Persecuted groups and individuals from around the world still look to the United States as a place of refuge when they are denied the right to work, to be educated or to receive medical treatment, or when they are threatened with imprisonment, torture or violence due to political dissent, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or other specific grounds. We help such refugees negotiate an increasingly complex immigration and asylum procedures.
Asylum Obtained for Ethiopian Activist
A team from our Chicago office recently helped a women’s rights activist from Ethiopia obtain asylum in the US.
Client S was involved in the Ethiopian women’s rights movement, campaigning against domestic violence, particularly female genital mutilation, and working with groups who opposed the current political regime. Her activities made her a government target, leading to her arrest in March 2013. S spent four days in jail, where she was beaten and interrogated about her activities, before a friend in the military was able to secure her release; however, her husband, also arrested on the same day, remained imprisoned. S fled to the US, where she immediately began investigating the asylum process, and was referred to the National Immigration Justice Center in Chicago, which then contacted us.
After meeting with the client to hear her full story, we drafted an application for asylum on grounds of political oppression. The biggest challenge we faced was obtaining documents to support claims that S had been persecuted by the Ethiopian government, as S’s husband was still imprisoned and unable to contact her, and S’s brother and father had already been questioned by the government as to her whereabouts and would be in further danger if it were discovered that they were communicating with her. Without access to written records in Ethiopia, we had to prove S’s case solely through her own testimony as well as that of S’s treating physicians, who had diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and lasting physical injuries.
The client’s application for asylum was submitted in March 2014, just inside the one-year deadline set by US immigration law, and in April 2014, her application for asylum was granted. S is now free to live and seek work in the US without fear of deportation, and will be eligible to apply for permanent residency in one year. In addition, just before her application was filed, she received a letter from her husband, who had just been released from prison after a year behind bars. Because of her new status as an asylee, S may now be able to petition for her husband to join her in the US.
Transgender Client from Mexico Wins Asylum
Born male, client M was subjected to years of physical and emotional abuse in Mexico because of her sexual orientation and feminine appearance. Fearing for her life, M fled to the US as a teenager in 2006. Here, the client was able to begin hormonal replacement therapy for her gender transition, as well as to receive medical treatment after being diagnosed as HIV positive.
The matter was referred to us by Immigration Equality, an organization that represents hundreds of LGBT people fleeing persecution each year. One of the most challenging issues raised in M’s case dealt was why she waited six years to formally request asylum. With our help, she was able to show that her gender transition presented changed circumstances that justified an exception to the one-year deadline. Now a transgender woman, M would be subject to even greater persecution if she were forced to return to Mexico, where she would also no longer have access to the hormonal replacement therapy and HIV treatment that she needs.
After two interviews with the immigration authorities and a series of background checks, M was granted asylum in March 2014. This case is a particular success in that the client’s application was granted at the administrative level, without requiring further review by the Immigration Court. M is now free to continue living in the US without fear of deportation, and may apply for a green card in one year.
Asylum Obtained for Russian LGBT Client
As a gay man in his mid-twenties, SR had been persecuted in Russia for nearly his entire life. Immigration Equality referred SR’s case to our New York office in Spring 2013.
We met with SR for several intake interviews, during which he laid out the chronology of his life and his grounds for seeking asylum. This material was used to draft a powerful Affidavit of Support to accompany the client’s I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal. Five weeks after the application was submitted to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, SR was granted an interview.
Accompanied by our team, including one of our attorneys who speaks Russian fluently serving as translator, SR answered numerous questions from US Immigration about his sexuality and his life to establish his credibility and provide first-person evidence that he met the criteria for asylum. In December 2013, his request was granted.
The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project
Founded in 2008, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) partners law students with lawyers to provide pro bono counsel to Iraqi refugees seeking asylum and other immigrant status in the United States. We currently are supervising students from the law schools of Fordham University, New York University and the University of Chicago, who are assisting Iraqi refugees seeking resettlement in the US due to religious and/or political persecution in their home country. The clients were referred to IRAP by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.