Students’ Perspective: Client Representation in Asylum Case

17-05-26 Mary and Tory 3

During our full-time work in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic this spring, we had the privilege of working with “M” a courageous domestic violence survivor. Our work with M culminated in a final merits hearing in Immigration Court at the end of the quarter, where we asked the judge to grant M asylum, a legal protection that would allow her and her young son to stay in the United States and eventually apply for citizenship if they choose.

Our quarter was dedicated to preparing for M’s final hearing. We submitted hundreds of pages of documentation and a legal brief arguing that she deserved asylum. Our arguments highlighted how M’s home country failed to protect her from her ex-partner’s beatings, death threats, and violent rapes, even when she had the courage to seek help from a judge. We spent hours with M preparing her to testify during the hearing and making sure she felt as comfortable as possible. Preparation often caused memories of abuse to flood M’s mind, and we worked to balance practicing for court with respect for her emotions by taking breaks to chat about her love for soccer and her son’s progress in kindergarten and growing interest in eating vegetables. To bolster her case, we also met with and prepared two witnesses: a trauma expert and one of M’s relatives to testify. A week before the hearing, we practiced with our classmates and supervisors, preparing for worst-case scenarios and unexpected obstacles that might occur in court.

After so much preparation, we were confident and ready for M’s hearing. M felt particularly supported by the people who attended the hearing in solidarity, including the two witnesses and two other law students who worked on her case last year. It was heartening to know that M had a community of love and support in the courtroom during such an important moment.

M was incredibly brave during her testimony. She never wavered in sharing her story with the judge and detailed–through tears–the more than five years of abhorrent abuse she survived at the hands of her ex-partner. She showed strength and poise when opposing counsel questioned her. After her testimony, the judge indicated she was inclined to grant asylum, and did not need to hear from the other witnesses. When opposing counsel agreed, it was an incredible feeling of relief and joy.

Being with M when the judge announced that M and her son were granted asylum is a powerful memory that we will always keep with us. Everyone in the courtroom knew how much she and her son had survived to find safety and stability in the United States, and we are honored to have helped guarantee they won’t be forced to return to danger.