September Volunteer Feature: Willkie Farr & Gallagher Associates Win Unprecedented Asylum Case
The City Bar Justice Center is delighted to honor Willkie Farr & Gallagher and attorneys Megan Hogan, Rachel Owens, and Avani Shah as outstanding volunteers for their work with the Refugee Assistance Project. These attorneys represented a young Chinese woman seeking asylum who had been in proceedings for almost 8 years.
When Ms. L turned 18, she started getting letters from Chinese authorities ordering her to submit to a mandatory gynecological examination (for purposes of regulating and monitoring her sexual history and capacity to have children). She refused, and her family began receiving increasing fines from the Chinese authorities. Ms. L moved out of her parents' home because she was afraid that the birth control officials would eventually find her and force her to undergo an examination against her will. Both her mother and aunt had been forcibly sterilized for having reached or exceeded China's birthing limit. Ms. L fled to the U.S. in 2001.
Ms. L's asylum claim had previously been denied by an immigration judge. An appeal was granted, however, because the judge had refused to allow her to testify during the hearing, arguing that her claim was unsupported under the statute or case law. Upon remand, Willkie's attorneys argued that Ms. L's political beliefs were contrary to China's coercive population control policy -- that the government should not have the right to control a woman's reproductive rights, and that the practice of involuntary birth control measures, including forcible penetration associated with the mandatory gynecological examination, was tantamount to rape, an invasion of her privacy, and a violation of her human rights.
While the case was pending, the pro bono attorneys obtained an expert affidavit from a Chinese human rights attorney. In granting the claim, the immigration judge noted that there had been no real precedent for her claim. Congratulations to Megan, Rachel, and Avani on this important win and to Willkie Farr & Gallagher for its strong and continued support of pro bono.