(from L to R: Gabriela Kahrl, Client, Virginia Giannini)
One young man from El Salvador will no longer have to live in fear thanks to the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Immigration Clinic.
He was granted asylum as a result of the efforts of his attorneys from the Immigration Clinic. Staff Attorney Gabriela Kahrl ’08, who is also helping to teach the Immigration Clinic and the Human Rights in the United States Legal Theory and Practice course, was joined by 2L student attorney Virginia Giannini to represent the client. The granting of asylum immediately ends any deportation proceedings and paves the way for, but does not guarantee, possible permanent residence in the United States.
Asylum is granted in cases where individuals are “unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Successful asylum cases are rare.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, 65,218 asylum requests were received in 2016; only 13.3% (8,726) were granted. From El Salvador specifically, there were 17,709 asylum requests in 2016; of those only 4.3% (753) were granted.
The asylum process can be hard for both the asylum seekers and their attorneys. As Gabriela explains, “Preparing your client to testify about that trauma is incredibly difficult. Asking them to remember it, and not just remember it, but to talk about it, think about, and deal with it in excruciating detail is a huge challenge as an attorney. As a human being, to realize that to help someone you need to harm them is so difficult. In theory ‘the ends justifies the means’ sounds well and good, but it’s totally different when you’re sitting across from someone, and your questions are hurting them, and you can see it in their posture, in their gestures, in their responses.”
While it may be agonizing to repeatedly recall past trauma, denial of an asylum claim can have much more grievous consequences when deportation proceedings continue.
This was both Gabriela’s and Virginia’s first time representing a client in an asylum case, but without their presence, it’s likely the outcome would have been different. According to a report out of Syracuse University, in 2016 90% of asylum application were denied when the applicant was not represented by an attorney. With representation, that number shrinks to 48%.
Virginia reflects, “I'm really thankful that the client trusted us with the responsibility. Gabriela is an amazing attorney, incredibly passionate, the perfect person to work with to learn how to be a lawyer. One of the things I learned from working with her on this case was how to develop a rapport with your client. Our client took a risk on us, and it was amazing just to have that opportunity to put everything I've learned between my first year and now and throw it all into the most intense hour of my life. Taking a step back, you realize there are so many people who do need this help. I’m happy to play any small part that I can in a case like this, so I’m excited to jump into my next asylum case.”
As reported earlier, the expansion of Maryland Carey Law’s Immigration Clinic that allowed the clinic to represent this client was made possible thanks to generous funding from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the Open Society Institute, as part of their Safe Cities Baltimore Initiative.