HIRC plays key role in landmark decision recognizing domestic violence as grounds for asylum

HLSVia HLS News

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a ground-breaking decision yesterday that recognized domestic violence as a basis for asylum. The court’s decision in Matter of A-R-C-G- reflects years of work by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) and other advocates around the country who have pushed for the recognition of gender-based asylum claims. HIRC authored a critical amicus curiae brief in the case, on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the preeminent immigration bar association.

The court’s decision will have a profound impact on future asylum cases involving women fleeing not only violence in the home, but also other types of violence when that harm is related to their gender, said Deborah Anker, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and Director of HIRC. “We have won many cases of women fleeing domestic violence at the immigration court and asylum office and changed the institutional culture at that level, but yesterday’s decision from the BIA finally establishes these principles as formal binding precedent,” she said.

According to Anker, yesterday’s decision is critical in recognizing that under U.S. law gender violence and gender-based persecution can form the basis of an asylum claim as the BIA first laid the foundation for 25 years ago; in its seminal case Matter of Acosta the Board held that gender is an immutable characteristic that fits within the “membership in a particular social group” ground of the “refugee” definition in U.S. and international law. Anker emphasized that gender broadly should permeate interpretations of all aspects of the refugee definition.

The landmark case was brought by a Guatemalan woman (represented by Roy Petty, a prominent Chicago-based immigration lawyer) who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband, compounded by the failure and unwillingness of the police in her home country to intervene. The Board reversed a lower court’s ruling that the harm endured by the asylum applicant was the result of random criminal acts and therefore unrelated to a required protected ground.

“Domestic violence is a form of gender-based persecution often perpetrated by men on women that they view as their ‘property’” said John Willshire Carrera, HIRC’s Co-directing Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.

Yesterday’s decision demonstrates the success of HIRC’s “bottom-up” approach to legal change. Nearly twenty years ago, HIRC co-authored the U.S. Gender Guidelines, which formally recognized gender-based harm in the asylum context and even recognized domestic violence as a basis of asylum, setting the stage for yesterday’s decision. But it was a long road, and many advocates contributed along the way, said Anker.

According to Nancy Kelly, HIRC’s Co-directing Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, it is advocacy on the ground level that provided the major catalyst for the court’s historic decision. “Through persistent and effective direct representation of asylum-seekers, we and others who do this kind of hands-on litigation and advocacy have been able to change the institutional culture, which made this kind of change in the formal law virtually imperative,” said Kelly.

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado Discusses Criminal Code Reform in Brazil

Fernando Delgado, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, International Human Rights Clinic

Fernando Delgado, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, International Human Rights Clinic

Via the International Human Rights Clinic 

One of Brazil’s biggest daily newspapers quoted Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado this past Sunday in an in-depth cover story on criminal code reform. The article in the Folha de São Paulo presents perspectives on a proposal gaining steam before congress that would harden criminal sentencing and close off several avenues for early release.

Delgado warns that Brazil is “following the path of failed crime policies,” drawing reference to U.S. “war on crime” laws that produced skyrocketing incarceration rates, a comparison he discusses further in a companion piece that ran in the Folha the same day. Delgado points to one prison in particular, Aníbal Bruno, as “a symbol of the catastrophe of mass incarceration underway in Brazil.” Though officially designed to detain some 1500 men, Aníbal Bruno Prison now commonly holds over 6000.

The Folha piece has an entire subsection based on a 2013 brief co-authored by the Clinic in the Aníbal Bruno Prison case, which is currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Clinic has been working for the past four years with a civil society coalition in Brazil to push for widespread reform in Aníbal Bruno Prison and beyond. This past May, the Inter-American Court issued its first legally binding resolution in the Aníbal Bruno case, ordering Brazil to take provisional measures to protect the life, personal integrity, and health of all persons at the prison. The order also mandates steps to reduce over-crowding and end the routine practice of strip searching family visitors at the notorious pre-trial detention center. The coalition is currently focusing efforts on monitoring the implementation of the order. A first set of periodic reports are due to the Court in the coming months, and a meeting between the parties and state agencies is scheduled for August 28 in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.

