A pair of clinics at Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law won asylum for their respective clients in two recent immigration proceedings. A team of students working in Columbia Law's Sexuality and Gender Clinic secured a grant of asylum from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 31 for a gay man who left his home country of Honduras three years ago after persecution based on his sexual orientation. In Honduras, the man and his partner were kidnapped and his partner murdered before he fled to the United States.
Immigrant Equality, a national nonprofit focused on immigration rights for LGBT and HIV-positive individuals, referred the case to the Columbia Law clinic last fall. Students A.J. Garcia, Michael Ruthenberg-Marshall, Kimber Hargrove and Matheus Oriolo, under the supervision of clinic director and professor Suzanne Goldberg, spent the next few months filing legal briefs and preparing their client for a December interview with an asylum officer.
Though federal immigration rules bar asylum-seekers for applying for asylum after one year of arriving in the United States, the students showed that the man suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, preventing him from applying sooner. Garcia, in an interview, said he and his classmates felt "excitement and relief" to know their client would not have to go back to Honduras. "We really invested in him, not just as a client but as a human being. There was no way we could let our client go back there," Garcia said. "For me, knowing how the asylum process works, defending asylum clients will be part of my pro bono practice the rest of my career as a lawyer."
NYU Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic won a grant of asylum on Jan. 30 for a transgender woman who faced deportation to Mexico, where she grew up experiencing physical and emotional abuse at the hands of law enforcement officials and her family. Students Anthony Enriquez and Julia Tong, supervised by assistant professor Alina Das, had been working on the case since September 2011 and represented the woman in an immigration hearing last July.
Similar to the Columbia Law case, their client sought asylum after the one-year application period. Homeland Security had originally denied her application, triggering a deportation proceeding before NYU Law was referred the case by Immigrant Equality. Immigration officials have said they will not appeal the asylum grant.