It all started with one brief email requesting help for a terrified woman from Brazil seeking asylum in the United States for herself and her children. She had endured years of beatings, rape, and death threats in a relationship, and she was fleeing for her life. Her case wound up in the inbox of Sarah Sherman-Stokes at Boston University’s Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Program, and it was Stokes who handed it off to a team of BU School of Law students.
It is not an understatement to say that the case changed their lives. They all came from different backgrounds in their pursuit of law degrees, and now they had to pull together and fight for this woman, and her children, to help them start over. They had no idea of the emotional and physical toll the case would have on their lives, as they worked to build a complicated asylum case while also continuing their challenging studies.
Meanwhile, all of this unfolded as President Trump’s administration was clamping down on immigration and separating families at the border.
“I’m a mom. I’ve got a three-year-old and a five-year-old. How could I not take the case?”
“I wanted this so badly for her. For a family that’s been through so much, they just needed something good.”
Brianna Cardwell (LAW’20)
“Telling your story to someone who wants to help you is different than telling it to someone who can judge you.”
Luis Guerrero (LAW’20)
Thank you, Your Honor.
Respondent has experienced severe trauma all of her life. Respondent was just 11 years old when she was sexually abused over and over again by her uncle for more than 2 years. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only abuse she faced as a child. She endured physical and psychological abuse while living with her grandmother from the ages of 5 to 13.
During this time, she was beaten with an electrical cord, repeatedly hit in the head with pots, and as testified earlier, stabbed with a pair of scissors by her aunt. As an adult, Respondent thought she could escape the abuse of her childhood home, but the abuse continued. As the court has heard, Respondent was subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse almost every day for eight years.
Respondent met the father of her son was she was 28 years old. During her eight-year relationship, she endured beatings, rape, and death threats with a gun pointed at her head. We have heard testimony that is also corroborated by her daughters and her sister at tabs b, d, and e of exhibit four about the relentless abuse and violence that [name deleted] inflicted.
We also heard testimony that in 2010, [name deleted] intentionally drove a car carrying Respondent and her two young daughters into a tree because another man in a pool touched her feet with his. [Name deleted] drove their car into a tree to punish Respondent. As stated in their testimony, [name deleted] “believed that he owned her.”
As heard earlier, [name deleted] threatened Respondent’s life on multiple occasions by pulling out a gun and pointing it at her head, telling her that he would kill her. One police report, tab h on page 62 of exhibit 4, reflects that [name deleted] stated, “the judge better make a steel helmet for her to protect herself from the gunshots” that he would aim at her head.
Leaving did not protect Respondent from this violence. We heard testimony that [name deleted] orchestrated the murder of new boyfriend after Respondent ended their relationship, again, because he believed he owned her. And he continued to threaten her, even after violent death. All of these events, along with the sexual abuse of her two daughters, have caused significant and ongoing psychological trauma.
Respondent testified to this, saying that, “she felt like she wanted to die,” and that, “the pain would never go away.” Dr. Winegar’s affidavit at tab j on page 94 of exhibit 4 reflects Respondent has been diagnosed with major depression disorder and generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks. The harms that Respondent endured were the result of her membership in the particular social groups of, one, female family members two, women viewed as property, and three, Brazilian women.
The first record in Gebremichael v INS recognized that nuclear family membership constitutes a cognizable, particular social group. Status as a female family member in [name deleted] nuclear family is at least one central reason for the harm she endured. [Name deleted] abused and sexually abused both of her daughters, but never once harmed his son.
No other woman outside of [name deleted] immediate nuclear family endured the severe physical and sexual abuse to which she was subjected and her daughters. Respondent testified that on one occasion, [name deleted] smacked another woman because she would not date him. One smack is easily distinguishable from the severe and the relentless, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that [name deleted] inflicted on her daughters for eight years.
