Just eight months after it accepted its first students, the Columbus School of Law’s Immigration Litigation Clinic won its first case on March 7 with a decision from the Baltimore Immigration Court in favor of its client.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher. The two students who took on the case, Tarunpal Dhillon (2L) and Judith Muñoz (3L), literally saved their client’s life.
The students tell the entire moving and beautiful story on the blog Lifted Lamp, which provides commentary and analysis on issues surrounding immigration.
To summarize, their client was a South African women whose family had run afoul of that nation’s police force and been targeted with a vendetta by police as a result. The client, “Tanya,” managed to survive harassment and death threats and arrived in the protection of the United States on a J1 visa in 2005.
Six years later, however, Tanya’s visa was revoked after she was found guilty of a criminal offense during which she was acting in self-defense against her abuser. She was sent back to South Africa and forced to resume a life on the run from the South African police. She even attempted to change her identify. Nonetheless, she was tracked down and attacked on two different occasions, snuffing out any hope that she could ever live safely in her native country.
In December 2013, Tanya received news that the Board of Immigration Appeals had granted her appeal to return to the U.S. and litigate her application for protection under the Convention Against Torture.
“After hearing our client’s story, we quickly realized the enormous responsibility that we agreed to put on our shoulders. We were to become protectors, fighters-for-justice, and zealous advocates for a woman who feared she would be brutally and viciously attacked and killed by a notorious criminal gang working under the orders of the South African Police,” wrote Dhillon and Muñoz.
The students spent the next three months immersed in Tanya’s case, a time they describe as “overwhelming and stressful because the stakes were so very high.”
Up against an experienced attorney from the Department of Homeland Security at the March 7 hearing, the students spent more than three hours in direct and cross examinations, client and witness testimony, evidentiary challenges, responses to objections by opposing counsel, and answering tough questions from the judge.
“When the immigration judge announced his decision to grant our client deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture, we experienced a type of joy and accomplishment never before experienced by either of us in our lifetime. It hit us: we had saved our client’s life,” the students wrote.
Dhillon and Muñoz worked under the supervision of Professors Michelle Mendez and Dree Collopy, who taught them immigration law and skills, and prepared them for the countless scenarios that could arise during the individual hearing.
The final sight from that exhausting day is one they will never forget.
“Tears poured down her face while she repeatedly whispered the words ‘thank you’. Tanya was released from immigration detention that afternoon, and we were able to walk out of the immigration court building with our client, who was literally jumping and skipping for joy, a free woman who can now live safely in the United States.”
Dhillon and Muñoz closed their blog account with a parting thought.
“For us, the clinic was not just a class…it was a transformation.”