HIP Students Continue to Push for Massachusetts Trust Act

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Summer is coming to an end, but the fight to pass the Massachusetts Trust Act continues. For most of the past year, the Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) has had the privilege of membership in the coalition of organizations working to end local law enforcement compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, or “ICE holds.” Though the campaign did not succeed in persuading the Massachusetts General Court to adopt a statewide solution, it helped achieve tremendous successes at the local level, in the form of new policies adopted by several localities in Massachusetts, including the cities of Somerville and Cambridge and Hampden County, ending or limiting the use of ICE holds.

HIP students made important contributions to the Trust campaign. They conducted legal research and helped draft sign-on letters to policymakers and law enforcement officials on behalf of the Trust coalition; participated in call-in and write-in lobbying campaigns to state legislators and city councilors to encourage the adoption of Trust policies; and sat in on strategy meetings with coalition members and their legislative allies. More importantly, they will continue to play an important role in the campaign as it moves forward. The Boston City Council is currently considering its own Trust Ordinance, and HIP will assist in the coalition’s efforts to ensure that the measure that is ultimately adopted offers the broadest protections possible. And HIP will be there in 2015, when the statewide bill is reintroduced in the next legislative session of the General Court. We look forward to continuing to work with our community partners to keep up the fight against warrantless immigration detention here in Massachusetts!

Human Rights Program Alumni in the News

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the International Human Rights Clinic
By Cara Solomon 

We use all kinds of strategies here at the International Human Rights Clinic to push for change. Litigation. Treaty negotiation. Documentation and reporting.

As Communications Coordinator, I’ve always been partial to advocacy. Media advocacy, to be more precise. This summer, our alumni are putting it to great use in outlets all over the world.

On Monday, The Huffington Post ran a column by Nicolette Boehland, JD ’13, a Satter fellow with the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), documenting the devastating toll the conflict in Gaza is taking on civilians. For the column, Nicolette spoke by phone with Gazans she met last year while researching civilian perspectives on involvement, status, and risk in armed conflict, including in Libya, Bosnia, and Somalia.

In “No Safe Place in Gaza,” she writes:

A young woman described the crippling fear she had experienced over the last four weeks: “The worst of all is the night time,” she said. “There is no power, no electricity, and there are tens of drones in the sky. Whenever you hear a rocket, you think it’s targeting your house. You are running from one room to another. I know this is silly — if your house is hit, it won’t matter which room you were in.”

Each night, her family of six gathered on mattresses that they had pulled together in the middle of the living room, “far away from the windows, so that they don’t break,” she said. This way, if their house was hit, the whole family would be killed together. “We don’t want one of the family to survive and then have to grieve for the rest of us,” she said.

At the end of the column, Nicolette lists several strategies the Israeli government and Hamas could use to limit civilian suffering.

Read the full story.

LSC Clinic Students Awarded Public Service Fellowships

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the Legal Services Center

Congratulations to the following former Legal Services Center clinic students who received 2014 Public Service Venture Fund fellowships to pursue diverse opportunities for 2014-2015.

Stephanie Berger (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a fellowship to work with the Community Law Office of Jefferson County in Alabama, where she will represent indigent criminal defendants with a specific focus on cases involving mental health concerns, forensic science, and collateral repercussions. She was selected as the Inaugural HLS Early Decision Fellow and will be a member of Gideon’s Promise. During her time at HLS, Stephanie was heavily involved in the Mississippi Delta Project as a Mental Health Initiative Team Leader. She also participated in the Disability, Veterans, and Estate Planning Clinic, the Criminal Justice Institute, and the Harvard Mediation Program. During the summers, Stephanie interned with Mental Health Advocacy Services in Los Angeles and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Prior to law school, Stephanie graduated summa cum laude in Neuropsychology from Colby College where she served as program manager for Colby’s Best Buddies chapter.

