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In the fall of 1998, 44-year-old George Kaine left his native Liberia seeking political asylum in the United States. Behind him, he left a wife and five children, including his imprisoned oldest son. In the United States, Kaine sought out the Philadelphia-based Volunteers for the Indigent Program. Officials there referred Kaine to Niza Motola, a third-year associate at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, who took on his political asylum case pro bono. “I took the case shortly after I got here in October of 1998,” Motola said. “Originally, I was only going to ask for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) [for Kaine].” But shortly thereafter, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced that Liberian refugees would no longer be granted automatic TPS, so Motola and her client had to scramble to petition the INS for Kaine’s asylum. Motola accompanied Kaine to his interview with the INS officer in Lyndhurst, N.J., where, rather than represent him, she monitored the interview, taking notes and offering clarifications. “[The INS] tries to find inconsistency in the testimony,” Motola said. “It’s supposed to be neutral procedure, but it’s all about assessing credibility, so they ask a lot of minutiae. “Your role as a lawyer at that meeting is to observe and make sure that there are no procedural errors [on the part of the INS officer]. I took notes, and I put in the notes that the INS officer didn’t have a full understanding of Mr. Kaine’s case.” In 1989, Liberia was split by a civil war. At the time, Kaine was a member of the ruling party, the chairman in his region. Eventually, Kaine’s opponents came to power. “People that belonged to the former ruling party were getting killed,” Motola said. “Kaine kept running with his family from one side of the country to the other.” Tired of running, Kaine in 1996 moved back to his home town, where he was constantly hassled by security forces. One day, he was in “the bush” looking for food, which is scarce in Liberia. While he was out, the police forces came by, looking to arrest Kaine. When they couldn’t find him, they settled for his 21-year-old son, Moses. “They told the rest of the family, ‘We’re going to take him, tell Mr. Kaine to come and get him,’ ” Motola said. “ He went to find his son, but he also knew better than to go to the capital [Monrovia], because they’d never let him leave.” For some time, Kaine had been in contact with his brother, who lived in the U.S. and helped Kaine get a visa. Before Kaine made it to America — with the help of some friends who helped smuggle him out of the country — his brother died. In February 1999, Kaine received word from Liberia that his son had been let out of prison but had been severely beaten. Moses Kaine died shortly thereafter. After hearing Kaine’s story, the INS waited a full year — rather than the initial estimate of six weeks — to answer Kaine’s request. The answer wasn’t what Kaine, or Motola, wanted to hear. “I talked to a lot of immigration attorneys, and they were telling me that it was pretty much over,” Motola said. “The standard for asylum is you either have to have been persecuted, or you have to have a well-founded fear of persecution when you go back. So I filed a rebuttal, because I thought [INS] didn’t understand the facts.” Motola, an immigrant herself, understood Kaine’s plight. In 1980, when she was eight years old, she arrived from Cuba with her parents during the famous Mariel Boat Lift. They almost didn’t make it and had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. “There’s nothing like seeing water coming into your boat, and there’s nothing like seeing a giant Coast Guard cutter next to your boat,” Motola said. “It really is kind of a life-defining thing, especially when you’re eight years old.” Said Motola, “I have an interest in asylum cases, protecting people from oppressive governments and totalitarian regimes, and human rights violations,” she said. Motola found more holes in the INS’ answer to Kaine than they claimed to have found in Kaine’s story, so she attacked those. “The INS had cited all these things as inconsistencies, but the officer that did the interview was not the one that issued the order of Intent to Deny,” Motola said. “She had left that regional office, and someone else made the decision based on [the first officer's] notes from the interview. “[The INS] didn’t understand the link between his [Kaine's] son’s beating and death and [Kaine's] request for asylum.” Filing a rebuttal to an unsatisfactory INS ruling is standard procedure for immigration attorneys, so Motola still wasn’t very hopeful, and she told her client as much. However, the INS’s response to the rebuttal was much quicker this time around, and the answer was much more positive. “I sent it off, and about two weeks later [Kaine] called me and said, ‘I got it,’ ” Motola said. “ Basically [the INS] said that, based on our rebuttal, they would let him stay.” The next step, said Motola, is to help Kaine — who is working two jobs to support himself — to bring his wife and four surviving children to the U.S., a process which should take about two years. Motola said she will continue to represent Kaine through the entire process. “He says to me, ‘You saved my life,’ ” Motola said. “ That’s just amazing to hear. It really gives you a sense that your skills make a difference.”

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