October 09, 2012
Reversing the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently
granted a petition for review in the asylum case of Amadou Diallo
and remanded the case for consideration anew.
The petition was pursued in the federal appellate court by the
Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic, in partnership
Charities Immigration Legal Services. One of the Law School’s
nine partner clinics, the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation
Clinic is led by Adjunct Professors C. Mario Russell and Mark R.
von Sternberg, both of Catholic Charities. Under the supervision of
senior attorneys, Clinic students represent immigrants – mostly
refugees and asylees –in proceedings at the administrative level
and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second and Third
Circuits. Students also represent children in Department of
Homeland Security custody who were victims of abuse or neglect in
their home countries.
The Diallo case presented compelling facts. A native of Guinea
and the son of a political activist, Amadou Diallo was 17 years old
when government forces came to his family home, arrested him and
then detained him for 10 days, all in an attempt to compel his
father to turn himself in. Diallo then fled the country under
threat of another detention. Arriving in the United States, he was
detained for having defective entry documents. After removal
proceedings were initiated against him, Diallo was released to a
relative, who retained private counsel.
Diallo’s case eventually went to the Board of Immigration Appeals,
where it was denied, in part, on the ground that Diallo’s detention
and persecution at the hands of Guinea government actors was not
based on his political beliefs or social group. Catholic Charities
took the case on at that point, filing a petition for review with
the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Assigned to the matter during the 2011-2012 academic year,
Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic student Elizabeth Fitzgerald
’13 submitted two legal briefs on the case. Through her submissions
to the Second Circuit, Fitzgerald successfully proved that Diallo
belonged to the social group of his "nuclear family," that the
conduct of the government in Guinee was traditional
cherchez-la-famille persecution and that the government had imputed
a political opinion to him. With this victory, Diallo’s asylum case
will now go back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to issue a
decision consistent with the Court’s instruction.
“We are delighted with this decision by the Second Circuit Court
of Appeals,” said Professor Russell. “Elizabeth Fitzgerald took on
the complex research and writing challenge without hesitation
because she understood that the case involved core issues about how
children asylum claims must be considered. This case shows the
change that a legal clinic can effect in the life of an individual,
the important role it plays in advancing a principle of
international human rights and the emerging place it has in
ensuring that adjudicators and judges consider facts carefully and
apply the law fairly.”
Reflecting on her clinic and court experience, Fitzgerald said:
“I am so happy that I was able to make such a drastic difference in
the client's life, and hopefully in the lives of others who will be
able to rely on the Second Circuit's decision in the future. I put
a lot of time and effort into researching and drafting the briefs,
and I am so happy that my efforts paid off. I am extremely grateful
that I was able to participate in the Refugee and Immigrant Rights
Litigation Clinic, and I would recommend that every single St.
John’s law student participate in a clinic. It is an irreplaceable
experience. This success is something that I will carry with me
throughout my entire legal career."