Diary of a Pro Bono Case -- Part 1

18 Aug 2017
Author: Robert Precht

Twenty-eight year old Paul O (not his real name) sits in a jail, not far from Newark Liberty International Airport, where he has been since fleeing Nigeria experiencing persecution as a gay man. A mural of the Manhattan's FlatIron Building glittering in the evening light hangs on the wall of the large meeting room where we talk. 

Unlike most of those in detention Paul  will not be on his own as when he pleads his case for asylum before an immigration court judge. He has an attorney. Me. I got the case through a new program jointly administered by the American Immigrant Representation Project and the Newark office of the American Friends Service Committee to recruit pro bono lawyers for immigrants who are in jail facing deportation.

According to federal data, nearly 70 percent of those detained in New Jersey in immigration deportation proceedings have no such representation. Immigrants with counsel are fourteen times more likely to successfully challenge deportation than those without representation.

Paul has been in jail since June. The facility is a private prison run by the recently rebranded company CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America). I met with him yesterday afternoon, and we reviewed the asylum application process that lay ahead. In September we will file the written application, including his declaration, in which will argue that he faces violence if he returns to Nigeria -- a country with severe laws against samesex relationships. After filing the application we will have a couple of weeks to get physical evidence and statements of witnesses to corroborate Paul’s account of the murder of his partner and the later beatings he endured.

In October the hearing itself will be conducted before the immigration judge. Paul will testify, and it will be my job to help him persuade the judge that he has a well-founded fear of persecution should he return to Nigeria.