Archive: Case Profiles, 2010-2011
During the 2010-11 academic year, law students in the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic had an amazing run of nine consecutive victories in hearings they handled before the U.S. Immigration Court and the Department of Homeland Security’s Asylum Office.
Clinic students won two victories in Immigration Court for women who escaped from abusive spouses, and could obtain no protection in their home countries because of police and judicial indifference to gender-based violence. At a December 2010 hearing in the Hartford Immigration Court, Angelina Lachhmann ’11 and Hillary Wasicek ’11 obtained asylum for a Pakistani woman who was the victim of severe domestic violence. And in May 2011, Keegan Drenosky ’12 and Peter Smith ’12, appearing before the same court, won asylum for a South American woman who endured decades of abuse from a man who stalked and beat her even after she obtained a divorce. Asylum based on domestic violence is a legally-unsettled area, and both teams of students, in addition to eliciting compelling testimony from their clients, had to present extensive legal argument, corroborating evidence and expert testimony to convince the judge to grant relief.
Several other cases involved both familial violence and the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”). In February 2011, Mia Fioritto Rubin ’11 and Kira Evans ’11 made the long, early-morning trip to New Jersey (where the Department of Homeland Security’s Asylum Office is located), for a hearing that achieved an asylum grant for a 22-year-old woman from Guinea. This client had come to the U.S., alone, at the age of 13 to escape from being forced to marry a cousin who had previously raped her, and from the FGM that her family would require her to undergo before the wedding. The case was particularly difficult because the client had missed the one-year deadline for filing for asylum by a full eight years. The students convinced the asylum officer that psychological trauma, as well as their client’s young age, explained and excused the late filing.
In a hearing held in the Immigration Court in May 2011, Betsy Walters ’12 and Eleni Alevizos ’12 won asylum for a West African client who had been forced by her family into a marriage as the third wife of a much older man, in order to repay a debt. When she entered his household, he subjected her to constant rape and beatings, and insisted that she, like his other wives, submit to FGM. She escaped, while pregnant, just days before the planned circumcision ceremony. She and her daughter, born after her arrival in the U.S., can now build a new life in safety.
In April 2011, Yikkan (Kennex) Chan ’11 and Geoffrey Ong ’11 obtained relief from removal in a long-running case on behalf of a client who was forced to undergo FGM as a child in Guinea. At her original removal hearing, held in 2006, the immigration judge ruled against her, finding that she lacked a well-founded fear of persecution because FGM, having already been performed, would not be done to her again. The Clinic appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which rejected that reasoning and required a new hearing. This time, the students convinced the immigration judge that our client’s past persecution, along with her reasonable fears of other forms of gender-related violence that are prevalent in Guinea, such as rape and familial violence, qualified her for relief from removal.
At an April 2011 immigration court hearing, Amara Neng ’11 and Jessica Stein ’11 won a grant of asylum for a client who was brutally beaten and left for dead during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Although changed country conditions meant she would no longer be persecuted in Rwanda based on her ethnicity, the students won a rare grant of "humanitarian asylum" by convincing the immigration judge that their client's past persecution was so horrendous that returning to her homeland would be psychologically devastating for her.
Jeffrey Chase ’11 and Philip Markuszka ’11 won relief from removal under the United Nations Convention Against Torture for an African man who came to the U.S as a refugee in the 1980s, but later committed a criminal offense that led to his imprisonment and threatened deportation. Phil and Jeff met with their client weekly at the prison, and tracked down witnesses from as far away as Sweden. At an immigration court hearing held in May 2011, they proved to the court's satisfaction that their client faces likely torture in his home country because of his longstanding support for groups fighting against its repressive government.
Two children from a country in South Asia obtained asylum with the help of Meghann LaFountain ’11 Christopher Lisi ’11. The mother of the two girls refused to go along with a marriage that her family insisted on, and chose her own husband instead. As a result, she, her husband, and their children endured threats and violent attacks from a member of her family and an extremist group he belongs to. Hearings for the two young clients were held in the Asylum Office in December 2010. After prolonged review by the agency, decisions granting asylum in both cases were issued in August 2011.