Author Archives: Fran Djoukeng

CALS Students Win Asylum for Venezuelan Political Dissident

CALS Student.jpg

Atid Kimelman (right) and Emma Mlyniec (second from right) recently helped their client Mateo (left) win asylum with the help of translator Marisela Vazquez (second from left), a former LLM student.

Mateo* fled his home country of Venezuela after agents of the government assaulted him through brutal beatings, unwarranted stalking, and death threats in retaliation for his anti-Chavismo political activism.  Mateo requested asylum immediately upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport in April 2017.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) then assigned him to expedited removal proceedings and detained him at the Farmville Detention Center, a private facility used by the DHS and located in rural Virginia. The Capitol Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR), referred Mateo’s case to the Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Georgetown Law Center’s asylum law clinic

Over the course of Fall Semester 2017, two student representatives from CALS, Emma Mlyniec (L’19) and Atid Kimelman (L’19), worked side-by-side with Mateo to develop an evidentiary record and prepare a legal brief to convince an immigration judge to both prevent Mateo’s return to Venezuela and permit Mateo to remain in the United States. Ultimately, their diligence won the case: the judge granted Mateo with asylum—putting him on a pathway to U.S. citizenship. And while this journey, for Mateo, Mlyniec, and Kimelman presented great rewards, their obstacles rewarded them with even greater lessons.

 Arriving at the Heart of the Issue 

Mlyniec and Kimelman enrolled in CALS to culminate years of accumulated legal studies: immersion in immigration law, strengthen practice skills, and serve a vulnerable client. “Especially as the political winds blow against welcoming refugees into our country, I wanted to represent an asylum seeker hoping to start a new life in the United States,” Kimelman said. “The experience helped me develop skills in client representation and trial advocacy that will help me wherever my career takes me.”

Over the course of four months, Mlyniec and Kilmel drove more than 2,800 miles (or about 8 roundtrips) between the nation’s capital and the Farmville Detention Center. Each trip supplied them with the unfortunate details of Mateo’s persecution and alerted them to the substantial risks he faced because of his contrarian political beliefs and actions. Back in Venezuela, Mateo was a well-educated tax auditor working for a Venezuelan municipality during which time the pro-government leadership in his office engaged in discriminatory policies and subsequent harassment as a result of his oppositionist political views. Despite this, Mateo frequently traveled to political protests and vocally expressed his political views on social media—he was essentially a working member of an oppositionist political party. Government-backed paramilitaries unleashed a series of attack against Mateo: they vandalized his car, left a threatening note for him, and wounded him when he tried to obtain evidence of corruption and misconduct by the regime-backed local government. Eventually, the government officials threatened him with death, after months of stalking him in an unmarked SUV.

Transportation hurdles, fact-finding, and language barriers interfered with the timeliness—but not the determination—of all three involved. Both Mlyniec and Kimelman faced numerous obstacles in developing the record for Mateo’s hearing. Corroborating evidence is critical in asylum cases, but their first visit foreshadowed just how difficult it would be to serve a client locked in a detention center more than a three- hours drive from Washington D.C. Even basic communication with Mateo, including phone calls, email, and fax, were extremely difficult because of the conditions of his confinement. Obtaining professional service was also challenging. For example, finding a psychologist who could provide such services in Farmville proved unsuccessful and frankly impossible. Instead, Mlyniec and Kimelman had to arrange for Mateo to be transferred to Fairfax, VA for a psychological evaluation, which provided critical corroborating evidence of the persecution he suffered.

Additionally, Mateo’s asylum hearing was conducted by videoconference because he was detained, making it even less likely that the judge would be able to adequately judge Mateo’s credibility, which is central to asylum determinations. “This experience vividly demonstrated the host of due process issues that immigrant detention poses,” Mlyniec said. “From incredibly limited access to counsel—to not being allowed to appear in person for your own court hearing—it is clear that the system is stripping detained immigrants of the relatively few rights afforded to refugees in general.”

 Making the Case

 These frequent roadblocks did not deter Mlyniec and Kimelman but gave them a comprehensive apprenticeship into the heart of lawyering. Both representatives learned to advocate vigorously for their client. Such work involved procuring affidavits from nine of Mateo’s friends, family, and work colleagues from Venezuela. They also meticulously investigated human rights conditions in Venezuela, researched applicable asylum law, and wrote (and re-wrote again and again) a lengthy brief. At the same time, the students also obtained expert affidavits from a psychologist and trauma surgeon to corroborate the trauma and physical injuries Mateo suffered, as well as three political scientists who bolstered Mateo’s case by explaining the dire climate in Venezuela for political dissidents. In total, they compiled a 754-page submission, including dozens of evidentiary exhibits that they filed in court.

“The difficult work of developing an evidentiary record is a crucial aspect of lawyering that you can’t learn by reading a casebook,” Kimelman said. “It was also incredibly rewarding. Speaking with Mateo’s friends and family, and seeing the ways in which he was loved and supported, showed the best in humanity.”

Because of the depth of evidence in the written submission, the DHS trial attorney conceded a number of issues before trial. However, the DHS attorney still wanted to hear Mateo testify to make sure his testimony lined up with his written affidavit and supporting evidence. Mlyniec, who conducted Mateo’s direct examination, said she “was grateful for the opportunity both to develop trial skills and to help our client tell his side of the story in his own words.”

After a short and perfunctory cross-examination by ICE’s attorney, the Immigration Judge granted Mateo asylum and ICE waived appeal. Mlyniec and Kimelman immediately drove down to Farmville to pick up Mateo, who was now free after seven months in detention. A few days later, Mateo celebrated his first Thanksgiving in the United States.

