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Clinic students successfully obtained asylum for their Nigerian client in Court

February 23, 2016

Tags: Legal Clinics, Immigration Clinic News, 2016

Courtney Gamez (3L) and Jose Orta (3E) first met their future client when they went to the Yuba County Jail at the beginning of the fall semester as part of a clinic project providing free legal consultations to detained immigrants. At that initial screening, the students learned that she had been arrested and detained at the baggage area of an International Airport even though her visa had been approved for entry. They also learned about her background and some of the difficulty she had experienced in her home country that led her to come to the United States. They learned that she was a highly educated business woman with dreams of leaving her painful past behind and seeking to fulfill her dreams in America. Jose and Courtney thought her situation was compelling and shortly thereafter began the work of seeking relief for their client.

Courtney and Jose first worked to argue for release from detention through parole. They submitted a Parole Request, which was granted, but unfortunately the client did not have the funds to pay the required bond. Therefore, the students had to continue their work with the client while she was in detention.

Under these conditions, the representation required a marathon level of factual and legal investigation which was made more difficult when the students discovered the client suffered from severe mental health issues. She had been previously diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and traumatic brain injury which made it difficult for her to answer questions in a coherent manner. The problem was aggravated by the circumstances of being in detention, being separated from her children, and being a survivor of domestic violence.

She would generally provide lengthy responses that would initially seem irrelevant or incomprehensible. Over the course of frequent visits to interview her in detention and meticulous note taking, Courtney and Jose slowly pieced together her background and learned about her past persecution as well as her fears for the future if she returned home.

Effective representation required strong cross cultural skills as many of the client's fears were expressed through her cultural beliefs that are foreign to most U.S. law students and certainly most immigration judges. The students worked with their client to allow her voice and story to be heard by the judge while still allowing for a compelling argument for asylum. Slowly and painstakingly, the students began piecing together the facts necessary to construct their winning arguments.

The students also learned how to effectively look beyond the legal sphere and work with other agencies. In order to best present their case, the students learned that a medical examination would be necessary to present vital evidence. Immigration refused to permit the county jail physician to perform the required medical exam. Then, working with partner agencies in the community they found an organization willing to provide the medical examination. Finally, through perseverance, the clinic was able to secure a free medical exam through a local health service provider. However, it was not until Immigration officers actually transported their client from the jail to the health center that the students knew that the exam would take place and their winning evidence would be acquired.

After months of preparation, the students were able to argue their case before an Immigration Judge in San Francisco and lead their client through several hours of testimony. Ultimately, Courtney and Jose helped their client win asylum and she was released from detention in December. Their client is currently receiving services through local partners including International Rescue Committee and Cares Community Health. She has plans to open her own business and return to college. This case showed Courtney and Jose that they have the ability, skill, and compassion to effectively represent clients.