TU Law Students Secure Asylum for Religiously Persecuted Man

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Published on 2/22/07

Two University of Tulsa law students have helped secure asylum for a young man from Eritrea who was persecuted for his religious beliefs.

The students – Rebekah Guthrie and Luis Flores – are law student interns for the Boesche Legal Clinic Immigrant Rights Project, a clinical program in which TU law students represent non-citizens in immigration matters. Guthrie and Flores represented the man after he had escaped to the U.S. after being persecuted and imprisoned because of his membership in a religious minority and his refusal to abandon those beliefs under threat from his government.

Asylum was granted to the man, who now lives in Tulsa, on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This was the first final decision reached in any cases handled by TU’s Immigrant Rights Project.

The man was caught praying in an underground Bible study in Eritrea, he was interrogated and ordered to recant his faith by that east African country’s military officials. When he refused, the man was bound hand and foot and left for days outside and exposed to the scorching desert heat, rain, and freezing cold nights. His torture and detention continued for three months in an effort to force the client to reject his faith. Ultimately, the client escaped, making his way to Tulsa.

The man found out about TU’s Immigrant Rights Project through a friend from Eritrea who is a TU student.

Guthrie and Flores worked with the client to prepare his testimony describing the persecution he had endured, drafted an affidavit detailing the client’s experiences of persecution, and gathered extensive documentation of country conditions in his home country to support his application. In addition, the TU law students located and worked with a journalist, a human rights scholar and an historian who provided expert testimony in support of the client’s asylum claim.

The students worked intensively with the client to prepare him for his asylum interview and traveled with him to Houston on December 28 to represent him at that interview.
Work on the case was even more challenging because the client does not speak English. The students were required to work through an interpreter.

The Immigrant Rights Project’s clients include persons seeking asylum in the United States as a result of persecution or a fear of persecution in their home countries, as well as non-citizen survivors of domestic violence seeking lawful immigration status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Representation occurs in adversarial administrative hearings before immigration judges; in non-adversarial agency interviews; in appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals; or, as necessary, in appeals to the federal courts.

Decisions currently are pending in several cases previously handled by students. A new group of students enrolled this spring have begun working with new clients who are survivors of persecution, domestic violence or other crimes. In the first two semesters of the clinic’s operation, the clinic has represented more than a dozen clients from Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Indonesia, Russia, Honduras, Canada and Eritrea.

For more information, contact Elizabeth McCormick, assistant clinical professor of law and supervising attorney for the immigration rights project, at (918) 631-5796.