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Cornell law students help immigrants gain asylum in U.S.

A woman from Liberia and a former child soldier from Uganda have won the right to asylum in the United States, with the help of Cornell Law School students who provided them with legal assistance through the school's 2006 Asylum and Convention Against Torture (CAT) Appellate Clinic.

The Liberian citizen had been assaulted multiple times by government soldiers during her childhood and had suffered female genital mutilation, and the former child soldier had fled a Ugandan paramilitary group.

Cornell law students Viravyne Chhim '06 and Richard T. Creer '06 prepared a brief on behalf of the Liberian woman asserting that her past torture constituted a permanent and continuing harm -- and it would be tantamount to torture if she were returned to Libya. Two other law students, Amir R. Ghavi '06 and Stephen L. Taeusch '06, wrote a brief arguing that the child soldier qualified for asylum due to his past persecution and the fact that he faced a well-founded fear of further persecution if he returned to Uganda.

"The asylum clinic gives law students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the real world. It is particularly important because we are representing people who fear persecution in their home countries," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, Cornell adjunct law professor. "Our clients have few rights, not even the right to a court-appointed attorney," he said.

The clinic, co-directed by Yale-Loehr and law Professor Estelle McKee, is offered each spring. Students are introduced to asylum and CAT law and later work in pairs preparing appellate briefs on behalf of clients who wish to stay in the United States because of persecution they face in their home countries. The briefs are presented to the Board of Immigration Appeals for a ruling.

To date, the clinic has won more than half of its cases, which is a higher success rate than most appeals to the immigration board, said Yale-Loehr.

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Joe Schwartz