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For many years, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson has handled pro bono immigration projects, including asylum and deportation cases, federal challenges to immigration legislation, and class action immigration litigation. Attorneys in the Washington office recently had the rewarding experience of winning protection for three women who had all suffered severe spousal abuse or other gender-based violence. In immigration, as in other areas of law, having competent, dedicated legal representation instead of proceeding pro se can make all the difference. In these cases, although the facts and the law supported their cases, all three women were at risk for deportation before they found proper legal assistance. Because their cases could be investigated and presented by pro bono lawyers, they were allowed to remain here in safety and freedom instead of being returned to a perilous situation. The first case involved an East African woman whose husband is a prominent lawyer associated with her country’s ruling party. He beat her severely on a number of occasions, had her wrongly imprisoned as a means of intimidation, threw her out of the house, and ultimately spirited away her two young children and hid them from her. He also managed to manipulate the judicial system to keep her from obtaining a divorce or even having her request for custody heard. This woman came to the United States on a visitor’s visa to attend a family member’s wedding. On the advice of her relatives, she went to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) seeking help in applying for asylum. They referred the case to Fried, Frank for pro bono assistance. The team of attorneys involved in the case prepared an affirmative asylum application and supporting documentation, which addressed general conditions confronting women in the client’s home country, including particularly the prevalence of domestic violence. More important, they developed specific corroborating evidence in support of the client’s claim, including affidavits from several relatives and a mental health professional. Some of these affidavits came from overseas, and required professional translations of multiple drafts on short turnaround time in order to meet the filing deadline. The attorneys then represented the client at her interview in the Arlington Asylum Office, where they submitted a brief in support of a grant of asylum. They argued that the client was eligible not only because of her membership in a social group that included women who had been the victims of emotional abuse or domestic violence, but also on account of her political opinions as a feminist. She had acted on her belief in the right of women to be educated, pursue careers of their choosing, and work outside the home. Later, while the case was under review, the lawyers supplemented the record with updated country-condition information. The client received asylum and work authorization in May of this year and can now petition for the legal right to have her children join her here. However, as a practical matter, as long as her husband can maintain custody of the children outside of the United States, she will be unable to be reunited with them. The second case involved a young woman from a West African country whose father had promised her in childhood as the future wife of an elderly tribal chief in exchange for the payment of a bride price. She had been forced to submit to ritualistic marriage preparations beginning in her early adolescence, which escalated in severity as she advanced through her teens. When her elder brother tried to intervene with the chief to have her released from the marriage obligation, he was killed. The client’s mother also tried to help her escape from the impending marriage, but was betrayed by the father to the chief, and she too was murdered. When the marriage was imminent, the client’s aunt helped her flee the country. The client initially applied for asylum on her own, but when she failed to appear for her interview, her claim was denied and she was referred to Immigration Court for deportation proceedings. The client then sought assistance from the LCHR, which referred her case to Fried, Frank. In reviewing the client’s documents, the attorneys realized that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had mailed her asylum interview notice to an old address. Therefore, the first step was to get the Immigration Court proceedings terminated and negotiate return of the case to the Asylum Office, where the client could have a nonadversarial interview. Once that was accomplished, her attorneys then collected substantial documentation of her claim, including arranging for a physician and a psychiatrist to examine her. These experts provided detailed declarations concerning her psychological and physical injuries, including drawings and descriptions of scar patterns all over her body. Other documentation included a newspaper article from the client’s home country referencing her particular case, and country-condition information confirming that forced marriages remain common in her country. Because of the serious psychological trauma this woman had experienced, numerous meetings were required to elicit the complete story and obtain an accurate chronology of key events. In addition, several discussions were needed to convince the client that the medical and psychological exams were critical to the case, and would reduce the level of detail she would have to provide in her live testimony. Although these examinations were very difficult for the client to undergo, she eventually trusted her lawyers enough to submit to them. As a result, the asylum interview was far less traumatic for the client because her injuries had been independently verified. This client received a recommended grant of asylum and work authorization in May. A final grant is anticipated as soon as an updated FBI fingerprint check is completed. The third case involved a woman who had originally come to the United States from a country in the Horn of Africa to visit relatives on the West Coast. She was represented initially by other counsel in applying for asylum on the basis of her membership in a disfavored minority religion, after events at home convinced her it was not safe to return. Her claim was denied by the Asylum Office and referred to Immigration Court. An immigration judge ordered her deported in absentia because her lawyer at the time had recorded the wrong hearing date on his calendar and did not appear. The Board of Immigration Appeals eventually reversed that deportation order, and remanded the case to the Immigration Court for a hearing on the merits. At that point, the client sought new counsel. A personal friend referred her to Fried, Frank for an evaluation of her asylum case. During the initial interview, the client indicated that her documents supporting certain facts had been lost while she was “living in the shelter.” Following up on this disclosure, the attorney discovered that this woman had married a lawful permanent resident since coming to the United States, and he had by that time already become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The marriage had gone well at first, but eventually the husband became abusive. Although he had initially filed a petition to sponsor the client for permanent residence, he withdrew his petition after she sought legal protection from the abuse. Fortunately, the client still had in her possession extensive documentation of restraining orders, criminal prosecutions of her husband for assault and destruction of property, and a month-long stay in a shelter for battered women. She had no idea that she might still be eligible for any immigration benefits based on the marriage. Indeed, she had not even told her new lawyer about the marriage because she did not realize it could be important to her asylum case. Her lawyers advised the immigration judge of this potential additional claim. In addition to updating and corroborating her remanded asylum application, they prepared an application for cancellation of removal under the Violence Against Women Act, based on battery and extreme cruelty by the client’s U.S. citizen husband. In addition, the legal team collected financial records, medical records, obtained an expert psychological evaluation, and prepared affidavits from numerous friends and neighbors who had witnessed incidents of abuse. Obtaining this independent evidence was critical to establishing the chronology of events, because the client’s psychological condition impaired her ability to remember many details, particularly exact dates of key events. The immigration judge found that the client would suffer extreme hardship if deported. He granted cancellation of removal in early June, making this woman a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Each of these cases was time-consuming and required numerous meetings with the client to develop the trust necessary to permit her to reveal painful details of her personal history. Coming from countries with very different systems and practices, these women also required extensive preparation to understand the importance in the American judicial system of providing detailed testimony and independent corroboration, particularly important facts and dates. As a result of this process, they were able to help identify lay witnesses, both in the United States and abroad. With that crucial information, the attorneys encouraged those witnesses to come forward, and helped prepare them to testify, either in court or via affidavit. Expert witnesses, too, were located and prepared. And each client was prepared for questioning on highly sensitive topics by an unfamiliar (and possibly male) asylum officer, government attorney, or immigration judge. These cases were emotionally draining, but without exception, the lawyers who handled them called their efforts to obtain safety and security for these clients the most meaningful work of their professional careers. Karen Grisez is special counsel for public service in the Washington office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson.

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