The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Justice for Children Clinic recently announced that one of its clients was granted asylum in the United States.
The clinic provides law students the unique experience of representing at-risk children in the Columbus metropolitan area.
The asylum case — a “remarkable triumph,” according to the law school — is notable because a team of students has been working for two years to gain asylum for their client under the guidance of Professor Kimberly Jordan, director of the Justice for Children Project and an associate clinical professor of law.
The client, whose identity was not disclosed due to his age, fled his home country of Honduras where gang violence is rampant and where he lost his uncle and escaped an attacker brandishing a machete and gunfire from a gang.
The announcement from the clinic states that the client 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 university’s brief states. “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.”
The students working on the case included Liliana Vasquez who initially interviewed the client and researched how to apply for asylum.
Class of 2016 students Miriah Lee and Sierra Cooper 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 began preparing the client for his asylum interview but she graduated before the interview was scheduled so 3L Megan Gokey picked up where Spector left off.
In a statement, Gokey said that Professor Jordan is “a tireless advocate who not only works really hard for her clients and the kids we see every day but (who) 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 the students accompanied their client to an asylum interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago Asylum Office with the knowledge that about 15 percent of the cases heard before the Chicago office are granted annually.
“When I found out I was astonished,” Gokey said. “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.”
Asylum status means that immigrants can work legally in the U.S. and receive a driver’s license. The clinic students plan to start their client on the road to legal permanent resident status next year.
Professor Jordan said that the process was “confusing and overwhelming” for a youth but that it has helped him feel “like people believe in him.”