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Justice for Children Clinic earns asylum for client

March 13, 2017 | Students

After almost two years of tireless and dedicated work, the Justice for Children Clinic recently learned that one of their clients was granted asylum—a remarkable triumph. The clinic’s client, a teenager who fled his home country of Honduras, stopped by the clinic, proudly displaying his acceptance letter. The Justice for Children Clinic’s dedicated efforts on the asylum case were led by a team of students under the guidance of Professor Kimberly Jordan, director of the Justice for Children Project and an associate clinical professor of law.

Prior to escaping Honduras, the client experienced several harrowing and traumatic crises, including finding the body of his uncle in a river, having a best friend killed in front of his home, and escaping not only an attacker brandishing a machete, but gunfire from gang members as well. He was placed in immigration removal proceedings upon entering the United States, yet was permitted to live with a relative in Ohio while he pursued asylum relief.

Unable to form an asylum claim on his own, the Justice for Children Clinic discerned after multiple interviews with their client that the machete-wielding man who had threatened him in Honduras had also likely killed his uncle. The client’s uncle was killed, the clinic believes, because of his involvement with political campaigning. The client had been active in political canvassing as well, leading the clinic to believe that he was a candidate for asylum on the grounds of political persecution.

Starting in spring 2015, Liliana Vasquez ’15 initially interviewed the client and researched how to apply for asylum. Miriah Lee ’16 and Sierra Cooper ’16 then filed an affirmative asylum petition in November 2015, backed by affidavits, government reports, and news articles chronicling the instability and dangers of Honduras’ political climate. Sarah Spector ’16 began preparing the client for his asylum interview. She graduated before the interview was scheduled, however, so 3L Megan Gokey picked up where Spector left off.

“I had heard a lot of good things from students who had taken the clinic before me,” Gokey said, “specifically, that Kim Jordan is a tireless advocate who not only works really hard for her clients and the kids we see every day, but that she takes a huge role in preparing us to be actual attorneys, and preparing us for not only courtroom procedure, but how to make arguments, why we make arguments, where the holes in the system are, and how we can be advocates for indigent populations.”

Last November, Gokey and Jordan accompanied their client for his asylum interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago Asylum Office. Before meeting with an asylum officer, Gokey led several practice interviews with the client and prepared her oral and closing arguments in support of his petition. It was the first asylum case for both Gokey and Jordan, yet they knew the odds were stacked against them. As few as 15 percent of the asylum cases heard before the Chicago Asylum Office are granted annually.

“I thought we had a strong claim, but sometimes strong claims aren’t enough,” Gokey said. “When I found out, I was astonished. The fact that our client was positive that he was going to get murdered if he went back to Honduras and now gets to stay here is amazing. The fact that now he can work here and he can help support his mom and his sister—it was a relief after getting to know him and his family that he was going to be able to stay here.”

With his newfound asylum status, the client can now work legally in the U.S., earn his driver’s license (which he has been eagerly awaiting, Jordan said), and is newly entitled to benefits like English language training and job placement assistance from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. Moving forward, the Justice for Children Clinic will start him on the road toward applying for legal permanent resident status sometime next year.

“He’s very excited and this process—as you can imagine for a youth—was really confusing and overwhelming,” Jordan said. “He was very anxious. Now he feels like people believe him.”