This past week, I was fortunate enough to stand next to my client (“FV”) as he learned that he was granted asylum and would not have to return to his home country, where he faced a persecution and the threat of death. This favorable outcome was the culmination of months of patience and focus as my client and I worked together to secure him a safe and peaceful future here in the United States. FV spent years fearing for his safety back in his home country, where he was persistently persecuted for holding in political opinions deemed unacceptable by his home country’s government. In my capacity as a student attorney in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, I worked with FV to prepare FV’s declaration and a legal brief that we submitted to the San Francisco Asylum Office. I met with FV for many hours over the course of many weeks as we prepared for his interview. After telling his harrowing story to an asylum officer over the course of a three-hour interview, FV’s patience and poise earned him a favorable grant of asylum and the promise of a future lawfully and permanently in the United States.
When I joined the case this past fall, I benefited from the hours of work that Erica Miranda and Morgan Lewis had already accomplished during their full-time participation in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic during the spring 2017 quarter. Their thorough legal research and diligent fact-finding meant that I could focus my work on presenting my client’s asylum claims in the strongest light possible and on preparing my client to tell his story in a way that made him feel empowered and confident.
As I drafted, edited, drafted again and finalized the legal brief on behalf of FV that was filed along with substantial documentation of the harm he experienced in his home country, my work focused primarily on identifying the most compelling facts of FV’s story and linking them to the relevant aspects of the asylum standard. Because we anticipate that many more refugees will seek asylum from my client’s home country in the near future, it was especially important for me to find ways to make my client’s case stand out, which I was able to do by arguing that the harms he experienced resulted not only from his political opposition to the government, but because his opposition was especially visible in his home country, since he was well known in his community as an athlete who played for his local city’s team as well as for the country’s national team, because he aligned himself with political causes that were unique to university students, and because his family had visible ties to the United States, in a way that made them stand out from other families in their community.
Perhaps even more important than the time I spent developing my client’s legal arguments, however, was the time I spent helping him to prepare to share his difficult experiences with an asylum officer during his asylum interview. This preparation had two components—first, I worked with my client to draw out especially striking sensory details about the occasions on which he was harmed by the government so that I could incorporate them into his written declaration, which we submitted to the Asylum Office before his interview. This required me to develop my interviewing skills and to frame my questions in ways that would encourage my client to share details about deeply upsetting experiences without appearing intrusive or insensitive. Together, my client and I were able to build a rapport and settling into a mutually comfortable relationship, which we did by connecting over similarities in our past, especially our love of sports and shared experience of both being former athletes. Our rapport also grew out of my commitment to explaining to my client why certain pieces of information were especially relevant or important, so that I could provide him with a sense of ownership and understanding over his legal claims. Because my client’s university education had been abruptly interrupted when he was forced to flee his home country, I felt strongly that my focus needed to be on empowering him to make decisions about his case and his future in a way that gave him a sense of control and confidence at a time when circumstances in his life had made control and confidence elusive qualities in his day-to-day experiences.
In addition to developing his written declaration, my client and I also spent many hours going through countless practice questions in order to prepare my client to confront any questions that came his way during his asylum interview. We’d meet weekly to do a round of practice questions and to workshop the strengths and weaknesses of my client’s answers. Each week, I was increasingly impressed with my client’s ability to speak about deeply upsetting experiences, including a horrific beating he was subjected to a protest, several harrowing break-ins his family endured at their home, and constant stalking and threats that he suffered at the hands of the government. He spoke about these and many other experiences in a way that was at once earnest and poised, and rarely became flustered. His focus and receptiveness to feedback during these sessions became immediately evident at his asylum interview, during which he and the asylum officer spoke for almost three hours about his experiences in his home country. It was incredibly rewarding to sit through the interview with him, because I truly walked away from my work on his case feeling like I had empowered my client to win asylum for himself, rather than winning his case for him. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to help my client achieve both a sense of agency over his future and a chance at a productive and safe life here in the United States.