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Immigration and Human Rights Clinic Helps Secure Asylum for Torture Victim

OCTOBER 25, 2011—Earlier this month, students and faculty working at the University of Minnesota Law School's Immigration and Human Rights Clinic helped a West African man, who prefers to remain anonymous, secure asylum in the United States. After being arrested, starved, beaten, tortured, and sexually humiliated by government soldiers for his political beliefs, the man risked his life to escape imprisonment and travel to the United States.

Thanks to the Clinic's efforts, the client no longer has to fear being returned to face detention, torture, and possibly death at the hands of his home country's government. He is immensely grateful to receive asylum and looks forward to rebuilding his life here, safe from political persecution.

Professor Stephen Meili, the Clinic's supervising attorney, and Emily Good (’03), an adjunct professor for the Clinic and director of the Refugee and Immigration Program for the local nonprofit Advocates for Human Rights, oversaw the Law School's student attorneys as they helped guide the man through the asylum process.

Last year's Student Director Jonathan Moler (’11) and student attorneys Catheranne Wyly (’12) and Claudia Ochoa (’12) began the process by preparing and filing the client's asylum application, which included a 40-page brief detailing the legal basis for his asylum claim and dozens of exhibits supporting the brief. Student Director Phoebe Taurick (’12) oversaw the case over the summer, and this fall a second set of students took over. Student Director Kevin Lampone (’12) and students Edmond Ahadome (’13) and Jenna Nand (’12) prepared the client to interview with an asylum officer at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services office in Bloomington, Minn.

"The impact these students have on their clients' lives is truly remarkable," says Meili, "and the extraordinary teamwork this case required shows how quickly each of these students was able to get up to speed and build a rapport with this client."

Like this man, many asylum applicants are forced to leave their families and livelihoods to escape persecution; often, they come to the United States without the resources to support themselves or to pay a lawyer to help them navigate the asylum process. Fortunately, organizations like Advocates for Human Rights and the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, as well as numerous private attorneys, step in to provide free legal services.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research program run by Syracuse University, last year 54% of asylum applicants who had legal representation received asylum, compared with only 11% of those without legal representation.