HIRC plays key role in landmark decision recognizing domestic violence as grounds for asylum

Via Harvard Law Today

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a ground-breaking decision yesterday that recognized domestic violence as a basis for asylum. The court’s decision in Matter of A-R-C-G- reflects years of work by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) and other advocates around the country who have pushed for the recognition of gender-based asylum claims. HIRC authored a critical amicus curiae brief in the case, on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the preeminent immigration bar association.

The court’s decision will have a profound impact on future asylum cases involving women fleeing not only violence in the home, but also other types of violence when that harm is related to their gender, said Deborah Anker, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and Director of HIRC. “We have won many cases of women fleeing domestic violence at the immigration court and asylum office and changed the institutional culture at that level, but yesterday’s decision from the BIA finally establishes these principles as formal binding precedent,” she said.

According to Anker, yesterday’s decision is critical in recognizing that under U.S. law gender violence and gender-based persecution can form the basis of an asylum claim as the BIA first laid the foundation for 25 years ago; in its seminal case Matter of Acosta the Board held that gender is an immutable characteristic that fits within the “membership in a particular social group” ground of the “refugee” definition in U.S. and international law. Anker emphasized that gender broadly should permeate interpretations of all aspects of the refugee definition.

The landmark case was brought by a Guatemalan woman (represented by Roy Petty, a prominent Chicago-based immigration lawyer) who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband, compounded by the failure and unwillingness of the police in her home country to intervene. The Board reversed a lower court’s ruling that the harm endured by the asylum applicant was the result of random criminal acts and therefore unrelated to a required protected ground.

“Domestic violence is a form of gender-based persecution often perpetrated by men on women that they view as their ‘property’” said John Willshire Carrera, HIRC’s Co-directing Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.

Yesterday’s decision demonstrates the success of HIRC’s “bottom-up” approach to legal change. Nearly twenty years ago, HIRC co-authored the U.S. Gender Guidelines, which formally recognized gender-based harm in the asylum context and even recognized domestic violence as a basis of asylum, setting the stage for yesterday’s decision. But it was a long road, and many advocates contributed along the way, said Anker.

According to Nancy Kelly, HIRC’s Co-directing Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, it is advocacy on the ground level that provided the major catalyst for the court’s historic decision. “Through persistent and effective direct representation of asylum-seekers, we and others who do this kind of hands-on litigation and advocacy have been able to change the institutional culture, which made this kind of change in the formal law virtually imperative,” said Kelly.

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HIP Students Continue to Push for Massachusetts Trust Act

Summer is coming to an end, but the fight to pass the Massachusetts Trust Act continues.    For most of the past year, the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) has had the privilege of membership in the coalition of organizations working to end local law enforcement compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, or “ICE holds.”   Though the campaign did not succeed in persuading the Massachusetts General Court to adopt a statewide solution, it helped achieve tremendous successes at the local level, in the form of new policies adopted by several localities in Massachusetts, including the cities of Somerville and Cambridge and Hampden County, ending or limiting the use of ICE holds.

HIP students made important contributions to the Trust campaign.  They conducted legal research and helped draft sign-on letters to policymakers and law enforcement officials on behalf of the Trust coalition; participated in call-in and write-in lobbying campaigns to state legislators and city councilors to encourage the adoption of Trust policies; and sat in on strategy meetings with coalition members and their legislative allies.  More importantly, they will continue to play an important role in the campaign as it moves forward.  The Boston City Council is currently considering its own Trust Ordinance, and HIP will assist in the coalition’s efforts to ensure that the measure that is ultimately adopted offers the broadest protections possible.  And HIP will be there in 2015, when the statewide bill is reintroduced in the next legislative session of the General Court.  We look forward to continuing to work with our community partners to keep up the fight against warrantless immigration detention here in Massachusetts!



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Clinic Helps Celebrate Boston’s Mayan Community

This July, the HIRC staff at Greater Boston Legal Services joined New Bedford-based Organizacion Maya K’iche and the Council for Ethnic Communities Runujel Junam (CERJ) to host series of events for the Mayan community of Massachusetts. Spread over 10 days, “500 Years of Genocide and Racism Against the Indigenous Mayan Community,” included a mix of cultural events, community meetings, and political conversations. Several of those in attendance traveled all the way from Guatemala to be part of the event. According to co-managing directors of HIRC at GBLS John Willshire Carrera and Nancy Kelly, the program served two purposes. “We wanted to do a celebration of the culture and a political discussion of what happening on the ground in Guatemala,” said Willshire Carerra.

