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Joseph Vail, immigration lawyer | Chron.

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Death Notices
Joseph A. Vail is an associate clinical professor & supervising attorney at the University of Houston Law Center immigration clinic.
CARLOS JAVIER SANCHEZ: LA VOZ

June 19, 2008, 10:36PM

OBITUARY

Joseph Vail, immigration lawyer
By JAMES PINKERTON

He was also a judge, a professor and an advocate for immigrants' rights
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

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. Vail, ill with cancer, lectured on the last day of class in late April before traveling to Chicago to seek alternative medical treatment, said Anne Chandler, the clinic's interim director. ''He gave every moment he had to educating, advocating and serving the community," Chandler said. ''That was just his style." 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. ''Helping immigrants was his main focus, but he'd do anything for anybody," said Nancy Falgout, a Houston attorney who served in VISTA with Vail in the 1980s. ''Nobody ever heard him say no if you asked him to work." Falgout and others said Vail influenced many clinic students to choose a career in immigration law. Vail helped organize Houston attorneys in 1987 to defend more than 70 Haitian refugees who were transferred here from a Miami detention center, Falgout recalled. The effort led to the creation of the Houston Refugee Pro Bono Project. 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." Before his death, Vail was nominated by 108 lawyers in Houston and across the state for an immigration award issued annually by the National Lawyers Guild. ''For his whole life, Joe was about justice," the June 12 nominating letter states. ''His heart, mind and soul have been about giving a voice to those who have been silenced and those who are powerless." Vail, of the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, is survived by two daughters, Tanya Clark and Aleyda Alearenga; brothers James Vail, Harry Vail and Michael Vail; and sisters Bernice Liberato, Francina Miley and Ann Garrison. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Sacred Heart Church in Havertown. Contributions in his memory can be made to the Prof. Joseph A. Vail Memorial Foundation, University of Houston Law Center, 100 Law Center, Houston, TX 77204-6060. james.pinkerton@chron.com

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6/20/2008 9:28 AM

Joseph Vail, immigration lawyer | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/deaths/5847480.html

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Most recommended comments blueman wrote:

You will be missed. You lived a great life and left an enduring legacy. May you rest in peace.
6/20/2008 8:36:01 AM Recommend (1) Report abuse

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6/20/2008 9:28 AM