McGeorge School of Law

Montoya wins in Immigration Court for client who faced torture

September 17, 2013

LLM Student Rita Montoya

LLM Student Rita Montoya

LLM Student Rita Montoya won Withholding of Removal under the Convention Against Torture for an Immigration Clinic client from Nigeria. If removed to Nigeria, her client faced torture and possible execution by his own government. Montoya met the legal standard, arguing successfully that, under the totality of the circumstances, it was more likely than not that her client would be tortured if returned to Nigeria.

Montoya, a clinic participant in the Spring of 2013, met her client during a January 2013 trip to the Yuba County Jail through the McGeorge Immigration Clinic's Detention Project where students provide short consultations and information to detained non-citizens in removal proceedings.

Montoya prepared and submitted a brief to the court, obtained substantial supporting documentation, and located and obtained the pro bono services of an internationally recognized expert on Nigeria to testify in support of the application. Testimony took place over two days. Montoya conducted direct exam of both the client and the expert witness. She also presented a compelling closing argument. Although the hearing extended into August, she continued on in the clinic through the summer to represent her client in court.

"It has been an honor and privilege to represent my client in the fight for his life" Montoya said. "Immigration detainees aren't provided legal counsel so if they can't afford one, they're on their own. My client was automatically removable from the U.S., so the odds were against us from the beginning. My client and I knew it was an uphill battle. As a party to the Convention Against Torture, the U.S. agreed not to deport people to a country where they would be tortured. We simply held them to their word and refused to go down without a fight."

"These cases are extremely difficult to win given the high standard of proof and the fact that the clients are detained throughout the proceedings" said supervising attorney Blake Nordahl. "Rita's dedication, professionalism, and her level of preparation were very impressive."

The Immigration Judge granted the relief in August. The government did not appeal so the decision is now final. Clinic student Vallerye Mosquera has joined Montoya in representation of this client and they are working on securing the client's prompt release from custody.

Rita Montoya graduated with her JD from the American University Washington College of Law. Prior to commencing the LLM in Public Law & Policy program in the McGeorge Capital Center, she zealously represented the indigent criminally accused as a Colorado Public Defender. Rita is currently working on her LLM Thesis, focusing on the psychology of criminal juries, and will continue to provide zealous advocacy and representation to the underserved in the Criminal and Immigration Law arenas.