The cultural events, said Kelly, “were really for the community to come together and teach their kids,” many of whom have grown up in the U.S. and never visited Guatemala. On Saturday July 12, a Mayan ah k’in, or priest, visiting from Guatemala led a Mayan spiritual ceremony that was held outdoors on the sacred lands of the Ogunquit Community near New Bedford. For many of the Mayan children, the ceremony was the first of its kind they had ever attended. Though the event was closed to the public, Kelly and Willshire Carrera were invited to attend as special guests.

The political discussions provided a forum for people who had fled the violence in Guatemala to tell their stories and an opportunity for advocates here in Boston to better understand the situation on the ground. On Thursday July 14, CERJ human rights activist, Amilcar Mendez, presented to a group at GBLS on the current conditions in Guatemala. Mendez, who has been documenting the human rights abuses against the Maya for decades, took questions about racism, the government, and the role of gangs in contemporary Guatemala. Kelly and Willshire Carrera hope the information shared over the course of the week will help build better asylum cases for Guatemalan clients in the future.

Over the course of the week, the clinical staff also helped collect many hours of testimony from members of the Mayan community. “For people who are here representing their cases, we want to find a way to memorialize their stories,” said Willshire Carrera. This testimony-taking is part an ongoing effort to record and compile an oral history of the Mayan people.

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A Warm Welcome to Maggie Morgan

Maggie bw (2)Maggie Morgan is the new Albert M. Sacks Clinical Teaching & Advocacy Fellow at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. She is an alumna of both the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) and Harvard Law School. Maggie worked most recently as a Clinical Fellow in the Health Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. As a fellow, she worked on national and state-based health law and policy initiatives to increase access to healthcare for low-income citizens. She also developed several projects focused on improving access to health care for immigrants in the US.  Before that, Maggie clerked for the Honorable Nanette K. Laughrey of the Western District of Missouri.

During law school, Maggie was a clinical student in both the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Human Rights Clinic. She has interned at several international organizations including Asylum Access in Tanzania and the Supreme Court of Rwanda. Before law school, she earned an M.A. in International Relations at the University of Chicago, taught in Spain and Korea, and conducted research on the plight of migrant laborers in Jalisco, Mexico. She earned her A.B. from Harvard College, specializing in Government. Maggie loved her time as a student in HIRC and is thrilled to be back:

“I was really glad I did the immigration clinic. It really taught me a lot about how to be an attorney, particularly in terms of working with clients. There is such a breadth in the type of work that you do in the clinic, from honing your interviewing skills to writing legal briefs and memos, to arguing in front of a judge, so that was really helpful for me… I’m really happy to be at the clinic. It’s a really hospitable environment and everyone is so passionate about what they do.”

Welcome, Maggie!

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A Farewell to Emily Leung

Emily Leung This month HIRC says goodbye to Emily Leung, who has served as the Albert M. Sacks Clinical & Advocacy Fellow for the last three years and as a clinical volunteer for an additional year before that. A skilled teacher, fierce advocate, and loyal friend, Emily has left an indelible mark on the clinic, her colleagues, and her clients alike. The HIRC staff shares some parting thoughts for Emily as she begins the next phase of her career:

I can’t believe Emily is going—not allowed! Her calm, brilliant presence has made my life so wonderful. I know we’re going to keep working together; we’re already plotting (no further info to be provided). I love you Emily; you’ve really brought such joy to my life and had such a special presence and influence on this office and all of your clients.     —Deborah Anker

Emily has been amazing colleague and friend, and we will be so sad to see her go! She is an incredible advocate and teacher, and I have learned so much from working with her. South Coastal is very lucky to have her joining their team!     —Sabi Ardalan

Emily has been an incredible advocate for her clients; they will miss her easy going personality and good humor. I will miss her!     —Liala Buoniconti

Emily is an amazing person. Her kindness, humility, and brilliant lawyering continue to inspire me daily. I have learned so much from watching her interact with her clients, who admire her deeply. Emily makes our office a wonderful place to be, and we will all miss her tremendously!     —Lucy Cummings

In addition to being an outstanding attorney, advocate,  and teacher, Emily possesses a deep-seated respect for her clients – what they have experienced and what they bring to this country. While we will miss her greatly, I know she will do great work at South Coastal Legal Services.     —Nancy Kelly

Emily has been such a wonderful colleague. She will be greatly missed by all of us, as well as her students and clients. But, we’re thrilled that she’s moving on to an exciting new position where she’ll continue to use her talents to help those in need.     —Phil Torrey

After a well-deserved vacation, Emily will start this August as a staff attorney for South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS), an established non-profit legal services program providing free civil legal aid to low-income and elderly clients in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands. Emily will provide a full range of critical legal assistance in to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and continue to take immigration cases.

Best of luck, Emily. HIRC will miss you!

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