This summer, BU Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC) students won an important victory in securing asylum for a political dissident from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Students’ work on the case started in the summer of 2012, when the client, “Frank,” was referred to the IRC by a non-governmental organization in the Boston area. For over 15 years, the DRC has been under the control of a single family—one that has been particularly brutal in suppressing opposition. Frank was active in recruiting for an opposition party. He came to the US in 2011 to attend a conference on a visitor visa, and remained in the country, in fear of returning to the DRC. Shortly after attending the 2011 conference, the client presented himself to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), seeking asylum.
The IRC students’ work on the case was far-reaching. Professor Judith Diamond, who supervised the case, says, “in short, they did everything that a competent attorney would do to work up and present a case like this.” That work included interviewing Frank extensively to get his complete story, doing legal research, and identifying and devising strategies to obtain documents that could corroborate his story.
Clinic student (‘15), Frank’s main point of contact for the team, says, “Frank had some extremely painful trauma in his past, and because of that, we spent the majority of our time in interviews trying to work through that and show him how best to present these incredibly painful memories to the court. We were particularly proud of how he answered questions the judge asked him directly about these memories, after we had prepared him for the judge to ‘go off-script.’”
In addition, students identified potential witnesses still in the DRC who could corroborate his story, and got statements from them. They also found a “country conditions expert,” a political science professor with expertise in DRC political conditions who could testify to the risk Frank would encounter if he were to return.
Once the background work was completed, students represented Frank at his USCIS hearing, which was not successful, and again in immigration court. They prepared evidence submissions, submitted legal briefs, and prepared Frank and other witnesses to testify. In immigration court, the students’ work paid off, and Frank was granted asylum.
Diamond and the students shared Frank’s joy at the outcome. “This has been a long, hard fought battle,” says Diamond. “I am so very glad that we were able to present his case in a way that convinced the immigration judge to grant him asylum.”
For Frank, being granted asylum has opened a new chapter in his life. “Thanks so much to Judith Diamond, law students, and interpreters who supported my case,” he says. “Receiving asylum is like stepping into a wave of blessings.”
Clinic student Peter Brocker (‘15) says, “I think that it is tough to beat the satisfaction of the client finally getting the news he was granted asylum. I think a close second was when the expert witness, who I had worked to prepare, was testifying regarding her credentials. The government counsel asked an open-ended question, and my witness was able to completely explain her CV in a way that forced the government to concede her expertise regarding the DRC. It was exactly what we had discussed in our preparation, and in my opinion added weight to her testimony.”
For students involved, the IRC, and Frank’s case in particular, provided transformative experiences. Tobias says that before enrolling in the clinic, he was not planning to pursue immigration law. “I chose the clinic because I wanted an internationally-minded experience, and I thought it would be something interesting to try during law school.”
Now, immigration law is Tobias’ primary focus. “Between my experiences with Frank and my own personal experiences during the clinic, I am absolutely interested in pursuing immigration law. I will be interviewing with the Executive Office of Immigration Review in October for a post-graduation clerkship with the immigration court.”
While Brocker does not plan to make a career in immigration law, he is passionate about practicing it on a pro bonobasis. “It is hard to find a group of people more in need of help, and work like that is incredibly rewarding,” he says.
For Tobias, the IRC gave him a unique perspective on his chosen career path. “Many of the clinic’s clients would face severe harm, even death, if they returned to their own country. To have that level of responsibility as a second-year law student is an incredible experience.”
Reported by Sara Womble