January 22, 2021
Professor Anju Gupta directs the Rutgers Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.

The Rutgers Law Immigrant Rights Clinic wins an exceptional Convention Against Torture victory and has received the renewal of two grants from the state and Essex County to continue its work representing detained immigrants.

One of the cases that was partially funded by the grants was recounted by Professor Anju Gupta, Director of the Clinic: 

"Our client is a Mexican woman who was severely abused for years by her live-in partner in Mexico, primarily because he viewed her professional status as threatening. He beat her daily, burned her with hot charcoals, raped her, and attacked her with rope and other items. She worked as an engineer for the government, and upon learning of the abuse, her government employer, rather than help her, fired her, saying that she could not adequately represent the government with bruises on her face. Her partner's family members, with whom they lived, are police officers, and they also refused to help her. There were several firearms in the house, so the threat of death was constant. She lived in fear for her life, until she fled to the U.S. 

She was detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center, and, unfortunately, her case was heard just a couple of months after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping decision all but eliminating asylum for survivors of domestic violence in 2018. The Immigration Judge denied all forms of relief, citing that decision. We appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which again denied all forms of relief. Clinic student Noah Kim RLAW ‘19 worked on that brief.

We then went to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. At that stage, we co-counseled the case with the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinic. Harvard argued that our client merits withholding of removal relief based on the abuse even in spite of the attorney general’s decision, while we at Rutgers argued for relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Clinic students Sabah Abbasi ‘21 and Maryanne Abdelmesih ‘20 worked on that brief, in which we argued that even the higher state actor standard in CAT claims had been met in this case, and that the abuse our client suffered and would suffer rises to the level of torture. We secured five amicus briefs from immigration organizations and law professors.

We were thrilled when the Third Circuit remanded to the Board of Appeals based on our CAT claim. Sabah and Maryanne again worked on our brief to the Board, and the Board remanded to the judge based on our CAT claim. Clinic Staff Attorney Pina Cirillo and post-graduate Detention Fellow Medha Venugopal worked on the case on remand to the judge, and we just received the decision and order from the judge granting her case based on CAT!

We are thrilled for our client. Unfortunately, during the course of the proceedings, ICE deported our client without informing us. So, we now need to get her back into the U.S., but we believe we have a strong argument that ICE should bring her back. We also hope that the Convention Against Torture might be used as a vehicle to protect other survivors of domestic violence, at least until the Biden Administration (hopefully) fixes the law on asylum for survivors of domestic violence.”

In 2018, the Rutgers Law was chosen as part of a state pilot program to provide legal representation to low-income immigrants in detention who are facing possible deportation. In 2019, Essex County also announced a large grant to the clinic for representation of detained immigrants. The funding from the state and Essex county allowed the clinic to hire a Staff Attorney, Senior Detention Attorney, and Paralegal to carry out this important work under Professor Gupta’s supervision. In 2020, the clinic received an increase in the state and county grants, which has allowed for the hiring of a Managing Attorney, a second Paralegal, and two post-graduate Detention Fellows. The increased funding will also allow the clinic to hire a part-time Social Worker and part-time Federal Litigation Attorney. 

Because removal proceedings are considered civil, not criminal, the due process protections that exist in criminal court—including the right to a court-appointed attorney—do not exist for immigrants fighting deportation. Those immigrants, particularly detained immigrants, are often forced to represent themselves with no legal training. Yet, studies have shown that being represented by a lawyer can increase an immigrant’s chances of success ten-fold.

IRC Attorneys funded by the grants provide representation, advice, and counsel to detained immigrants who are seeking various forms of relief, including, but not limited to, release on bond, cancellation of removal, asylum, withholding of removal, and Convention Against Torture relief.

 “This project is another step toward our goal of universal representation for all immigrants detained in New Jersey,” said Professor Gupta. “The funding will allow us to continue to provide high quality legal representation to detained immigrants—representation that ensures that immigrants will not be deported without due process.”

Rutgers Law Media Contacts:
Mike Sepanic (Camden); Elizabeth Moore (Newark)

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