October Volunteer Feature: The City Bar Justice Center Honors Dewey & LeBouef Attorneys for Outstanding Work with the Refugee Assistance Project
The City Bar Justice Center is proud to honor two attorneys from Dewey & LeBouef for their outstanding work with the Refugee Assistance Project. Lauren Petersen and Julia Pizzi, two Dewey & LeBouef associates, recently won a difficult case on behalf of a Nepali refugee who had been detained upon entry to the United States.
Mr. K is a thirty-one year old Nepali citizen who fled his country after being repeatedly threatened and targeted by Maoists because of his political activities in conjunction with the Nepali Congress Party. After relocating to Katmandu, Mr. K left to work abroad for several years. He returned to Nepal in 2008, hoping that with the passage of time the Maoists would forget about him. Unfortunately, soon after his return Maoists contacted Mr. K demanding that he politically and financially support their cause. Mr. K refused, and threats against him escalated, culminating in an attack by armed Maoists in December of 2008. In January, Mr. K fled Nepal and arrived in the U.S. where he was detained upon arrival, placed into expedited removal proceedings, and sent to the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey.
The City Bar Justice Center, alerted to Mr. K's plight, immediately located attorneys from Dewey & LeBouef to represent him on a pro bono basis. Over the next two months, Lauren and Julia visited Mr. K multiple times, not only to elicit information and prepare him for his upcoming trial, but also to raise his flagging spirits as Mr. K found it increasingly difficult to cope with his prolonged incarceration.
Lauren describes the difficulties presented by Mr. K's detention: "The Elizabeth detention center, aside from being somewhat of a trek by public transportation, seemed to apply its own rules for entry differently each time we arrived," she says. "We never waited less than an hour to see our client, and each visit somehow involved pleas to various level managers to allow us and our interpreter to visit our client. We could never anticipate how the 'rules' would apply to us on any given visit, and no matter what, they never applied in our favor." When finally able to meet face-to-face, Lauren and Julia were placed on lockdown, without access to cell phones, food, water, or bathrooms.
Despite these stumbling blocks, they worked tirelessly to document Mr. K's claim for asylum by obtaining statements and proofs from Nepal, as well as by locating a Nepali country expert to corroborate his fears. Mr. K's brother, who lives in Queens, aided greatly in these efforts. Lauren and Julia also spent hours in the detention center going over affidavits line-by-line in two languages to prepare their client for his hearing, as Mr. K does not speak English.
Happily, Mr. K testified extremely well at his hearing. "He handled the government's cross examination with relative ease," says Refugee Assistance Project Director Jennifer Kim. "This was due in no small part to the Dewey team's hours of preparation." The immigration judge, who has a denial rate of almost 80%, granted him asylum, and Mr. K was overwhelmed with emotion. "Seeing his reaction at the hearing when he was awarded asylum by the immigration judge was one of the most emotional moments I have ever witnessed first-hand," says Julia.
When Mr. K was released from the detention center that evening to the industrial park of Elizabeth, a potentially cold welcome to his new life in the United States, his brother was there to pick him up in a car sent by Dewey & LeBouef.
"Perhaps the best part [of working on this case]," says Julia, "was when we met our client a few months after he had been released from detention. He was a completely different person; compared to how we saw him while he was detained, our client was now happy, healthy, and excited about his future." Mr. K wasted no time jumping into American life. He started English classes within a few days of receiving asylum, and was working 60+ hours a week in a restaurant within a month, determined to make the most of his opportunities.
"This story really stands on its own as a testament to the level of representation provided by Dewey & LeBouef," says Carol Bockner, Director of Pro Bono Initiatives at the City Bar Justice Center. "Due to the intense work put in by his attorneys, Mr. K can live a life free of constant threat and fear. This is an unquantifiable win that Mr. K, a non-English speaker held in detention, could never have achieved on his own. We are very appreciative of the strong pro bono partnership the Justice Center has with Dewey & LeBouef."