Immigration Clinic Students Successfully Defend Clients


Students in the law school’s Immigration Clinic were able to help a client gain asylum and a path toward citizenship, and another client to reunite his family. Both cases were decided on the same day, November 6. 2012.

Sam Ladowski, a second-year student, and Clare Corado, a third-year student, successfully represented Aissatou Barry from Guinea in her asylum claim before the Immigration Court in Chicago. The students had filed a strong brief prior to the hearing, said Professor Linda Kelly Hill, who teaches in the law school’s Immigration Clinic. Immigration Judge Robert Vinikoor told the students he had read the brief and was “almost convinced” to decide the case in their client’s favor. “Ms. Corado promptly retorted, ‘Well, we are here to convince you the rest of the way,’” Professor Kelly Hill said. “And so they did!”

Barry comes from an ethnic group in which the practice of female genital mutilation is nearly universal. She fled to the United States in an attempt to prevent herself and her young daughters from being forcibly subjected to the practice, Professor Kelly Hill said. An important legal issue in the case stemmed from the fact that Barry had not filed for asylum within one year of arrival in the country, which is required by U.S. law.

Corado and Ladowski had both served as Peace Corps volunteers prior to entering law school. Corado’s service took her to Ecuador, and Ladowski worked in Madagascar. “One cultural/language difference is that Americans tend to me more direct,” Ladowski said, “while other folks tend to speak more indirectly.” The students learned to effectively communicate with Barry after a couple of meetings with her. “Our experiences certainly help and also give our clients a little more comfort,” Ladowski said.

Ladowski and Corado were able to successfully argue that Barry qualified for an exception to this filing deadline due to changed personal circumstances, Professor Kelly Hill said. Several years earlier, the Immigration Clinic had secured asylum for Barry’s young daughter based on her daughter's fear of FGM. Her daughter's relief provided a heightened argument for the mother's fear of FGM forced upon herself and further reprisal for protecting her daughter. Barry’s application, which had been filed with her daughter's claim in 2009, had been initially denied and forwarded to the Immigration Court.

Judge Vinikoor granted Barry asylum and withholding of removal based on the likelihood of her persecution if she were deported back to Guinea. Barry is now safe from being deported and can eventually become a United States Citizen.

“Juggling a case load, classes, and other responsibilities is tough, but it’s probably good practice for what life will be like after graduation,” Corado said. “I have been careful to keep up in my classes, but I definitely prioritize my clients over my classes. There is nothing like working with people who have fled torture and oppression to remind us law students that grades are not the most important things in life.”

Corado plans to practice immigration law after graduation, which means “taking the time now to research details even tangentially related to my cases will help me to build a solid foundation for my career,” she said.

Barry’s immigration case has been pending for three years, and many past Immigration Clinic students assisted with various portions of her case. These students include Emilee Preble, '09, Andrea Schmidt, '09, Jared Prentice, '12, and Mercedes Rodriguez, '12.

“Aissatou is a loving mother of three beautiful children,” Ladowski said of Barry. “They have all been through a lot so this was a great relief for her and her family.”

A second victory for an immigration clinic client came that same day. Naun Anthony Benitez and Atcha Piyatanang, both third-year students, were in their successful representation of a U.S. citizen stepfather who had filed a family unification application on behalf of his Honduran stepdaughter, said Professor Kelly Hill. His stepdaughter remains in Honduras.

The Department of Homeland Security called the application into question, and in an unusual move, required the stepfather to present himself at DHS in Indianapolis to prove the bona fides of their relationship. Benitez and Piyatang prepared a convincing legal memo supported by significant documentation of the valid relationship, the professor said. Accompanied by the students on the day of the meeting at DHS, the stepfather was interviewed and the application was granted in minutes.

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