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A 40-year-old woman who faced an uncertain future last year after she says she was interrogated and tortured by police in her native country of Zimbabwe today looks forward to starting a new life in America as a result of efforts by the Dallas-based Human Rights Initiative (HRI) — and a young attorney. “I’m free at last,” says the woman, who asks that her name not be published because she fears for the safety of her husband, two children (ages 13 and 18), and a 21-year-old stepson who remain in Zimbabwe. She says police have detained her husband for interrogation in the past and she doesn’t want to say anything that would cause them to look for him again. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) granted the woman’s request for asylum in this country on Jan. 22. Haynes and Boone first-year associate Katina Grays of Houston, working pro bono, prepared the woman to be interviewed by an asylum officer, sat by her side during the Jan. 13 interview and was on hand when the woman received the letter from Marie Hummert, director of the CIS asylum office in Houston, granting her asylum status. It was an emotional moment when they heard the news. “My client burst into tears. I took one look at her and I burst into tears,” Grays recalls. The two women had known each other for only two weeks when CIS made its decision and they received the good news. Grays’ client had been granted asylum status pursuant to � 208(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. According to the CIS Web site, 25,919 people were granted asylum in the United States in 2002, the most recent year statistics are available. Robert Levy, the Haynes and Boone partner who first got the firm’s Houston office involved in assisting HRI with cases, describes asylum as “the golden ticket.” “It’s almost like a life-granting certificate,” Levy says. With asylum status, the Zimbabwean woman can seek work in this country and begin the process of trying to bring her husband and children to this country, where they also would have asylum, explains Elizabeth A. “Betsy” Healy, HRI’s executive director. The process involved in bringing the woman’s family here is likely to take about a year, Healy says. Michael Chu, another Haynes and Boone associate who recruits attorneys in the firm to work on HRI cases, says the Dallas organization contacted him about the Zimbabwean woman’s case on Jan. 5, and Grays agreed to handle the case the following day after it cleared Haynes and Boone’s conflicts checks. “It was a good experience for me as a young lawyer,” says Grays, who joined Haynes and Boone’s corporate practice group in October 2003. “As a corporate lawyer, I don’t have this kind of opportunity to interact with clients,” she says, noting that her days are more often occupied with drafting documents. A May 2002 graduate of Cornell Law School, Grays says she became interested in public interest issues and in doing pro bono work while still a law student. Grays says that at Cornell she worked pro bono on death penalty cases in two clinics sponsored by the law school. One of the cases in which she was involved, Grays says, was State of South Carolina v. Spann. In 1999, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Sterling Spann, who had been sentenced to die for the sexual assault and murder of an elderly woman, according to the opinion. Grays says she helped track down witnesses in the death penalty cases. Chu says he doesn’t have trouble recruiting attorneys to work on the asylum cases. “It’s hard not to get interested in this kind of work,” he says. “The stories themselves are pretty compelling.” The woman from Zimbabwe says she sought asylum in the United States because of the persecution suffered at the hands of the current government. She filed an affidavit with the CIS detailing her experience. She says she is a member of and local chapter leader in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which opposes President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front). In an interview, she says the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) detained her in March 2003 after she participated in a work “stay away” in Harare, part of a nationwide work stoppage, which the MDC and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions helped organize. Participants in the work stoppage were protesting the low salaries and escalating costs of living in Zimbabwe, the woman says. Healy, whose group has assisted a number of Zimbabweans, says that Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia, which gained its independence in 1980, once was considered the “breadbasket of South Africa” but has suffered a severe setback over the past several years after Mugabe began his land reform program, which initially involved seizing farms owned by whites and giving the land to blacks. Unemployment is hovering at about 80 percent, she says. According to Care International, the average worker’s salary is less than $1 (U.S.) per day. Inflation is at 600 percent, according to news reports. The situation has led to increasing violence against those opposed to Mugabe’s government. The U.S. Department of State, in a 2002 human rights report, said that security forces have been involved in incidents of political violence in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum reported 1,061 cases of torture during the year “as part of a campaign of political violence,” according to the State Department report. In a March 24, 2003, press statement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States condemned the “unprecedented violence carried out by the Zimbabwe government against domestic opponents” following the largely peaceful work stoppage organized by the MDC. In the days following the work stoppage, more than 400 opposition supporters were “arrested, beaten, and in some cases tortured by individuals in police and military uniform,” Boucher said in the statement. Grays’ client says she was turned over to the Law and Order Section, a plain-clothes unit of the police force, which interrogated and tortured her. She says interrogators placed a woven cloth bag over her head and forced her head into a bucket full of water. “At the same time, I was being beaten and being kicked,” the woman says in an interview. The woman also says she suffered beatings when police detained her in 2002 for participating in the monitoring of elections. Alex