughout the country may also specialize in immigration matters as a regular part of their dockets.

Finally, the Department of State supervises the numerous consular offices around the world, where consular officers adjudicate and handle the visa processes of applicants wishing to come to the United States. In addition to the State Department, USCIS also plays a role in classifying and processing refugees who seek to resettle in the United States.

This curricular pathway provides a progression of courses relevant to immigration law that are offered at South Texas College of Law Houston.

Core courses
Recommended courses
BARRelevant bar examination topic
REQRequired course for all students

Stage 1

Three semester hours credit. Normally offered once each academic year.

This course provides a survey of immigration law. The topics covered include asylum and other humanitarian-based forms of protection, family and employment-based immigrant visas, central nonimmigrant visas such as H-1B, grounds of inadmissibility and inadmissibility waivers, admission to the United States, grounds of deportability, the various mechanisms used to remove noncitizens from the country, and the various forms of relief from removal.

Three semester hours credit. Normally offered three times each academic year.

Organization and procedure of federal and state administrative agencies; boards and bureaus; distinction between legislative, executive and judicial powers; delegation of powers; requirements of due process; constitutional limitations; and judicial control over administrative agencies are among the topics covered.

Stage 2

Consider earlier courses plus one or more from below

Three semester hours credit. Maximum of eight students. Normally offered in fall and spring semesters.

Prerequisites: 30 semester hours plus completion or concurrent enrollment in all required courses (with the exception of the substantial writing credit). A student must contribute 45 hours in the clinic for each hour of academic credit received. Students enrolled in direct representation or community-based clinics are required to attend a one-day boot camp during the first week of classes. The specific date for the applicable semester is posted in the footnotes on the semester schedule.

Students provide legal assistance to clients seeking a path to citizenship through various forms of relief, including family petitions, adjustment of status, consular processing, SIJS, U-Visa, DACA, and Naturalization. Assigned casework includes meeting with clients, preparing forms, gathering supporting documentation, researching, preparing clients for interviews and hearings, and responding to requests and notices. Students may also accompany attorneys at client interviews and hearings, assist applicants at pro se workshops, and attend immigration related CLEs and meetings.

Two semester hours credit. Offered periodically.

This course examines the central conventions, statutes, regulations, and case law that pertain to refugee and asylum law. The primary focus of the class will be asylum and refugee law in the United States. Students will learn about the main requirements for establishing asylum and refugee status, including persecution, the requisite nexus, and the role of the State. The course will also cover the mechanisms used to limit asylum and refugee relief, and the claim adjudication process.

Three semester hours credit.

Prerequisites: 45 hours completed.

Students in this clinic aid children and vulnerable adults – those who were forced into prostitution or labor by human traffickers, those who were abandoned in this country by their parents, and those who came here themselves to escape danger in their native countries. These cases present opportunities for students to hone lawyering skills in a variety of venues, including state court, federal agency hearings, and federal court.

Stage 3

Consider earlier courses plus one or more from below

Claire Andresen

Visiting Assistant Professor of Law

Criminal Law

Josh Blackman

Professor of Law

Constitutional Law

Catherine G. Burnett

Vice President
Associate Dean for Experiential Education
Director, Pro Bono Honors Program
Professor of Law

Criminal Procedure

Richard R. Carlson

Professor of Law

Family Law

Amanda Harmon Cooley

Vincent & Elkins Research Professor
Professor of Law

Constitutional Law

Dan Downey

Adjunct Professor of Law

Civil Trial Advocacy

Maureen Duffy

Visiting Professor

Constitutional Law

Ted L. Field

Associate Dean of Curriculum and Academics
Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II

Pamela E. George

Professor of Law

Family Law

Vinh Ho

Senior Director, Clinical Program

Immigration Clinic

Thomas Hogan

Visiting Assistant Professor of Law

Criminal Law
Criminal Procedure

Haley Palfreyman Jankowski

Assistant Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II

R. Randall Kelso

Professor of Law
Spurgeon E. Bell Distinguished Professor

Constitutional Law

Rachel Koehn

Visiting Assistant Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II

Katerina Lewinbuk

Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II

Aimee Maldonado

Staff Attorney

Immigration Clinic

James W. Paulsen

Professor of Law

Family Law

Ruby Powers

Adjunct Professor of Law

Law Office Management

Scott Rempell

Godwin Bowman & Martinez Research Professor
Professor of Law

Asylum & Refugee Law
Immigration Law

Jeffrey L. Rensberger

Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II
Class Actions & Other Advanced Litigation

Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes

Vinson & Elkins Research Professor
Professor of Law

Constitutional Law

Dru Stevenson

Helen and Harry Hutchins Research Professor
Professor of Law
Baker Institute Scholar at the Rice University James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy

Administrative Law

Amy D. Taylor

Adjunct Professor of Law

Civil Pretrial Advocacy

Cherie O. Taylor

Director, Institute for International Legal Practice & National Security
Professor of Law

Civil Procedure I
Civil Procedure II

Kenneth Williams

Professor of Law

Criminal Law
Criminal Procedure

STCL Houston – Sponsored Resources


Visit the Career Resource Center to learn more about its services. Students can reach the CRC in person or online. The CRC is designed to assist students at any time during their journey through law school. It should be an integral part of every student’s Pathway to Practice.