He saved those instances of psychological and sexual abuse for them because they were women in his nuclear family and could do so with impunity. Matter of Acosta and Fatin versus INS have recognized PSGs based on gender and nationality as a particular social group. Just like in Fatin, status as a woman in Brazil, coupled with the lack of government intervention to protect women, reinforcing his belief that Brazilian women are without rights.
We heard multiple times during Respondent’s testimony that she repeatedly called the police to report action. And on every occasion but one, the police were not able to protect her. Case is analogous to Matter of Allar, where the department recognized that one’s status as been viewed as property in a domestic relationship is particular.
As the respondent testified, [name deleted] believed that, “he owned her.” And Dr. Leeds testified that women, like the respondent, are viewed as property in Brazil. Moreover, under Acosta, Respondent cannot change her status as a woman or how society views her, and she shouldn’t be required to. The police are both unable and unwilling to protect Respondent.
Dr. Leeds testified that domestic violence is widespread throughout Brazil and underreported to authorities. She also stated that it is thought of as a private issue that should be dealt with behind closed doors. Today, Brazil has one of the highest rates of women being killed in the world. The US Department of State, Human Rights report for 2017, tab m on page 144 of exhibit 4, states that reports of domestic violence increased 51% over the last two years.
Dr. Leeds also stated in her affidavit that, on average, 13 women are killed every day. And every 15 seconds, a woman suffers violence. She further testified that women in Brazilian culture are seen as second-class citizens. This view is held by the general public and those in power, including the police.
The US Department of Human Rights report of 2018, tab ee on page 45, excuse me, 43 of exhibit 5, corroborates this, stating that allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police. This exact situation happened when a police report filed described domestic violence as a crime of minor offense and failed to investigate or prosecute.
Respondent further testified that the police were tired of her always calling them to report abuse by [name deleted] and that they told her, “aren’t you embarrassed?” And “why don’t you just separate from him?” Despite this, Respondent put her faith in the police, time after time, by continuing to report death threats and beatings she suffered at the hands of [name deleted].
And what happened to her abuser? Nothing. The police reports in tab g, h, and i of exhibit four corroborate the beatings and death threats that endured at the hands of [name deleted]. The absence of court records all but confirm that these reported acts of violence were not prosecuted. And that is normal for most women living in Minas Gerais.
Dr. Leeds states in her affidavit, tab k on page 98 of exhibit 4, that in the state of Minas Gerais, only 22% of complaints of gender violence resulted in police investigations. And 61% of investigations were closed without indictments. Despite death threats with a gun, relentless beatings, and many violations of a restraining order, nothing was done.
As Dr. Leeds testified, neither women’s police stations or the Maria da Penha Law have protected or will protect Respondent. In fact, the Maria da Penha Law is rarely used. And restraining orders that are given by that are routinely violated. Even after the murder of Respondent’s new partner remained free, to this day, neither [name deleted] nor anyone involved has been arrested.
Meanwhile, Respondent continued to be stalked and threatened by one of the murderers for cooperating with the police. The police have proven that they are both unwilling and unable to protect Respondent or those that she loves. If Respondent is returned back to Brazil, she will face significant harm and even death. [name deleted] has proven that he will go at great lengths to control Respondent and to keep her in a state of fear.
As she testified, even after the protective order was in place, “he continued to threaten me, hit me, push me at a party, come to our front door, and make threats.” He told me, “if he found me with another man, he would beat me up and kill me.”
As Dr. Leeds testified, his involvement in drug trafficking means that he can and will find Respondent anywhere she goes. Respondent is now also at the risk of harm by friends of [names deleted] both of whom want to ensure that she does not cooperate with the police in the investigation of murder. Respondent also merits a grant of humanitarian asylum because she suffered severe persecution and will suffer other serious harm if removed to Brazil.
Respondent testified here today that she was sexually, physically, and psychologically abused as a child because she was a young Brazilian girl without protection. She then, as an adult, was threatened with death, rape, and physically and verbally abused for eight years by [name deleted]. At the end of their relationship, he had her new partner murdered.
