Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Wins Important Asylum Victory in Immigration Court

“I gained an appreciation for the complexities of the law and the importance of thoughtful lawyering. I learned what it meant to be a lawyer.” 

I reworked case theories several times and re-drafted and edited more times than I can count. I went to court and argued in front of the judge on three occasions. I communicated with opposing counsel to get the most advantageous options for my client. I was in constant contact with social workers, therapists, and immigration officers as I realized that being a lawyer isn’t just about working in the law.”- Lindsey Jackson, 3L

Law students often say that as lawyers we hope to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. As a student attorney in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, I got that opportunity working with my clients, a young woman (EP) and her son, who sought asylum. The countless hours of interviewing, researching, legal writing, client counseling, and moot court practicing over eleven months were more than worth it when I saw the tears of joy on EP’s face when the judge granted her asylum.

Immigrants' Rights Clinic wins major asylum victory in Immigration Court
Lindsey Jackson (3L), leaving the San Francisco Immigration Court after winning a grant of asylum for her client.

When Matthaeus Weinhardt, my clinic partner, and I were first assigned the case, it was in the beginning of the asylum process. It was our responsibility to conduct several interviews with a woman who had been the victim of horrifically inhumane treatment in an attempt to understand and reveal what had happened to her. As we learned more, we began the process of determining what would be the strongest legal claim to asylum based on these facts. It involved an incredible amount of legal research, brainstorming of ideas and theories, and communicating and interacting with someone who was sharing and vocalizing a violent and traumatizing story for the first time to us. The culmination of our 2L spring was an asylum application and addendum that we filed in court.

I built a very strong relationship with my client, while I was a full-time clinic student. When I went to her house to tell her good-bye before leaving Palo Alto for the summer and she asked me if I would still be her lawyer, I of course had to say yes, and knew then that I would stay on the case for as long as I could as a 3L until it was resolved.

When I arrived back on campus in the fall, the next big goal was preparing her asylum declaration and other documents in support of her asylum case. This required another series of grueling interviews. When debriefing with my supervising attorneys, Lisa Weissman-Ward and Jayashri Srikantiah, we often exclaimed how surreal it was that some new horrific detail emerged during each interview I had with her. It was abundantly clear to all of us that if EP didn’t qualify for asylum, no one did, but of course, that was not enough. The legal standard required for asylum is to show that someone suffered past persecution and has a well-founded fear of future persecution based upon her membership in one or multiple various particular social groups, ideally a group that has been recognized by the courts before. From the information gathered in these interviews was born a twenty-page single spaced declaration. We also submitted expert affidavits from country conditions experts and EP’s treating psychologist and therapist. I interviewed a friend of EP’s who contributed a witness declaration. Our record was definitely strong, but another hurdle lay ahead: the individual hearing.

Immigrants' Rights Clinic wins major asylum victory in Immigration Court.
Lindsey Jackson and Lisa Weissman-Ward, Supervising Attorney at the San Francisco Immigration Court

Generally, at an individual hearing, the respondent and any witnesses she may call must undergo an extensive direct and cross-examination. I was concerned about EP’s ability to testify about the extensive trauma she endured and her well-being and worked on a prosecutorial discretion request to the government for limited testimony. This seventeen-page single spaced document was essentially a brief that put forth the reasons why EP’s case warranted a short matters hearing. Thankfully, the government attorney was persuaded by the evidence we put forward and agreed to a short matters hearing.

On the day of the individual hearing, after several days of practicing every potential scenario, I felt confident and ready, but also nervous. The hearing itself was very short because of all the work we had put in ahead of time and the result, as I mentioned, was everything we could have wished for.

I am so grateful to have been a part of this case, one I saw through from beginning to end. I gained an appreciation for the complexities of the law and the importance of thoughtful lawyering. I learned what it meant to be a lawyer. As a lawyer, you are not only your client’s advocate, but also their counselor, supporter, and friend. I saw the immeasurable advantages of being able to work with a partner whom you respect and admire. Matthaeus and I didn’t just bounce ideas off of one another; we also provided one another with emotional support. I reworked case theories several times and re-drafted and edited more times than I can count. I went to court and argued in front of the judge on three occasions. I communicated with opposing counsel to get the most advantageous options for my client. I was in constant contact with social workers, therapists, and immigration officers as I realized that being a lawyer isn’t just about working in the law. I learned about the complexities of the immigration system and how difficult it is to navigate and gained a greater appreciation for the work of lawyers. I reaped countless benefits from having access to brilliant and patient supervisors who allowed me to take ownership of this case and held me to the highest expectations. Finally, I experienced firsthand the amount of faith our clients put in us and that they look to us, as lawyers and advocates, for guidance, support, wisdom, and assurance. Over the past eleven months, I changed EP’s life, she changed mine, and we are both the better for it.