South Texas College of Law Houston offers numerous direct representation clinics and internship placements for credit.

Direct representation clinics offer students the opportunity to work on real-life issues and achieve resolution of a matter for actual clients. Some clinics are litigation-based and others are more transactional in nature. Students can hone lawyering skills that transcend a specific practice area. Additionally, students can learn about an area of practice, experience what it is like to appear before certain courts, and gauge whether they are truly interested in pursuing a career in a particular field.

Academic internships also offer students the opportunity to learn about practice in state and federal courts, governmental agencies, public interest groups, and non-profit and other non-governmental organizations. Additionally, academic internships can provide students with networking opportunities. 

Clinics/Academic Internships relevant to this practice area include:

  • Asylum/Human Trafficking Clinic
  • Government Process Clinic/Academic Internship
  • Immigration Clinic
  • Judicial Process Clinic I/Academic Internship
  • Judicial Process Clinic II/Academic Internship
  • Public Interest Clinic/Academic Internship

Fellowship Opportunities through the Clinical Program

South Texas College of Law Houston sometimes has fellowship opportunities. Recent graduates or alumni who have been practicing for several years are encouraged to apply when their experience and interests coincide with the job description.


South Texas College of Law Houston has a nationally renowned Advocacy Program that has won more competitions than any other law school in the nation. Participating in one of the numerous mock trial and moot court competitions is certainly beneficial for anyone seeking a career in litigation. Many competitions concern problems in specific fields of practice that are particularly useful for students interested in pursuing a career in that area. More broadly, competitions provide students with an opportunity to further refine their research, writing, and analytical skills, which are relevant to practice in general.

The Frank Evans Center for Conflict Resolution coordinates many competitions each year in the areas of negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. The program has developed a consistent track record of winning both domestic and international competitions, with more than ten first-place finishes in recent years. Students would benefit from participating in these competitions in the numerous fields of practice where alternative dispute resolution is regularly employed.

The Transactional Practice Center also coordinates several student competitions. These competitions are specifically geared to students who want to gain experience negotiating and drafting contracts, and learn about business transactions in general.


Law reviews and journals provide tangible benefits on two fronts: acquiring skills and attaining employment. As to acquiring skills, law reviews and journals provide students with an opportunity to further refine their research and writing ability. Law reviews and journals can also help students secure employment because they serve as signaling devices for perceived research and writing skills—this is particularly true for large law firms, the judiciary, and certain government agencies. The student publications relevant to this practice area include:


South Texas College of Law Houston has numerous student organizations that focus on specific areas of law. Participation in a student organization allows students to learn more about the subject matter of the field and about employment opportunities. The student organizations relevant to this practice area include:

External Resources


Databases and links that focus on providing information about employment in this practice area:

Federal Employment Honors Programs

Many government agencies have so-called “honors programs” for recruiting and hiring new attorneys. Students should be mindful of the deadlines for applying to honors programs, which are often one year in advance of employment. The honors programs relevant to this practice area are:


Fellowship programs sponsored by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and bar associations provide employment opportunities for students directly after graduation. The fellowship opportunities (as well as several internship opportunities for students) relevant to this area of practice include:

Additionally, both Human Rights First and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) have offices on the ninth floor of South Texas College of Law Houston. These organizations often address immigration-related matters and they regularly seek assistance from STCL Houston students.


Bar associations and organizations—local, state, and national—provide students with many services. Most offer access to information about the relevant areas of law. At the local level, students can also benefit from the opportunity to attend events and conferences. Importantly, these events and conferences provide students with chances to network in the profession, which may lead to employment opportunities. These organizations also provide information on continuing legal education (CLE) programs that may be relevant to practice in different areas of law. The bar associations and organizations relevant to this field include:

Bar associations also provide students with opportunities to attend programs and network for free. Some bar associations have formal student sections that are free to join or they provide significant discounts to students. The relevant student pages include:


Federal and state government websites relevant to this subject matter of the pathway include:


A listing of websites that provide information pertaining to this practice area, often from a practice-oriented perspective:


There are external competitions that focus on this practice area. Sometimes they have cash prizes or other forms of recognition for the winners.


Some of the central forms used in practice for this field are available online:

Scroll to Top
#printfriendly #pf-content svg {min-width: 20px!important;margin-right: 10px;} #pf-content .kb-svg-icon-wrap.kt-svg-icon-list-single svg {min-width: 20px!important;margin-right: 10px;}