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May 2016: Victory in Pro Bono Asylum Application

May 2016

The firm recently obtained asylum for a pro bono client from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Quinn Emanuel was able to expedite the process, notwithstanding a severe backlog in asylum applications, achieving a grant of asylum only 14 months after the client’s application was filed. The client is relieved that he will not be forced to return to his homeland, where he risks prison and death. He is now on the path to permanent residency and citizenship.

The client is from Chad. He was arrested by the national police in May 2013, falsely accused of participating in an attempted coup against the President. In fact, he had merely made public comments about standing up for free speech. The country is not a democracy, and anyone seen as an enemy or troublemaker risks being arrested and killed. The client was also involved with a human rights organization, and he is an ethnic minority, which exacerbated the physical abuse he received after his arrest.

The client was imprisoned in secret for four months, where he was beaten, only given food and water once a day, and forced to sleep on a stone floor—no bed. He had only one shower in four months, without soap. At the end of his imprisonment he was kept in an underground hole too small to stand up in. A senior Army officer friend located him and got him out of prison, then hid the client in the countryside while the officer obtained a passport, visa, and plane ticket for him.

The client flew to J.F.K. in December 2013. He retained the firm 10 months later, after a referral from Human Rights First, and submitted his asylum application in December 2014. The application claimed eligibility for asylum based on his political opinions, his membership in a persecuted minority, and the Convention Against Torture (8 C.F.R. § 1208.13). The client attested to past persecution and a well-founded fear of future persecution if he were forced to return to Chad.

The USCIS had a 2-1/2-year backlog for scheduling interviews on asylum applications, which meant the client would likely not have had an interview until mid-2017. The firm wished to expedite the interview because he is separated from his family and his wife and son are in danger. His son was a newborn when the client was arrested, and is three years old now. His family is hiding in a remote village in Chad, having left their home in the capital, because they are afraid that the government might find them and kill them for their relationship to the client.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act (“INA”) provides that an asylum interview “shall commence” within 45 days of filing an asylum application, and adjudication of an application “shall be completed” within 180 days of filing. 8 U.S.C. § 1158(d)(5)(A). Those time limits had expired. Although the facts therefore supported a mandamus action, which would compel the USCIS to schedule the client’s interview, the USCIS has begun opposing such filings more strenuously in recent years. Moreover, several courts had recently denied relief under 8 U.S.C. § 1158(d)(5) (A), based on a statutory exception to the 45-day and 180-day deadlines for “exceptional circumstances.” 

Instead of filing for mandamus, Quinn Emanuel instead appealed directly to the director of the regional USCIS asylum office, asking for an expedited interview in light of the client’s separation from family and their risk of harm. The USCIS scheduled his interview within weeks, and the interview was held in February 2016, 18 months sooner than it would have been given the backlog. The asylum application was exhaustively supported by detailed affidavits from the client, his wife, his father and uncles, the Army officer that rescued him, his former employers, Amnesty International’s expert on Chad, and two groups of psychologists. The client was granted asylum two weeks later. He and his family were overjoyed.

The firm has since applied with the USCIS for permission for the client’s wife and son to immigrate to live with him and is also assisting him with seeking employment in his professional field, working for humanitarian non-governmental organizations.