Center for Applied Legal Studies students triumph in Immigration Court, win Torture Convention protection for Egyptian refugee.
Lee Wang and Elizabeth Gibson, 2Ls
The political upheaval in Egypt and the continued use of torture against political opponents and members of the LGBT community there may not be standard curriculum for most Georgetown Law students. But in the fall, clinical students with the Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) mastered these issues to win a case before the U.S. Immigration Court. With the hands-on legal skills taught through CALS, Lee Wang (2L) and Elizabeth Gibson (2L) prevented their client from being deported back to Egypt, and probably saved his life.
Wang and Gibson enrolled in CALS hoping to learn about immigration law, develop litigation skills, and serve a client in peril. At the start of the semester, they were assigned to represent Waled Ahmed, who fled Egypt in 1995, at the age of 18, after being severely tortured by Egyptian security officials and police because of his sexual identity and his political opposition to the Mubarak regime.
As a gay adolescent, Waled also experienced beatings by religious fundamentalists in his Cairo neighborhood. The Egyptian authorities first tortured Waled and his boyfriend after the boys were picked up at a police checkpoint near Waled’s home. Months later at a university protest, Egyptian authorities again arrested Waled and his boyfriend and tortured them for eight days in the infamous Ministry of Interior headquarters in Cairo. When he was released, his parents resolved to get him out of the country. He obtained a visitor visa and fled to the United States.
In the United States, Waled was convicted of a drug offense that brought him to the attention of immigration authorities. When Wang and Gibson first started preparing his claim for protection under the Convention Against Torture as a defense against deportation, Waled was still being held in detention and was subject to deportation. Fortunately, the immigration authorities released him under an order of supervision in October, but he still faced his deportation hearing.
“Recognizing that Waled’s life depended on winning this case, Wang and I felt a daunting sense of responsibility. “But Waled was such a source of inspiration. We just wanted to do everything we could to win his case.”
Waled had applied for Convention Against Torture protection, a status that enables those who face torture in their homelands to live and work in the United States. In the course of the semester, Wang and Gibson faced the challenge of building a persuasive case in light of a strict legal standard and the need to help Waled remember the details of horrific events that occurred years earlier. They interviewed Waled, meticulously investigated human rights conditions in Egypt, researched applicable asylum law, and wrote (and re-wrote) a substantial brief. At the same time, they accumulated documents from Egypt and secured assistance from experts on LGBT issues, human rights violations in Egypt, and their client’s psychological and medical condition. In all, they compiled a 700-page stack of 36 evidentiary exhibits that they filed in court.
Witness preparation and country conditions research posed particularly important challenges. The two students had to ensure that their client, who suffered from memory issues because of posttraumatic stress disorder, could convey his story on the witness stand with sincerity and credibility. Gibson and Wang faced the additional challenge of trying to accurately convey conditions in a country still in the midst of political upheaval.
“CALS students perform such heroic efforts because the cases are so demanding – we have to carry a significant burden of proof in immigration court,” said Professor Andy Schoenholtz, director of CALS for the Fall 2012 semester. “Our students have proven to be incredibly dedicated, sustaining the long hours necessary to build the case, and learning how to pull it all together in court on the day of the hearing.”
After a formal judicial proceeding that lasted about an hour and a half, the government’s lawyer conceded the case and the judge granted Waled Ahmed relief under the Torture Convention.
Reflecting upon the semester’s experience, Gibson commented: “Before participating in CALS, I never had any real litigation experience. The clinic’s supervisors did an excellent job helping me learn a wide range of lawyering skills, from making objections to subtle things like finding the right tone for a particular judge. By the time the hearing arrived, I felt prepared and ready to advocate for Waled, and he was confident in Wang and me.”
The pedagogical philosophy of CALS stresses placing the students into situations of real responsibility. The cases “belong” to the students, who make all the critical decisions and execute all the legal tasks. The teaching staff (one professor and two graduate fellows each semester) is very closely engaged – the teacher to student ratio is only 4 to 1, ensuring a secure “safety net.” However, the students, not the teachers, undertake the essential tasks, such as drafting and signing the brief and speaking in court.
by the Clinic for Applied Legal Studies