Last year I participated in the Boston University Asylum, Immigration, and Human Rights Civil Litigation Clinic (AIHR). The clinic was one of the best experiences I have had in law school. After the stress of first year classes, I jumped at the opportunity to gain practical experience and law school credits outside of the typical classroom setting. Boston University has several clinical opportunities (including another civil clinic, criminal clinic, externships and legislative clinic), but last year was the first year that it offered the AIHR. Unlike the other clinic at BU, the AIHR deals mostly with asylum clients and their other related immigration issues. The clinic is a yearlong program and over the course of the year I was exposed to several different clients and legal issues. The only guarantee in the clinic setting is that EVERY case is different and will present new personal and legal challenges along the way.
Within the first week of the clinic, I had a client and started working on my first affirmative asylum case. This case involved an asylum applicant from an African country who fled to the United States because of political persecution. In order to write an affidavit for her asylum application, I interviewed her about her life story and situation of persecution in her home country, wrote her asylum application, worked with her doctors to obtain affidavits and researched the current country conditions in her home country to include in the asylum application.
After we submitted the application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), we went for an interview before an asylum officer who is an administrative agent with the authority to grant or deny asylum applications. At this stage in the asylum process, asylum applications are generally denied. If an attorney does not represent an applicant, their changes of approval are almost cut in half. At our interview, everything seemed to being going smoothly as my client articulated her story of political persecution to the immigration officer. Towards the end of the interview, the asylum officer started to interrogate my client about small inconsistencies in her story. My client did not understanding why he was asking her these questions and the interview went south from there. Under the REAL ID Act, asylum officers have to deny affirmative asylum applications for any inconsistency even if it is entirely unrelated to the applicant’s claim for asylum protection. The asylum officer we met with thought that there were too many inconsistencies with my client’s story and denied her case. The next stage in the process is to go before an immigration judge who will conduct and entire trial with my client as a witness, a country expert and evidentiary documents to make a final decision on the case. Because the immigration court system is incredibly overloaded, my client will not have her hearing for another year. Although this was a frustrating result for my client and myself, I am hopeful that an immigration judge will look at the true merits of my client’s case and grant her asylum.
Working with her and other asylum clients is incredibly fulfilling. They have amazing stories of courage as many of them were persecuted because of their religious, political beliefs or because of their ethnicity or nationality. Throughout the rest of the year, my cases ranged from affirmative asylum to deportation hearings, spousal petitions, and appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals, motions, and appellate briefs. I strongly recommend the clinical experience to anyone who attends lawschool.