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CSJ Victory

Students win asylum case for Nigerian man

Students in the Immigrants’ Rights / International Human Rights Clinic won an important victory in immigration court. Benjamin Hooper ’12 and Rafael Lamberti ’12, under the supervision of Professor Margaret Martin, successfully represented a detained asylum applicant, earning him the right to make his home in the United States.

Their client is a Nigerian man who fled his country after the deaths of his partner and mother, and who stood to suffer further persecution because of his sexual orientation. He was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he arrived at JFK Airport, and had been detained for more than four months by the time of his hearing. The students successfully argued that their client had suffered past persecution on account of his sexual orientation. In issuing her ruling, the immigration judge also found that he faced an independent fear of future persecution in Nigeria, based on the testimony and the students' fact research.

Hooper, Lamberti and Professor Martin first met their client in mid-February, 2012 at Delaney Hall, a detention center in Newark where undocumented immigrants await deportation hearings. Martin, Hooper and Lamberti decided to take the case despite the many challenges inherent in representing a client in detention, and this one in particular: numerous trips back and forth to the holding facility, long waits to be admitted, no computer access when inside, and the inability to use their client to help gather facts. However, they devoted hundreds of hours to gathering facts—often telephoning witnesses in Nigeria— and researching legal theories that ultimately paid off. They were able to find a Yoruba interpreter who was willing to travel to Delaney Hall with them to help their client tell his story. And they also located a psychologist with expertise in LGBT persecution who was also willing to go to Delaney to meet with their client. In addition, the students managed to speak with the only person in Nigeria that their client was able to contact from Delaney Hall, and – after navigating the complicated world of international express mail options – convinced him to write a statement corroborating their client’s persecution.

A central challenge the students faced within the case was that, because the client had not disclosed his sexual identity in Nigeria for fear of his own safety, there were very few witnesses who could attest to his sexual orientation; nonetheless, the judge found his testimony to be sufficiently credible together with the statement from his friend in Nigeria and the psychological report.

After the hearing, Benjamin Hooper expressed relief that he would “finally be able to get my life back,” but also reflected that the case was “one of the most important things I’ve ever done.” Rafael Lamberti agreed, noting, “we probably saved a life today.”

The client was released from Delaney Hall the next day. With the help of the students and Professor Martin, he was taken to an organization that will house him and assist him in beginning his new life.