WVU law students win asylum for political refugee
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 18:06
A group of students in the West Virginia University College of Law’s Immigration Clinic have helped a man gain political asylum in the United States.
Five WVU students were involved in the case, and this is the clinic’s fifth victory since 1996. The client, who prefers to keep his name and country of origin anonymous, was tortured and persecuted in his homeland because of his belief in democracy and his attempts to exercise free speech.
James J. Friedberg, former immigration clinic director and the Hale J. and Roscoe P. Posten professor of law at the WVU College of Law, began the clinic in 1996. Friedberg founded the project at the urging of his international law and human rights students as a volunteer pro bono undertaking.
Friedberg seized the opportunity to transform the project into a clinical course for law students.
"We have this clinic to handle all kinds of issues for aliens and prospective immigrants. We represent people with a wide range of matters including deportation, asylum, withholding removal cases and issues with visas," said co-director of the clinic Michael Blumenthal. "We provide a service for people in the state of West Virginia who don’t have access to any legal services; it’s basically unaffordable for them. Many of these people could be deported within weeks – or even days."
For many clients in the clinic, the WVU students are their only hope for survival, Blumenthal said.
"This is not just your standard misdemeanor case," he said. " For many of our clients, their lives are endangered whether it be physically or economically; they are at risk."
In his home country, the client attempted to organize an event to commemorate the lives of those killed by his government for voicing their concerns with its structure and policies.
For this, the client was arrested by police, detained and brutally beaten.
After he ceased his activities, he came to America for a visit. During his visit he found political protest was protected and people were able to speak out against government actions without facing persecution.
After being inspired by the actions he witnessed in America, the client returned to his home country and resumed his organization of the event.
He was arrested, held by police for interrogation and tortured. The client was forced to sign documents giving all of his successful businesses’ profits to the government.
Now, he has the opportunity to restart his life.
Blumenthal said the experience students gained by winning the case in the clinic would enhance their education and experience as they enter the real world as lawyers.
"The clinic gives students a chance to realize their education has real use in the world," he said. "Law students spend three years in the classroom, and it’s easy to forget why and what they’re doing this for. Suddenly they have this opportunity to represent real clients with real needs – and they are able to help them."