A Student’s Perspective On An Extraordinary Win in Immigration Court

A Student's Perspective On An Extraordinary Win in Immigration Court 1

In immigration court earlier this week, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic experienced a phenomenal win for their client in an unexpected manner. David Watnick ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 partnered on the case under the supervision of clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah and Clinical Supervising Attorney, Lisa Weissman-Ward.  David’s account of the experience follows.


On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Atenas Burrola and I represented our client at a master calendar hearing at Immigration Court in San Francisco.  We were optimistic that the hearing would be the only time that we would go to court to represent our client, who was facing deportation.

Our optimism was, I believe, warranted:

Before we left for Thanksgiving, Atenas and I left a message with the government attorney responsible for handling our client’s case. We explained to her that, based on our research and analysis, we did not believe that the government could meet its burden of proving that our client was subject to deportation. We told her that we would be moving to terminate the case, and asked that she forward any documents she intended to submit in support of the government’s case, so that we could proceed as quickly as possible.

The day before the hearing, we contacted the government’s attorney to confirm that she had received our message. She informed us that she had received the message, which had prompted her to review our client’s file. She said she agreed with our analysis, and that she would move to terminate the case at the next day’s hearing.

Atenas and I were ecstatic to learn that the government was planning on dropping our client’s case. We had been very confident that we would ultimately prevail, but we had been preparing our client and ourselves for a protracted battle. We were still nervous that the government would reverse course before the hearing, but had no rational reason to think that it would.

When we got to court the next day, we had to wait nearly two hours before our case was called. It was excruciating at the time, but it was a small price to pay; when our case was finally called, the government’s attorney immediately told the judge that she would be moving to terminate the case based on the argument we had made to her.

The judge asked Atenas and me a few basic questions about our client, and asked if we objected to the government terminating the case. We told her we did not object, and that we waived our appeals. Our very brief hearing was over. The judge handed us the termination order, and the government attorney returned our client’s green card on the spot.

The extremely quick resolution of our client’s case was an almost unimaginably good outcome. Now that our client has his green card back, he will likely be able to travel home to see his family for Christmas, which was one of his foremost priorities in resolving his case. The successful termination of our client’s case was a thrilling and unexpected Christmas gift for our client and for us.