New York, March 3, 2015—Six Central American children who fled violence, persecution, or abuse in their own countries have been granted asylum and will be allowed to stay in the United States after students in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School represented them in the federal immigration system.
“These children are finally safe,” said Professor Elora Mukherjee
, director of the clinic. “These cases show how law students can use their legal training to transform a life. Before our students agreed to take on the cases, the children only saw horrific violence in their futures. Now they have a chance at the American Dream.”
The clinic took on the individual cases in the fall and secured asylum in January and February for the young immigrants who came to the United States without an adult family member. Mukherjee represents each of the children with her clinic students and structures the clinic so that the students take the lead on the cases.
Brian Yin ’16 and Jeri (Demi) Lorant ’16 represent two sisters, 13- and 16-years-old, who fled Honduras after being subjected to years of severe physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at the hands of their grandparents. The abuse was so horrific that the sisters had both attempted suicide. Desperate to save her daughters, the girls’ mother borrowed money from a loan shark to secure their passage to the U.S.
Avni P. Mehta ’16 and Veronica R. Montalvo ’16 represent a 17-year-old girl from El Salvador whose cousin was kidnapped and killed by the MS-13 gang. After she and her family began cooperating with police and prosecutors in the investigation, she became a target of the gang as well and was stalked and harassed daily by the men she knew were responsible for her cousin’s death. The client also faced threats from gang members who had been kidnapping and killing girls from the client’s school for two years.
Luis G. Hoyos ’16, and Debbie Jang ’16 represent and won asylum for three siblings living in the Bronx: a 12-year-old boy and his 16-year-old sister and 19-year-old half sister, all Honduran. The siblings suffered severe abuse at the hands of the boy’s father, who was often drunk or high on cocaine. The girls also faced sexual violence from a family member and gang members. The boy and oldest girl managed to escape, living on their own for about two years in a dangerous neighborhood of Honduras before crossing the border into the United States. The middle sibling came to the U.S. on her own before her siblings. Inspired by the work of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, the oldest sister eventually wants to become a lawyer so she can help immigrant children.
The students often worked well above 30 hours a week on their clients’ cases, separate from their twice-weekly clinic sessions and other coursework. They spent evenings and weekends with their clients, often bringing candy or dinner to meetings alleviate the stress the children felt answering questions about their horrific experiences. The students also conducted extensive interviews and gathered evidence in both the United States and their clients’ home countries. They collected country conditions and expert opinions, and drafted extensive briefs based on the applicable law. They also prepared their clients for their hearings at the Asylum Office and Immigration Court, and delivered opening and closing statements at their clients’ hearings.
In each of the cases, the clinic secured pro bono medical and/or mental health evaluations in support of the children’s asylum cases. These evaluations were made possible due to generous partnerships with Physicians for Human Rights, the Columbia medical school’s Human Rights Institute, the Mount Sinai Human Rights Clinic, and the Weill Cornell’s Center for Human Rights.
In addition to representing individuals, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School collaborates with local and national immigrants’ rights organizations on regulatory and legislative reforms, impact litigation, grassroots advocacy, and strategic planning. Students in this semester’s clinic are representing asylum seekers
detained at the new Dilley, Texas family detention center run by Immigration Customs and Enforcement.