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Immigration Clinic Wins Cases for Gay Immigrants

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Miami Law's Immigration Clinic recently won a life-changing victory for their client, a gay man who feared returning to his home country of Jamaica, a country known for its intolerance of gay people. Students Rita Kapadia, JD '10 and current third-year student Kristen Lee-Williams represented the client in immigration court at the Krome detention center. This success follows in the wake of a spring 2010 case in which Immigration Clinic students Gisela Ades, JD '10 and 3L Randi Nagahori were able to stop the deportation of their client to Kenya – a country in which it is illegal to perform gay sex acts.

Kapadia and Lee-Williams began handling the case of their Jamaican client in February 2010 after their client was detained by immigration authorities. For nearly a year, the team worked tirelessly to gather information, construct convincing arguments, and present crucial testimonial and documentary evidence in immigration court. Finally, a favorable decision came in December 2010, when the immigration judge granted deferral of removal under Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture. The Convention forbids the U.S. government from deporting a person to a country where he will likely be tortured by or with the acquiescence of the government.

"This was a very difficult case," said Lee-Williams. "Since cases like these often involve a person who has been in the closet for most of his life due to a fear of being physically hurt or stigmatized by his community, it is a tremendous task to prove that person's sexuality. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to partake in this amazing learning experience and overjoyed that our client is finally able to live his life openly and without fear."

The client, who had been detained for almost two years by immigration authorities, was finally released on Jan. 5, 2011, and reunited with his family.

"To take on this case as a law student was an incredibly rewarding and daunting experience," said Kapadia. "The outcome of cases like these can mean the difference between a lifetime of persecution or freedom for the applicant. Foremost, I am grateful that our client can lead a peaceful life without fear. Through this experience, I learned invaluable lessons that could not be taught in a classroom, and I was able to contribute to something meaningful."

The spring 2010 victory by students Ades and Nagahori was on behalf of a woman from Kenya who feared persecution because she is a lesbian. "Representing our client in her asylum hearing was a meaningful and exciting experience that I will never forget," said Ades. "With the guidance of Professor Sharpless, Randi and I were able to put together a compelling case that resulted in the judge terminating her deportation proceedings and granting withholding of removal, giving her legal status in this country."

In reflecting on her experience, Nagahori stated, "the clinic experience completely underscored the importance of professionalism and ardent advocacy at every turn in the case. The preparation for our hearing was intense and our appearance in court was an incredible experience."

In the Immigration Clinic, students advocate on behalf of low-income immigrants in a wide variety of complex immigration proceedings. Students are responsible for preparing cases from the initial factual investigation stage until the final merits hearing in an adversarial court proceeding.