Three students enrolled in Brooklyn Law School’s Safe Harbor Project recently won asylum for a woman from a Caribbean nation who had been assaulted repeatedly for her political beliefs. Dave Hattendorf ’11, Meghan O’Malley ’11 and Bohee Rhee ’11 represented the woman, who was attacked on two separate occasions after she spoke out against calls to riot by a political party. During the second attack, she was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken limb. Soon afterward, she fled to the U.S. and sought asylum.
Professors Dan Smulian and Stacy Caplow, co-directors of the Safe Harbor Project, said the students did an excellent job of obtaining evidence from abroad, despite enormous communications challenges and difficulties with the delivery of documents. The students were also complimented by the immigration court judge on their court brief and the thorough evidentiary packet they presented to the court, including extensive country condition information as well declarations from an expert on the country’s politics and a medical expert.
In the Safe Harbor Project, students work in teams to represent individuals in a range of cases affecting their status and entitlements in the United States. Many cases involve applications for asylum, and some involve the immigration status of lawful permanent residents or victims of domestic violence.
“Asylum cases provide the perfect learning experience including fascinating issues, complex facts, research into other countries, and heroic and deserving clients,” said Professor Caplow, who is also the Director of BLS’s Clinical Education Program.
The team of students, who presented the case on October 19, agreed. “I now have a greater appreciation for the role that procedural strategy plays,” Hattendorf said. “We had to decide whether to keep the case in immigration court or try to get our client an interview in the asylum office, an opportunity she had missed earlier. Going to court turned out to be a key decision. Also, I now realize how important it is to be strategic about the presentation of facts.”
“My favorite part of the entire case,” O’Malley said, “was spending time with the client. I respect her very much and I am glad to have had a part in winning her asylum case. I have learned so much about asylum law and the practicalities of organizing and preparing a case.”
Rhee said, “Working with the Safe Harbor Project was one of the best law school experiences I have had. In addition to learning about asylum law and formulating a legal theory, I also enjoyed building a relationship with our client and my teammates. I learned that strategies are required in all aspects of the work.”
The Safe Harbor Project will now help the new asylee file derivative asylum applications for her family and children so that all can be reunited.