And then Respondent, as a result of the abuse she and her children endured, suffers from depression and panic attacks. Respondent has suffered significant past persecution, which makes her case analogous to Matter of Chen, where the court stated that favorable discretion is warranted for humanitarian reasons, in a case where the respondent suffered significant mental health symptoms from severe past persecution.
Respondent also faces other serious harm on account of relentless threats to her life, the risk she faces as a result of her cooperation with police as an informant in the murder of and the lack of mental health resources for herself and for her family. Matter of LS states that other serious harm can include situations where the claimant could experience severe physical injury.
Here, Respondent faces a risk of significant violence and even death. But that is not the only other serious harm that faces Respondent. Dr. Winegar states that Respondent needs integrated mental health services, including primary care, sleep medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. Respondent’s son also suffers from severe mental health issues from the trauma he endured and witnessed.
Son’s school psychologist, whose assessment is at tab dd on page 28 at exhibit 5, found that Son has autism spectrum disorder and that would require substantial support to reach his functional potential. Here in the US, Respondent and her children are finally able to get the mental health resources they need. Respondent testified that they are all receiving treatment for their mental health issues.
Her son is also in the process of receiving treatment for his autism diagnosis, with an individualized educational program, as seen at tab cc on pages 16 through 27 at exhibit 5. Removing them to Brazil would prevent them from receiving the care they need. Recent research shows that access to treatment for depression in Brazil is very low.
And those most vulnerable, people living in low-resource areas like Respondent, are less likely to receive care for depression. Experts in Brazilian psychiatry care, as seen at tab w on pages 258 through 260 at exhibit 4, describe Brazil’s mental health system as, “a chaotic and inadequate system with a scarcity of professionals to monitor and evaluate services and programs.”
Removing Respondent and her family to Brazil, a country where they have experienced severe trauma and a country with inadequate mental health services, will cause significant psychological, mental, and emotional harm. Moreover, she will not get the necessary resources that a survivor of domestic violence needs. As Dr. Leeds testified, in the current political climate, not only has the president failed to support survivors of domestic violence, he has also been very outspoken and has taken out key resources for survivors of domestic violence, and has cut programs and support. This surely qualifies as other serious harm under Matter of LS. Respondent has endured unrelenting violence for nearly her entire life. Respondent is the kind of refugee that asylum was meant to protect.
But she is more than just a victim. She’s a proud mother of three, who enjoys spending time with her children. She came to the United States in search of a safer life for herself, but most importantly, her children. A grant of asylum would allow her to heal and to move past the horror she has faced.
Thank you, Your Honor.
So the court having reviewed the evidence, and both of the parties should be commended for the presentation of the case. I’m just going to find that there were no statutory bars to the respondent’s application, that the respondent was a credible witness. That the harm the respondent suffered rose to the requisite level to constitute persecution in the First Circuit.
With respect to the four particular social groups with respect to the young women in Brazil without parental protection. The court will find that, that is too amorphous and not stay with sufficient clarity, especially with the term young. Furthermore, the respondent is not established. She’s currently a member of that particular social group and that she would have a welfare appear based on her membership in that particular social group and that she’s no longer a young woman in Brazil without parental protection.
Moving on to women, family members and senior. The court finds that nuclear family is about particular social group. It’s not a matter of LEA and other first cases including Deborah Macau. With respect to this case, the court will find that the respondent does not fit within the particular social group outlined by the respondent in that LEA directs the immigration judge to conduct an analysis of the relationship to determine whether it satisfies the requirements of the case.
And, in fact, it does not a set specific parameters like must be nuclear family, can’t be too attenuated. It simply says it has to be done on factual case by case basis, in this court case, the court will find that. But then the relationship between the response and senior was not so innate as to constitute a nuclear family as contemplated by LEA or even family as contemplated by LEA and the alternative, that society would not recognize the relationship between them and it’s not immutable.
