Asylum cases often take longer to resolve than anticipated and Safe Harbor students and graduates remain committed to seeking asylum for their clients no matter the length of time it takes. Ali Olsen ’13, Jill Kosinski ’13 and Maweza Razzaq ’13 secured asylum for their client after a hearing in immigration court in late September 2012. Their client, a young man from a French speaking West African country, initiated a political movement that called for the resignation of the country’s president. As a result, the man was threatened with death and brutally tortured by his country’s security forces.
“The case presented many challenges,” said Professor Dan Smulian, co-director of the Safe Harbor Project, “not least of which was working with a client whose torture had left him psychologically fragile and unable to speak about some of the horrors he had lived through.”
Although the case began in the spring 2012 semester, it went into the summer with Olsen and Kosinski gathering evidence and preparing the case for an asylum interview in mid-July. They each took time off from their summer jobs to prepare for and attend the interview. Despite clear indicia of torture and clear testimony by the client, the case was inexplicably referred to immigration court. In court, thanks to excellent preparation by Olsen and Kosinski, and an effective direct examination by Olsen, their client overcame a terrible interpreter and perplexing questions from the government attorney to win asylum. They were assisted throughout by the able interpretation provided by BLS students, Gershon Abramoff ’13 and Yasha Orenstein ’15.
In another case, Cara Bilotta ’13, Heather Klein ’12, and Silpa Ramineni ’12 successfully represented their client in his asylum claim. These students represented a South American man who had dedicated his life to humanitarian work on behalf of Afro-Colombians. Unfortunately, the FARC, a revolutionary guerilla organized known for its violent tactics, targeted him because of his work. The FARC believed that his job at an international humanitarian organization gave him access to “valuable resources” and when he refused to comply with their demands to turn over supplies, they tried to kill him. Throughout the semester, Bilotta, Klein, and Ramineni demonstrated exemplary organization and extraordinary commitment to the case, including taking time away from work and bar exam study over the summer. Their work was meticulously prepared and the asylum interview went flawlessly as a result. The team also benefited from the assistance of BLS student Venus Bermudez ’13 who served as their tireless interpreter.
“The latter case was particularly terrific for everyone involved in the clinic,” Professor Smulian added, “because the students were supervised by Lauren Kosseff ’06, a Safe Habor graduate who is now in private practice with her clinic partner, Nadeen Aljijakli ’05.”