Chanesta, a staff member at Zimbabwe’s embassy in Washington, D.C., denies that police are beating or torturing people. Chanesta contends that people seeking asylum in the United States make up such allegations. “Basically, people, when they want to look for greener pastures, they tell stories,” Chanesta says. “So many people have been coming here and fabricating stories. Everybody wants to be in America.” GETTING OUT The woman says she discussed her situation with her local pastor, who told her she might find help at an international conference that a religious group was sponsoring in April 2003 in Atlanta, Ga. Healy says the woman and her husband had some money and also received help from members of her church in Zimbabwe to help pay her expenses to travel to the United States. “It was one of those situations where people recognize the situation you are in and pull together whatever money they have,” Healy says. Grays declines to allow her client to identify the religious group that sponsored the conference the woman attended because it continues to help other people in similar circumstances obtain visas so they can leave their home countries to visit the United States. “We wouldn’t want to subject other people to further harm,” Grays says. People at the religious conference guided her to the HRI in Dallas, where she found help, the woman says. Healy says the woman lives in a Dallas shelter sponsored by Mosaic Family Services, which pays for most of her living expenses. “We just fill in the gaps,” the HRI director says. Healy, who is not only HRI’s administrator but also the organization’s only staff attorney, says she got hooked on helping immigrants after she worked on a couple of asylum cases as a volunteer. A former associate with Cowles & Thompson in Dallas, Healy helped form HRI in January 2000. She says the group initially received funding from the Harold Simmons Foundation in Dallas but now is funded by a number of sources, including the United Nations Voluntary Fund in Support of Victims of Torture, the Texas Bar Foundation, the Dallas Bar Foundation and individual donors. With a budget of only about $110,000 last year, HRI has had to find ways to make a little go a long way. Healy says her organization, which specializes in asylum cases, works to leverage the resources of major firms in Dallas so that more people can be helped. She says HRI opened 130 cases in 2003, and the approximately 100 volunteer attorneys who work with the organization provided $364,000 worth of time to assist with the caseload. “We have some of the best lawyers in the state to do this for us in their free time. That’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Healy says. Levy says Haynes and Boone attorneys have represented clients pro bono in about 20 asylum proceedings. Chu says Haynes and Boone received HRI’s “Angel of Freedom” award for an “exceptional level of pro bono assistance” in 2002 — the first year the firm worked with the organization. Chu says HRI usually prepares the applications, affidavits and other paperwork required for the asylum cases. What Haynes and Boone’s Houston attorneys do, he says, is prepare clients for interviews with the asylum officers, stay with them through those interviews and accompany them to the CIS asylum office to receive the results. If a CIS asylum officer doesn’t grant a client’s request for asylum, attorneys in the firm’s Dallas office assist the client when his or her case is referred to an immigration judge, Chu says. Healy says it is important to have an attorney with a client when CIS makes its decision because most of these people are very afraid. “They want to have somebody with them,” she says. It’s also important that an attorney be there when the decision is disclosed, Healy says, in case an individual is not granted asylum status. She says an attorney can explain to the client what the next step in the process will be. Richard Rhodie, CIS spokesman in Houston, says that when an asylum officer doesn’t grant an asylum request, an immigration judge hears the request de novo. If a judge denies a request, the individual seeking asylum can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, Rhodie says. Further appeals can be made to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, he says. Healy says Haynes and Boone attorneys go beyond what might be expected in assisting clients through the CIS interview stage. They take the clients to dinner the night before an interview, take them to breakfast on the day their interview is scheduled and help them prepare for what they face, she says. “They treat the client with dignity and respect,” Healy says. “They seem to understand what the fear level is. “ Before the interview, Grays says she and her client waited nervously in a lobby area until the woman’s number was called and they were taken to the asylum officer’s office. The interview lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, Grays estimates. In this case, the interviewer asked very broad questions and had the woman explain what happened to her in Zimbabwe, Grays says. As part of the questioning, Grays says, the interviewer quizzed the woman about her political activities. Among other things, the interviewer wanted to know how the woman had gotten involved with the MDC and unions, Grays says. He also asked some questions about the woman’s family. Although the Zimbabwean woman says she was “feeling nervous” when she went to Houston for her interview, Grays helped her to relax. “She really encouraged me a lot,” the woman says. Grays says she and the woman bonded quickly, in part because Grays had some knowledge about Zimbabwe; she had visited the country in 1996. The woman was able to talk to Grays about the changes Zimbabwe has undergone since that time, she says. After they became comfortable together, Grays says, she was able to help the woman focus on the most crucial elements of her story and anticipate possible questions by the asylum officer. “She told her story beautifully,” says Grays, who says it was a privilege to represent the woman. She says her feelings about working on the case were summed up in a congratulatory e-mail she received from a colleague at Haynes and Boone. Grays says Debra Hatter, a partner in the firm, wrote in the e-mail: “It is a good feeling to know that we can help change a person’s life as well as make money for the big boys.”

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