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Students Win Two Victories for Immigrants

Cornell Law Forum; Winter, 2007

A woman from Liberia and a child soldier who fled a Ugandan paramilitary group were both granted immigration relief in the United States due to the efforts of Cornell Law School students. The students were able to assist these people as part of their work with the Law School’s 2006 Asylum and Convention Against Torture (CAT) appellate clinic.

The clinic, co-directed by professors Stephen W. Yale-Loehr and Estelle M. McKee (who has since left the Law School), is offered as part of the Law School’s curriculum every spring. During the first half of the semester students learn about asylum and CAT law. The students then pair up to work on appellate briefs to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) on behalf of clients who wish to stay in the United States because they face persecution in their home countries.

As part of their clinic work last semester, Amir R. Ghavi ’06 and Stephen L. Taeusch ’06 wrote a brief in which they argued that a child soldier who had fled the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious rebel paramilitary group in Uganda, qualified for asylum because he had suffered persecution and quite possibly faced future persecution. The BIA agreed with their arguments and in July granted the teenager asylum in the United States.

Two other clinic students, Viravyne Chhim, J. D./LL.M., ’06 and Richard T. Creer ’06, prepared a brief on behalf of a woman from Liberia who had been sexually assaulted multiple times during her childhood by government soldiers and had suffered female genital mutilation before coming to the United States. The students asserted that the woman’s past torture constituted a permanent and continuing harm, and would be an ongoing threat if she were returned to Liberia, and that there was a possibility that she could suffer future female genital mutilation as well. In May 2006, the BIA granted this woman CAT relief in the United States.

“The asylum clinic gives law students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the real world. It is particularly important because we are representing people who fear persecution in their home countries. Our clients have few rights, not even the right to a court-appointed attorney. Most are detained. Many do not speak English. If we are successful, we save someone’s life,” said Professor Yale-Loehr. Since the clinic began in 2003, thirty-two students have worked on sixteen cases. The clinic has won about half of its cases, a far higher success rate than most appeals to the BIA.