Students help refugees obtain asylum and launch a legal tech tool
Safe Harbor Project Helps Transgender Client Win Asylum Case
A transgender woman from a totalitarian nation has been granted asylum in the United States thanks to the work of students in Brooklyn Law School’s Safe Harbor Project clinic.
The students began working on the case in fall 2009, gathering evidence of the client’s anti-government activities in her home country. But as they were preparing the asylum application, the client was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The client remained in custody for almost a year, during which time the case was heard in Immigration Court over the course of seven sessions. Professor Stacy Caplow and clinic students made several bond applications, and the client was finally released just in time for the asylum application to be denied in September 2011. A subsequent appeal was also denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
In the meantime, the client came out as a transgender woman.
“Had she been able to share this information, this would have presented another, even stronger, claim for asylum because her home country was a well-documented violator of human rights of LGBT individuals,” said Caplow.
The Board of Immigration Appeals rejected a motion to reopen her case, arguing that she should have raised this claim previously because she must have been aware to some extent of her gender identity.
The clinic lost appeals of both the original denial and the denial of the motion to reopen. In fall 2014, the Circuit Court also said the client should have raised the claim originally and that the only changed circumstance was that her outward appearance now conformed to her gender identity.
“What the court said seemed outrageous, ignorant, and insensitive, but it was the last word,” said Caplow. “Nevertheless, we couldn’t accept that.”
The client faced deportation, so the clinic made a last-ditch effort to have the asylum application reopened in light of the fact that by 2015 she had medically and legally changed her gender identity. The case was finally reopened in May 2015 and remanded for a new hearing, which took place before a different judge in September 2016.
On June 21, 2017, the client was finally granted asylum.
LGBT Advocacy Clinic Assists with Asylum, Adoption, and Abuse
Students in the new LGBT Advocacy Clinic, under the supervision of Professor Susan Hazeldean, have handled a variety of cases, including several applications for asylum.
This spring, Diandra Hayban ’17 and Margiselle Estevez ’18 represented an African gay activist arrested multiple times and physically abused for his sexual orientation. They helped prepare documents in support of his application for asylum in the United States.
Jake Lavelle ’18, Will Stanton ’18, Christina Rhode ’18, and Charles Harris ’18 assisted another client from an Africa nation, who fled his home country after facing sexual assault and beatings—including attacks videotaped by the perpetrators in an effort to extort money from him later. When he went to the police, they threatened him with arrest for being gay. He can now live permanently in the U.S.
Kelly Ferrell ’17 and Patricia Vazquez-Rosario LLM ’18 represented a gay man from Central America who was detained by immigration officials at the U.S. border while attempting to escape homophobic abuse. They prepared his asylum application and filed it this summer. Ferrell and Vazquez-Rosario also worked together on a second parent adoption case for a lesbian couple with infant twins.
Rachel Russell ’17 and Chiara Apici ’18 took on the case of a transgender woman who was abused and assaulted by a corrections officer at Rikers Island. The clinic began working on this case last fall, with Russell and Apici taking over this spring. They drafted a new federal court complaint on the client’s behalf and filed it in April.
Disability and Civil Rights Clinic Advocates for Clients, Achieves Victories
Lauren Wechsler, a 30-year-old woman with severe developmental disabilities, is no longer confined to her home following the year-long advocacy of students in the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic, under the direction of Professors Natalie Chin and Amy Mulzer.
Students, including Kim Kopff ’16, Sam Tarasowsky ’16, Camillia Brown ’18, and Catie Marie Martin ’18, challenged the discriminatory actions of two private health insurance companies that left Wechsler homebound despite her ability to participate in the community.
“Brooklyn Law School’s clinical program changes lives, and victories like these are a reminder of our impact as a law school community,” said Chin.
Archana Sundar ’18 and Samuel Zaretsky ’17 recently filed an amici brief in the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, arguing that the New York City Administration for Children’s Services violated the rights of a mother and her child by not accommodating her intellectual disability.
In other clinic activities, Erin McMullan ’17 and Victoria Pontecorvo ’18 represented twin 32-year-old siblings with intellectual disabilities facing eviction after their mother moved to a nursing home. Alli Broad ’18 and Caroline Roe ’17 represented a woman with an intellectual disability who was told by the state that she was not eligible for support services. Roe and Sundar gave a know-your-rights presentation at the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled. Morgan Mickelsen ’17 and Nicole Zolla ’17 represented a young mother with an intellectual disability in a motion alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in collaboration with Brooklyn Defender Services.
BLIP Helps Launch Legal Technology Lab and Intelligent Legal Compliance Tool
Last fall, Professor Jonathan Askin helped to launch the Global Legal Technology Laboratory, which pairs law schools with developers to create legal technology apps, services, and ventures. Several BLIP students are working on one of its initial showcase projects, Intelligent Legal Compliance, which uses machine learning to help ventures determine when they might run afoul of the soon-to-be-implemented European Privacy Laws.
The goal is to build a system that will assess corporate compliance within the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, using various automated techniques. The system will develop a process that will make it easier for corporations of any size to sort through all of their documents and data to be sure they don’t breach data usage and privacy laws and practices.
“We are also tasked with building a repository for legal tech ‘hacks’ and projects around the world so that we are no longer working in our own silos, and so that we may build upon the innovative work of other legal technologists around the world,” said Askin. “Our objective is to harness new technologies and other innovative tools to advance the law and legal process.”
The project grew out of BLIP’s work to launch the Legal Hackers movement collaborations between Brooklyn Law School students and MIT Media Lab technologists. The group, led by Daniel Kearney ’18 and Mark Potkewitz ’17, hopes that the processes and techniques developed can be modified to address other compliance issues, as well as matters of corporate copyright and open source license audits.