April Volunteer Feature: NYLAG Volunteer Counsel at O’Melveny & Myers LLP Secures Asylum for Torture Victim
John Rousakis, Counsel at O'Melveny and Myers, is drawn to pro bono asylum cases, "because you are dealing with real people who are in extremely difficult circumstances and you are able to help them do something, the results of which are very tangible." Earlier this year, Mr. Rousakis assisted NYLAG client Mr. B, a political refugee from Guinea, in obtaining asylum in the United States.
Guinea is a small country on the western coast of Africa that has been plagued by an inflated economy and a violent and unstable political system since the late 1950's. Mr. B was imprisoned and tortured after participating in a peaceful demonstration in 2006. His involvement in the Union des Forces Republicaines, an opposition party to
the dictatorship of then President Conté, made him an ongoing target. In 2007, Mr. B was once again imprisoned and tortured after he was violently taken from his house in the middle of the night.
Rousakis labels this second attack as the undeniable evidence for Mr. B's asylum case. He said, "Mr. B's second imprisonment had nothing to do with a mass demonstration or other illegal activity. There was no warrant when he was arrested in the middle of the night." As the political situation in Guinea escalated, Mr. B's safety was at great risk and he was forced to leave the country. Rousakis interviewed Mr. B, developed a strong contextual argument about the state of affairs in Guinea and the conditions that brought Mr. B to the U.S., and presented affidavits and other evidence to prove Mr. B's need for asylum to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Rousakis bolstered Mr. B's case with affidavits from a professor at Columbia who is an expert in the conditions in Guinea, and a doctor
from Doctors of the World-USA who examined and documented Mr. B's injuries from his torture. After an interview in January with USCIS, Mr. B's petition was granted and he can now live freely in the U.S. without fear of deportation to Guinea where he
would face imprisonment, torture, and potentially death.
Rousakis' practice at O'Melveny focuses on environmental law. Though this was his first pro bono case with NYLAG, it was his tenth asylum case. This case allowed him to hone his advocacy skills in a different area of law and, he says, "to focus on something other than just business and financial transactions."
NYLAG works with more than 300 pro bono attorneys from top New York law firms each year.
To learn more about NYLAG's Pro Bono program contact Alison Sclater, Director of Pro Bono