NEW YORK (May 1, 2007) – Today, Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic secured asylum for a Turkmen woman who feared persecution in this mostly Muslim country because she is a lesbian and because of her political opinions. The grant of asylum, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, is believed to be the first-ever issued to a lesbian from Turkmenistan. The woman granted asylum in the U.S. prefers to remain anonymous as she continues to fear persecution of her family members in Turkmenistan.
“This victory is particularly important because, to our knowledge, it is the first asylum grant to a Turkmen lesbian,” said Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, who directs the Clinic. “The intensive research and information about conditions for lesbians and gay men in Turkmenistan gathered by the students on this case is now available to anyone from Turkmenistan seeking asylum because of their sexual orientation,” she said.
Since January 2007, three students from Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic have provided legal assistance to this woman. The asylum seeker was referred to the Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, which provided important assistance in the case as a Clinic organizational partner.
“The dedicated work of law students and the support of the New York City’s law school clinics are crucial to Immigration Equality’s Pro Bono Asylum Project. We are very pleased with the excellent and professional work performed by the law students of Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. As the first clinic of its kind, Immigration Equality was excited to collaborate on this sexual orientation based asylum case and we look forward to a continued partnership that will help more LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants who face persecution around the world find protection in this country,” said Nikki Dryden, Staff Attorney at Immigration Equality.
The students, Marie-Amélie George ‘07, Jonathan A. Lieberman ‘08 and John Olsen ‘08, are “thrilled” that the process worked properly.
“We were very surprised at the speed with which we were given an interview after filing,” said Lieberman, who worked on the case. “The interview, which has taken years to schedule for asylum seekers who applied before recent efforts were begun to trim the backlog, was scheduled for only a few weeks after the Department of Homeland Security received the application,” he said.
The Columbia Clinic students accompanied their client to the asylum office in Rosedale, New York for her hearing, with George making a closing presentation to the asylum officer after the client’s testimony.
“An asylum hearing was our client’s opportunity to state her case. Accompanying her, it was my job to advocate on her behalf by helping her show the U.S. government how compelling her claim was,” said George.
“We are very proud to have made a real difference in our client’s life,” added Olsen. “Learning that U.S. granted her asylum was a wonderful conclusion to all the work we’ve done with the clinic this semester.”
“We are very proud that our client will be able to live openly as a lesbian and be safe from government-sponsored anti-gay persecution,” all of the students added.
“Advocating on behalf of clients through the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic provides a unique opportunity for Columbia Law students to gain real-world experience in this emerging and important area of the law.” Goldberg added. “This experience – where students are responsible for working through the challenges of a case that makes a real world difference – is what clinical education is all about,” she said.
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic began in September 2006. Clinic students to date have put in over 4,000 hours on a range of projects involving issues of sexuality and gender law. For more information visit: http://www.law.columbia.edu/focusareas/clinics/sexuality
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