And therefore the court will find that that particular social group fails. With respect to Brazilian women viewed as property this essentially particularly social group and matter of ARCG, court is bound to fault that was overruled a matter of AB. The court is bound to follow well matter AB in this case, and is not persuaded by case law cited by the respondent In this case the court will find out that’s not about particular social group under the controlling case law.
With respect to Brazilian women, the court will find that this is a valid particular social group, notwithstanding the department’s arguments and First Circuit cases in opposition. The respondent abusers saw her as a woman in Brazil who lacked rights, who lacked protection from the government. This was corroborated by the expert testimony at the hearing today as well as the statements in the campaign and of the current president.
With respect to the federal government’s lack of support for Brazilian women in the society. The court will find the respondent was indeed a member of this particular social group, and that she indeed was persecuted on account of this particular social group. And that the abuser targeted her because he felt that he could exert his power and control over her and her children.
Court does not find it, that it is too amorphous or too overly broad. In this case, it is stated with Harry. And there’s the background evidence in the case indicates that Brazilian women are recognized as a discrete entity within society. With respect to government action, the court will find the respondent did not meet her burden to show that the government is unwilling to protect her, but sessions provides that in the alternative, she can show destructively that the government is unable.
And the court will find that there’s considerable evidence in the record for the government’s ability and against the government’s ability to protect the respondent. And the court will find the respondent, her standard was only to show a preponderance and the court will find that she has met the standard preponderance of the evidence that the government would be unable to control her.
The court is persuaded in that predominantly by the testimony expert opinion of the expert witness. The fact that 22% of domestic violence complaints lead to investigations, the various police reports in this case, even the arrests of the respondent’s abuser did not demonstrate the government was able to protect her.
Based on that the court will find that the respondent was a victim of past persecution. Next, the government will find that the department met its burden of proof to rebut that assumption of welfare issues that she’s entitled to. The court will find that the respondent’s internal relocation within the country of Brazil is both reasonable and it would be safe to do so.
The evidence that forms this finding focuses certainly on, the expert witness testified that the respondent’s status as a drug dealer would somehow enable him to find the respondent were she to relocate. However, there’s insufficient evidence in the record and that’s too attenuated based on the evidence in the record.
It’s unclear what level in the drug trafficking trade he was, whether he was a low level dealer, whether he has connections internationally, what sort of financial resources or communication resources or other resources would be available to a higher level drug kingpin, if you will. Furthermore, the respondent has lived in other places within the country.
It’s a large country with a population of over 200 million people. The respondent has relatives in other areas of the country, respondent’s abusers in Rio outside of the state of Minas Gerais, and as the expert testified. There’s domestic violence resources in larger cities, including Belo Horizonte the capital of Minas Gerais including women’s police stations and other necessary resources.
And based on all that the court will find that the government has successfully rebutted respondent’s presumption of a well-founded fear.
Finally, now the court will find that, notwithstanding the absence of a well-founded fear, in this case, the response is entitled to grant of humanitarian asylum, essentially a Chen grant, based on compelling reasons to the past persecution.
The past persecution in this case was severe. It was prolonged. It was cruel and it had both immediate and long lasting effects on the respondent.
From the respondent’s own testimony to the medical evidence both from mental health records as well as from physical records. The depression and panic attacks that she suffers from today, the pain and physical affects that she feels from the intentional car crash in 2010.
The numerous marital rapes, beatings and gunpoint threats rise to the level that contemplated by the board and matter of Chen.
And based on that the court will grant humanitarian asylum even in the absence of a well founded fear of future persecution. The court is not going to reach the applications for withholding of protection under the Convention Against Torture.
“You have to put your client through the wringer a little bit because that’s what’s going to happen in court.”
Maggie Loeffelholz (LAW’20)
“MassHealth sent her a letter in English. By the time she sent it to me, her family wasn’t covered anymore. I’m seeing in real life what people are up against.”
Cristina Hernandez (SSW’23) (STH’23)
“She was powerless, she had no out. Even if she moved to Rio, she could be in danger. If he didn’t kill her, he’d try to.”
Elizabeth Leeds (CAS’64)