New Yorker Profiles Former Child Soldier Represented by Center for New Americans, Dorsey & Whitney, and ACLU-MN

December 4, 2015

The New Yorker magazine published a profile this week of Nelson Kargbo, a refugee and former child soldier from Sierra Leone who was successfully represented in his immigration case by law students with the Law School’s Center for New Americans, in partnership with Dorsey & Whitney and ACLU-MN.

The article details Kargbo’s persecution at the hands of a rebel group that forced him to serve as child soldier, his journey to the United States as a refugee at the age of 15, and his struggles with mental illness stemming from his past persecution. Kargbo built a life in Minnesota and was a primary caretaker of his U.S. citizen children, but in 2013 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took him into custody and tried to deport him back to Sierra Leone based on three misdemeanor convictions from seven to nine years earlier. Kargbo had served a total of only 14 days in jail for these offenses, but ICE detained him for more than two years; some of this time was spent in solitary confinement, which exacerbated his mental illness.

“By the time he found us, Mr. Kargbo had already been in jail for more than a year, suffering mental illness, and trying to defend himself in immigration court without a lawyer” said Becky Cassler, one of nine law students who helped stop Kargbo’s deportation and win his release from immigration custody. “Working on this case has given me a taste of what it feels like to fight for justice in an unjust system. I hope to continue that work for the rest of my career.”

Kargbo’s lawyers hope the attention to his case may help efforts to reform a system they say often detains immigrants for unconstitutionally prolonged periods, and is inappropriate for persecution survivors and immigrants suffering from mental illness. 

“I was shocked to learn how our immigration system tears apart families and locks up trauma victims without needing to justify their detention,” said Kirsten Schubert, an attorney from Dorsey & Whitney who helped supervise the law students “It was an honor to work law students to challenge these policies.”

The Law School students who represented Kargbo were Becky Cassler (’16), Nicholas Hittler (’16), Brent Johnson (’16), Kareem Tawfic (’18), Adam Kohnstamm (’16), Waleed Ahmed (’16), Kerry McGuire (’16), Michael Logan (’16), and Bobae Kim (’15).

The New Yorker article is available at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/12/07/the-refugee-dilemma

Additional coverage is available at https://www.law.umn.edu/news/2015-10-09-former-child-soldier-nelson-karg… and https://www.law.umn.edu/news/2015-08-16-aclu-center-new-americans-and-do…

Back row: Ben Casper ('97), Kirsten Schubert, Becky Cassler ('16), Kate Evans, Teresa Nelson, Linus Chan; Front row: Adam Kohnstamm ('16), Kareem Tawfic ('18)
Back row: Ben Casper ('97), Kirsten Schubert, Becky Cassler ('16), Kate Evans, Teresa Nelson, Linus Chan; Front row: Adam Kohnstamm ('16), Kareem Tawfic ('18)

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