March 26, 2013 – Persecution and violation of human rights are pervasive and systematic in many parts of the world, a panel of experts agreed Monday in a discussion at the University of Houston Law Center, and trying to win asylum in the United States for victims is a difficult and often heartrending process.
The presentation, "Issues at the Intersection of Immigration and Human Rights Law," brought together four speakers actively involved in human rights, human trafficking, and asylum cases.
Geoffrey Hoffman, clinical associate professor and director of the Law Center's Immigration Clinic, organized and opened the discussion by recounting a case of female genital mutilation the clinic recently won on appeal. The immigration judge had denied a woman's asylum appeal on the grounds that her homeland, Mali, had since instituted laws and were strictly enforcing them, eliminating the problem. He also said the woman's two young children were not at risk because she and her husband were highly educated and could protect them. Hoffman and his student team determined there were no such laws in Mali and the mutilation of young females was continuing. The Board of Immigration Appeals granted asylum to the woman and her family.
Anne Chandler, Houston director of the Tahirih Justice Center and a former director of the UHLC immigration clinic, provided the most startling statistics in her discussion of gender-based asylum cases. Gender is not one of the factors used in the United States to determine whether asylum is warranted. Citing various sources, Chandler stated:
The perception or fear of persecution is not enough for a consideration of asylum, Chandler noted. Applicants must establish their case within the framework of five factors -- race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion. Such gender specific persecutions as honor killings, bride burning, and ritual female genital mutilation are not specified.
There are proposals to deal with gender-based persecution, she said, but there is still no framework. "The law is a statutory protection," she said.
Naomi Bang, a clinical professor in the Asylum & Human Trafficking Clinic at South Texas College of Law, pointed out that human trafficking is nothing new, even in the U.S. She cited slavery and the exploitation of Chinese in the building of the railroads and child workers during the industrial revolution.
She enumerated 10 ways law students can help fight human trafficking, including assisting in civil and criminal actions, using social media to raise awareness, writing letters to police and public officials, helping victims' advocates, working against sexually oriented businesses, and using their "vote as consumers" by being aware of their purchasing power. "The change starts with you!" she told the students at the lunch hour presentation co-sponsored by the Immigration and Human Rights Law Society, the Career Development Office and the Christian Legal Society.
The final speaker was Nick Grimmer, a 2008 graduate of the Law Center and associate at McDermott, Will & Emery, who is representing three immigrant children pro bono in a complicated case involving the laws of the United States and the Hague Conventions. The case deals with "conflicting rules of law," he said in which the U.S. granted asylum to the children to keep them from being returned to an abusive household in Mexico while the international court ordered the children returned to their mother in Juarez. The case is under appeal. The UH Immigration Clinic and St. Mary's Law School assisted on the case.
Each of the speakers urged the future attorneys to get involved in pro bono work, specifically immigration, no matter in which field of law they practice. "You will find joy and fulfillment," Chandler said.