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Northern Exposure for Homeless Refugees Hakim & Mousa: Holland & Knight Pro Bono Case

Sunday, April 26, 2009

  • Christopher Nugent
  • Holland & Knight LLP

Hakim Hameed

Hakim Hameed worked as a periodontist in Baghdad, Iraq, running his own clinic. Additionally, he worked as a professor at the University of Baghdad. Though Shiite, he lived in a Sunni neighborhood. After his wife and son were brutally killed by a carbomb in front of his home, Hakim was hospitalized for depression and severe post traumatic stress. Upon his release, he traveled to Syria, then Switzerland. In Switzerland, Hakim attempted to apply for refugee status, but ultimately left for the United States.

In December of 2007, Hakim arrived in the United States to attend the International Scientific Dental Conference in New York. Soon after his arrival, he decided to enroll in the Eastern Mennonite University's 10 week intensive English Program, which was set to start in May of 2008. Therefore, in January, he applied to switch from a B-1/B-2 visitor visa to an F-1 student visa. When Hakim was referred to Holland & Knight's Community Services Team ("CST"), he was severely depressed, living in a homeless shelter in New York. As opposed to applying for asylum in the United States, the CST suggested that Hakim consider travelling to Canada, where he would be eligible for refugee benefits such as free legal representation, housing and financial support while his case remained pending.

Mousa Keita

CST was referred Mousa Keita's case by the National Center for Refugee Immigrants and Refugee Children. Frustrated, hopeless, and alone, Mousa attempted suicide in front of the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") officers, declaring "Send me to Guantanamo - just not back to Mali!". A native of Mali, Mousa's wife left him upon discovery of his bisexuality, taking their infant son and returning to Mali. Alone in the United States without any valid immigration status, Mousa lapsed into a severe depression. As his life crashed around him, he lost his job, his insurance, his home, and finally his car. Forced onto the streets, Mousa could no longer afford medication for his epilepsy.

When CST heard Mousa's story, he was recovering in the psych ward of a local hospital. Fearful of his release on the streets, CST member Liz Lee spent countless hours on the phone looking for a shelter that would guarantee to take him, or any other temporary housing situation to no avail. Finally, through Senior Counsel Christopher Nugent's outreach on a gay immigrant listserve, a psychiatrist with Lutheran Immigrant & Refugee Services in Baltimore, generously offered to allow Mousa to stay in her home.

The next few weeks passed quickly. Mousa and his hostess quickly became friends, attending church regularly, volunteering in the community and hosting neighborhood events. Back in Washington D.C. the CST team deliberated Mousa's immigration options, specifically his eligibility to apply for asylum. To apply for asylum in the United States, Mousa would need to provide compelling reasons for not filing for asylum within his first year in the United States. However, because Mousa has an immediate relative in Canada, a sister, he had the possibility to apply for refugee status in Canada. When suggested to Mousa, his face lit up. He would love to go to Canada! Liz worked with a paralegal at Freedom House, a non-profit legal services provider in Detroit, to prepare Mousa's paperwork to apply for refugee status in Canada and succeeded in securing an appointment with a Canadian Asylum Officer in early November of 2008. Liz then drove to Baltimore on a Tuesday night to see Mousa off. The two embraced before Mousa boarded the 1:00 am Greyhound to Detroit. Mousa arrived at Freedom House early the next morning.

The following day, he was escorted to the Canadian Border. Mousa has now moved into a three bedroom apartment with a roommate in Canada. The Canadian government provided him with money for furniture and groceries. He will not have work authorization until January of 2009, but in the interim, he is volunteering for The Red Cross as well as for a place called Matthew's House, which assists immigrants coming into the country like himself. Most importantly, he is happy.

The Canadian System

Unlike asylum in the United States, the Canadian government has developed numerous programs to help refugees abroad re-establish in Canada and provides benefits while cases are still pending. In 2006, the Government of Canada began investing an additional $1.4 billion over five years in settlement funding across the country. The Canadian Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP), provides government-assisted refugees with initial financial support when they get to Canada to cover essential start-up needs like food, furniture, clothing, and basic household items. RAP also helps them with temporary housing, documents, orientation, and life skills specific to their unique needs. Government-assisted refugees also get a monthly allowance for food and shelter.

Holland + Knight Community Services Team

Holland & Knight LLP

2099 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Ste. 100

Washington, DC 20006

Main 202 955 3000

www.hklaw.com

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