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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Joe Vail, Recently Departed UHLC Law Professor, Remembered

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Joe Vail, who ran the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center for the past decade passed away on tuesday. The Houston Chronicle paid tribute in yesterday’s article, Joseph Vail, immigration lawyer (archived link). The funeral will be held Saturday, June 21 at the Sacred Heart Church in Havertown, Pa. The Law Center has established a memorial fund in his honor and is planning a remembrance at the start of the Fall Semester.

Joseph A. Vail, a well-known Houston immigration lawyer, judge and professor for nearly three decades, died Tuesday at his family home near Philadelphia. Vail, 56, directed the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Law Clinic, developing it into one of the largest in the nation after founding it in 1999.

….

Friends and colleagues say Vail’s work at the clinic was perhaps the most significant accomplishment in a career that included service as a federal immigration judge, running a private immigration practice and providing legal assistance to immigrant advocacy groups. In 1994, Vail was recognized by the State Bar of Texas for the free legal services he provided to indigent clients.

As a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA, the anti-poverty federal public service program, Vail assisted attorneys in the early 1980s who litigated the landmark Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court case that established the right of undocumented children to attend public schools.

….

Gordon Quan, a former Houston City Council member, described Vail as a saint whose conscience forced him to step down as a federal immigration judge, a post he held from 1995 to 1999, to open the UH immigration clinic. And he did it despite a large cut in salary.

”The guy gave up his judgeship because he felt the laws were unjust — I mean, how many people do that?” said Quan, an immigration attorney. ”He felt he was being a tool for the government in an unfair system, and everybody respected him for doing what he thought was morally correct.”

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2 Responses

  1. PHILLIPE A CASTILLO says:

    THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME HOPE WHEN I NEED IT THE MOST I ONLY MET YOU ONCE BUT THATS ALL IT TOOK TO CHEER MY SOUL I WILL VISIT YOU AS YOU VISITED ME ONCE(QUE DIOS TE TENGA A SU LADO. SAINT JOE VAIL) UN SER HUMANO CON UNA ENORME CALIDAD HUMANA Y UN CORAZON NOBLE

  2. Elena R. Gonzalez says:

    My story about Joe is one I will never forget. It was in the early 1980s, and I was a social worker at M.D. Anderson Hospital for a leukemia patient who was dying. Joe was his lawyer at Gulf Coast Legal Aid, helping him with his social security application. As we worked with this family, I remember that when the patient finally got his check, we had the dilemma of getting the check signed and cashed so that the patient’s family could have some money for food and shelter. The patient was so weak he could hardly lift his hand to do more than an X mark. Joe came prepared with the money–about $400.00, to give to the family. He said he would cash it–I don’t know that he ever did. I was so impressed that this lawyer had such a big heart and certainly undid the stereotype of lawyers. Joe and I remained professional friends and for many years from 1983 to 2005, I consulted with him on legal matters related to some of my clients. Joe always returned calls and provided me with guidance that I could use with my clients. Joe’s death of cancer has contributed to much reflection on my part because he was such a giving and brave soul as he worked with me with this patient whose medical condition was so devastating both physically and emotionally. To his family, thank you for sharing Joe with us and for being a part of the man that he was.

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