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UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

04/25/2017 | News release | Distributed by Public on 04/25/2017 09:41

UDC Immigration Clinic Wins Asylum for Family Fleeing Gang Violence

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Posted by: Joe Libertelli

In photo from left, 'Manuel', Michael Wilk, Jason Barros, client 'Josie,' Seth Brown and Prof. Harris

In May 2016, prior to joining the UDC Clarke School of Law faculty, Immigration and Human Rights Clinic Co-Director Lindsay Harris helped to organize a Mother's Day protest outside the White House. During the event, protesters called on the moms of the White House to pay attention to the plight of detained mothers and their children held in southeastern Texas. UDC David A. Clarke School of Law students have traveled on three Service Learning trips led by clinic Co-Director and Jack and Lovell Olender Professor of Law, Kristina Campbell. One of the few formerly detained mothers who participated was unrepresented and was soon connected with the UDC Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. Below is Prof. Harris' report on the Clinic's recent victory on the mother's behalf:

'In the fall semester, evening division students Michael Wilk and Paul Koring worked diligently with the 20-year-old client, 'Josie,' and her partner 'Manuel,' (these are pseudonyms for their protection) and their four-year-old daughter to prepare the case. Mike and Paul represented Josie and her daughter in September at a master calendar hearing in Arlington immigration court and submitted her application for asylum. They met repeatedly throughout the semester to carefully craft her detailed declaration in support of her asylum claim. Then, in January 2017, day division 2L students Seth Brown and Jason Barros jumped on to the case.

Josie met her partner, Manuel, when she was very young. By age 15, they lived together and welcome their first child into the world. Josie discovered that Manuel was being forced to pay a monthly 'renta' for the small mototaxi business that he owned to the local cell of one of El Salvador's powerful transnational criminal organizations, known as 'maras.' Every month, the call would come to Manuel from a gang leader imprisoned for homicide, who warned that if Manuel didn't pay $200 a month for the operation of his taxi business, he would kill Josie and their daughter. At one point gang members kidnapped and beat Manuel, holding a gun to his head and keeping him until family members paid for his release. Manuel and Josie's fear mounted and eventually, they made the excruciatingly difficult decision that Manuel would flee, leaving Josie and their then two-year-old daughter behind. They were too afraid to risk the journey with the toddler, so in August 2015, Manuel came to the U.S., leaving the taxi business in nineteen-year-old Josie's hands and hoping the gang would not bother her as long as she paid 'renta' on time.

Josie did pay on time, but soon learned of a plan to kidnap her and her daughter while they were walking an isolated road to her mother's house. Each time the imprisoned gang leader called to extort her, he threatened that she would 'face the consequences' and watch him kill her daughter if she failed to pay. In November, he warned that the 'renta' amount would increase. Knowing that she could not pay, Josie decided to flee with her young daughter and seek protection in the United States. After the arduous journey, Josie and here daughter were detained upon arrival but passed a 'credible fear interview,' establishing that she met the threshold eligibility for asylum.

On April 7, UDC Clarke School of Law students went to trial in Arlington immigration court. UDC Law students were well prepared for the trial and ably handled the preliminaries, giving a well-practiced and effective opening statement to set the scene for the testimony. Seth Brown guided Josie through detailed questioning, and the Judge later complimented the students' sound understanding of the law and the facts in their case, as well as their grasp of burden of proof. We then took a break to put on an expert witness, a Professor of Anthropology in Illinois, who testified as to the relationship between the gangs and the government, the gangs' practice of targeting family members, impunity for gang violence, and more. After a lunch break, the government trial attorney cross-examined Josie and the Judge followed up with rigorous questioning. On re-direct, the students did a wonderful job, knowing exactly what to hone in on and where they had already won. After four hours of trial, the Judge asked if we really needed to hear from the husband, whose testimony was slated next. The government attorney then stated his position on the record that he believed Josie was credible and would not oppose a grant of asylum. He waived appeal. The Judge said she will grant asylum and issue a written decision in the next two months. At the end of the trial, the Judge complimented the UDC Law students on their excellent preparation and for their very sound theory of the case.

This victory means that this family has protection in the United States and can start rebuilding their lives in safety. The Immigration and Human Rights Clinic are proud of the clinic students in academic year 2016-2017, who each participated in the development of the case and followed it closely throughout. Congratulations to the student advocates for putting on their first trial with all due professionalism and zealous, creative, and diligent advocacy!'