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Clinical Programs - Immigration Appellate Law and Advocacy Clinic

Case Examples

The Cornell University Law School Immigration Appellate Law and Advocacy Clinic (previously the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic) began in 2003. Each case involves an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Below are summaries of several recent cases handled by the Clinic. The Clinic would be glad to provide additional information on these or other of our cases, including expanded summaries and redacted versions of briefs. Please contact the clinic directors for more information.

Guatemala Clinic students represented a Guatemalan man who suffered detention, torture, and rape at the hands of government officials who believed that his father was involved in guerilla activity. Because of a conviction on minor drug charges in the United States, an Immigration Judge (IJ) ruled that the client was barred from the protections of asylum or withholding of removal. The client did not speak English, and had no representation at his immigration hearing. The students mounted a vigorous appeal, ultimately convincing the BIA that the IJ violated their client’s due process rights. In particular, the BIA agreed that the client did not adequately understand the relevant law and did not have the requisite opportunity to review all evidence, additionally noting that the IJ opinion neglected key portions of the record. Consequently, the BIA remanded the case for reconsideration by an Immigration Judge. On remand, the Department of Homeland Security signed a joint stipulation agreeing that that the client was tortured in Guatemala and that he would be likely to be tortured if returned there. Thereafter, an Immigration Judge approved the joint stipulation.  The client was then released from detention and allowed to remain in the United States.

Liberia A student team represented a Liberian woman who had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and forced to undergo female genital mutilation. These sexual assaults—including gang rape—had been carried out by uniformed soldiers. Because of an earlier conviction on forgery charges in the United States, the client could not avail herself of asylum. Instead, she had sought, and received, protection from removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The student team successfully defended this relief—challenged by the government on appeal—before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The initial Immigration Judge’s favorable opinion almost exclusively relied on the client’s past suffering without reference to a likelihood of future torture, thus treading beyond the confines of existing CAT law and creating a substantial risk of reversal before the BIA. The student team prevailed by presenting the BIA with compelling factual and legal arguments showing the likelihood that their client would likely be subject to future torture—in the form of renewed sexual assault—if removed to Liberia.

Uganda Clinic students represented a young Ugandan man who, following separation from his family by rebel violence, was forced to become a child soldier in the paramilitary Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the LRA, the client was beaten, whipped, threatened with death, and shot twice. An Immigration Judge granted the client asylum based on his past persecution at the hands of the LRA and a well-founded fear of future persecution by the Ugandan government, both because of his status as a formal child-soldier and his tribal ethnicity. The government challenged these conclusions in an appeal to the BIA, arguing for reversal on a host of substantive and statutory challenges, including claims that the client’s past suffering did not rise to the level of persecution and that he filed his asylum application after the statutory one-year deadline. The students used country condition reports and case law to persuade the BIA that their client did indeed suffer persecution and that exceptional circumstances, such as his young age and past trauma, justified extension of the normal asylum application period. The students also rebutted government claims that the client was ineligible for asylum based on his activities in the LRA, noting that international law recognized child soldiers as victims, not criminals. Accordingly, the BIA upheld the earlier grant of asylum, allowing the client to remain safely in the United States.

Click here for student quotes reflecting on the Clinic experience.