The Influence of CALS 

“CALS students perform such heroic efforts because the cases are so demanding—we carry a significant burden of proof in immigration court,” said Georgetown Law Professor Andy Schoenholtz, who directed the CALS program during the fall semester.  “Our students have proven to be incredibly dedicated, sustaining the long hours and creativity necessary to build the case, and learning how to pull it all together in court on the day of the hearing.”

CALS prepares its students for the demands of asylum cases through twice-weekly classes and weekly, student-led case team meetings with a faculty advisor.  The classes cover a range of litigation skills, such as interviewing, researching, legal writing, and hearing preparation. Through simulations, students have the opportunity to practice these skills before they have to perform those tasks in their real cases.  Classes also cover the “softer” legal skills, such as dealing with some of the psychological pressures that arise when serving survivors of torture and other trauma, time management, collaboration with a partner, and learning to accept responsibility for a client’s case.

The clinic grants 10 semester credits, and students devote an average of 35 hours per week to CALS activities.  Each semester, the clinic selects 12 students who work in pairs to represent six different asylum-seekers, who come from all over the world.  In recent years, CALS has represented political activists, racial minorities, victims of gender-based violence, and other survivors of torture or repression, from Cameroon, El Salvador, Honduras, Libya, Guatemala, Eritrea, Russia, Liberia, Togo, and elsewhere.

“CALS is hard, but professionally, it was the most productive and meaningful semester of my life,” Kimelman said. “The opportunity to help someone as kind, generous, and humble as Mateo remain safely in the United States was incredibly rewarding and taught Emma and me so much about zealous and effective advocacy.”

*Name has been changed to protect his privacy.

First Daughter Tiffany Trump Is Poised to Become a Hoya Lawyer

trummp

By now, you’ve been able to connect the dots between the flurry of “Make Georgetown Law Great Again” comments across social media. 23-year-old Tiffany Trump will be attending Georgetown University Law Center. President Trump’s second daughter will presumably become a 2020 graduate of GULC (GULC has confirmed the First Daughter’s position in the new cohort of accepted students).

While students are buried in exam preparation and taking, some practical questions abound about what fall 2017 will look like on campus. No doubt, Trump will have security detail, which has the potential to cause some inconveniences. But news about a member of America’s First Family is prompting some varied reactions.

“I hope every one treats her with respect, whether they agree with her father’s politics or not,” Sarah Naiman said, an incoming evening division student. “She is part of the community and needs to be treated as such. And at the very least, this is probably the safest this campus will ever be!”

“She is the President’s daughter and therefore has her choice of law schools. That she chose Georgetown is a testament to the schools offerings and capabilities, regardless of her reasons for choosing our school over others,” 1E Christian Dibblee said. “It’s unsettling that some are advocating against her being at the law school just because of who her father is.”

While Georgetown Law has already admitted students for the incoming class, there are students on waiting lists. And the impact of this news might even influence student’s decision to attend GULC, now labeled a “T-15” school according to the latest U.S. News & World Report edition.

“Having Tiffany Trump in the classroom will no doubt affect the students’ experience of law school,” Jana Sneed said, a prospective law student. “Discussion in the classroom regarding our nation’s politics could either be provoked or restrained due to her presence among the students. It’s hard to say whether it will be a positive or a negative impact.”

Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett weighed in on the action through social media. According to his Twitter page, he said he hopes Trump will attend events at the Georgetown Center for the Constitution (which he directs).

Regardless of what happens in a few months time, Trump will be poised to join a long list of famous GULC alumni too exhaustive to list. Greta Van Susteren and, Savannah Guthrie are among GULC’s alum on TV, while Hoya Congressmen include John Delaney, Richard Durbin, Steny Hoyer, and Patrick Leahy.

A Watershed Moment for New Originalism

A New Era For Constitutional Law and Theory

If 1987 marked the downfall of originalism, then 2017 might be known as the comeback, thanks to Judge Gorsuch, an originalist who has testified to his adherence to the “original public meaning.”

Twenty years ago Robert Bork, a self-professed originalist, failed to earn enough votes to make it to the Nation’s highest court. And originalism ventured into an isolated wilderness. Now, Judge Gorsuch, who has brought originalism out of obscurity, is also bringing originalism squarely into the mainstream. Given an impending confirmation vote for him in late spring, Judge Gorsuch’s ascension to the bench will likely normalize originalism in many academic and political circles.

This is important for two of many reasons. First, state-of-the-art originalism, as a method of constitutional interpretation, is arguably the best-suited for the task. Second, originalism has the ability to appeal to individuals of all stripes, from left to right on the political spectrum.

Continue reading

Visiting Scholar Tara Helfman on originalism, the Constitution and her new status at Georgetown

Tara_Helfman_3673_(002).jpg

Of all the labels swirling around to describe Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch before his confirmation hearings beginning March 20th, patriotic is likely among them, according to Tara Helfman, who is on loan from Syracuse Law School while she works as a Georgetown Center for the Constitution Visiting Scholar.

Helfman’s recent slate of articles reflect her ongoing scholarship that includes executive powers, the Constitution and originalism.  While at Georgetown for the 2017 spring semester, Professor Helfman hosts GULC students in her “Freedom and the Framers” reading group, where she guides students through an exploration of the ideas and events that helped shape the American Constitution.

The purpose of the group, Professor Helfman says, is to allow students to enrich their understanding of constitutional doctrine and thereby become “useful and effective lawyers. [The reading group] is a lot more free-wheeling than a normal Socratic-oriented course. We read interesting things, and everyone is motivated to be there because they’ve chosen to be there.  It’s not for credit.”

Continue reading