Elizabeth Floyd (J.D.’14) has been awarded a fellowship to join CASA de Maryland, where she will advocate for fair, sustainable transit development in a low-income immigrant community by supporting tenants and small businesses through direct legal services, organizing and regulatory advocacy. While at HLS, Elizabeth was a board member of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Article Editor for the Harvard International Law Journal, and Project leader and events coordinator for the Harvard Law and International Development Society. She was also involved in the Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense Clinic, the Family Law Clinic, and the Harvard Education Law Clinic. Elizabeth has completed internships at Make the Road New York, at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on a Human Rights Program Fellowship, and at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the Environmental Defense Fund on a Ford Fellowship.  Prior to law school, Elizabeth advocated for the rights of workers and recent immigrants in Durham, North Carolina at membership-based organization El Centro Hispano and the Legal Aid of North Carolina Farmworker Unit. She also spent a year working on civil society and youth issues in Perm, Russia on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Nico Palazzo (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a fellowship to work with the New Economy Project, where he will combine direct client representation, impact litigation, advocacy and community education in support of New Economy Project’s campaigns to address systemic inequities in consumer credit and lending and support neighborhood-based, democratically controlled economic models. While at HLS, Nico has been an active member of the Law and International Development Society and has worked in the Veteran’s Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. During his law school summers, Nico has interned with Poder Ciudadano in Buenos Aires, Argentina and with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. Before law school, Nico spent four years working as a community organizer in Brazil and Argentina.

Full list of 2014 Public Service Venture Fund recipients.

CHLPI Clinic Students Awarded Public Service Fellowships

harvard_law_school_shield3Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Congratulations to the following former Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation clinic students who received 2014 Public Service Venture Fund fellowships to pursue diverse opportunities for 2014-2015.

Stephanie Berger (J.D. ’14) has been awarded a fellowship to work with the Community Law Office of Jefferson County in Alabama, where she will represent indigent criminal defendants with a specific focus on cases involving mental health concerns, forensic science, and collateral repercussions. She was selected as the Inaugural HLS Early Decision Fellow and will be a member of Gideon’s Promise. During her time at HLS, Stephanie was heavily involved in the Mississippi Delta Project as a Mental Health Initiative Team Leader. She also participated in the Disability, Veterans, and Estate Planning Clinic, the Criminal Justice Institute, and the Harvard Mediation Program. During the summers, Stephanie interned with Mental Health Advocacy Services in Los Angeles and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Prior to law school, Stephanie graduated summa cum laude in Neuropsychology from Colby College where she served as program manager for Colby’s Best Buddies chapter.

Mason Kortz (J.D. ’14 cum laude) has been awarded a fellowship to join the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, where he will be working on impact litigation and policy reform in the area of privacy, technology, and government surveillance. During his time at HLS, Mason served as co-president of the HLS ACLU chapter and has participated in the Health Law and Policy Clinic as well as the Cyberlaw Clinic. During law school, Mason interned at his sponsoring organization, the ACLU of Massachusetts, working primarily on First Amendment issues and also interned at the Boston University School of Law where he served as a research assistant. Before attending law school, Mason worked as a software developer and scientific data manager. Mason was awarded one of the Dean’s Awards for Community Leadership.

Read the full blog post.

ABA Recognizes Alumni’s Excellent Pro Bono Efforts

Via HLS News

Two alumni, Edward M. Ginsburg ’58 and Alan Howard ’87, received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, which honors those who have enhanced the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor.

Ginsburg, who served as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court for nearly 25 years, was honored for his work with Senior Partners for Justice, a pro bono program he founded at the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association in 2002.

Howard, a partner in Crowell & Moring who does extensive pro bono work, represented one of the defendants in the nationally prominent “Jena 6″ proceedings in Louisiana, a case of national prominence for its civil rights implications.

Watch the ABA videos below to learn more about these two inspiring leaders and their pro bono efforts.

Hon. Edward Ginsburg

Alan Howard