Our Pro Bono Commitment
The plaintiffs are a father and his toddler son who seek redress for their forced separation at the border when they tried to enter the country. The amicus brief was submitted in support of their opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss their claims. Filed on behalf a Stanford law professor and clinicians, the brief argues that the Trump Administration’s forced family separation policy is torture under international law. “Since the inception of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, amici curiae have important experience studying the mental and physical suffering endured by separated families. As a result, amici curiae have a significant interest in Plaintiffs’ allegations that the separation of D.J.C.V. from G.C., his asylum-seeking parent, constituted torture in violation of international human rights law,” reads the brief.
The team writing the brief includes Partners Brian J. Fischer, Debbie L. Berman, and Andrew W. Vail; Associates Brandon J. Polcik and Corinne M. Smith; Law Clerk Sara Cervantes; and Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
On December 10, Jenner & Block Associate Elizabeth B. Deutsch presented at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs’ annual John Burke Pro Bono Breakfast, which highlights the pro bono work of the Committee and its partnerships with law firms, including Jenner & Block. The discussion focused on the firm’s winning lawsuit against the Small Business Administration, challenging the agency’s implementation of the CARES Act’s PPP loan program to arbitrarily exclude from loan eligibility disproportionately Black business owners with criminal histories. The program also featured plaintiff and client Sekwan Merritt, a Maryland small-business owner whom the lawsuit made eligible for PPP capital. Ms. Deutsch worked on the case with Partner Kali Bracey, Associate Jacob D. Alderdice, and Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
Jenner & Block is proud to join a coalition of law firms helping residents in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York. One year ago, governmental infrastructure failure caused a sewage backup, but many community members still struggle to navigate the city’s claims and compensation system as they try to rebuild their lives and homes. Working with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the firm is helping families pursue their claims with the New York City Comptroller’s office, the government entity charged with administering their claims and fully compensating them for their losses.
Several local media outlets have reported on what NYLPI calls the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project. Among those with coverage were NY1, CBS, and NBC. An NYLPI press release also details the situation.
The “Champion of the Year Award” honors a single advocate who has gone above and beyond to provide pro bono services to survivors. Jenner & Block Partner Cynthia “Cindy” J. Robertson and her team successfully handled two complex immigration cases for trafficking survivors, winning T-visas for both of the clients around the Fourth of July holiday this year. The cases – one involving forced labor, the second involving sex trafficking – represented significant challenges. Both cases demanded creativity, tenacity, attention to detail, and excellent legal research to prevail. Through it all, Ms. Robertson supported the clients, providing trauma-informed legal guidance. The award will be presented on November 18, 2020.
Our client is a young woman from Kyrgyzstan who fled to the United States seeking freedom from persecution because she was targeted, beaten, and raped for being a lesbian. Kyrgyzstan is a dangerous place for LGBTQ individuals, as the Kyrgyzstan government encourages the harassment of LGBTQ individuals and supports far-right anti-LGBTQ nationalist groups.
Anara knew that she was gay since she was in middle school, but kept it a secret because in her community, to be gay was to be diseased or to be possessed by demons. Anara told her mother about her feelings for some of her female classmates, which her mother dismissed as a “phase.” Anara did not tell her father about her feelings, because he is a stern and deeply religious man. As Anara grew up, she exceled as a student, but was often mocked and ridiculed because she did not wear skirts, dresses, or high heels—all of which were expected of women in Kyrgyzstan. In her first year of college, Anara was elected to be class president, only to be told by administrators that she had to choose between the way she dressed and her position as president. Anara resigned.
Throughout her childhood and through her first year of college, Anara hid her sexuality. But the façade fell apart when she went home for winter break to celebrate her 18th birthday with her family. The family had prepared a large meal to celebrate the occasion, and Anara’s father asked to use her mobile phone to take a picture of everyone. After taking the picture, Anara’s father scrolled through Anara’s screenshots and discovered images of lesbian women, rainbow flags, and depictions from the film “Blue is the Warmest Color.”
Her father flew into a rage, cursing to the heavens for giving him a gay daughter. He repeatedly struck Anara until she fell to the ground. He picked up a cutting board and continued until Anara fell unconscious. He then locked her in an unheated barn overnight—in December. He refused for days to allow her to eat, take painkillers, or seek medical attention. Instead, he gathered leaders and other members of the local mosque, and invited them to the house to “cleanse” Anara. They took Anara outside, threw her into freezing water, and then dumped her into the snow, chanting prayers. They picked her up and pulled her arms and legs in opposite directions, and forced our client’s eyes to remain open so that the “demons” could escape.
Anara was bed-ridden for some time after the beatings and conversion therapy. But once she had some time to heal, she escaped her house. She had no money or support, so she went to a local police station for shelter. She found more persecution instead. Two male police officers took her into a room in the police station and questioned her. Although they seemed kind at first, when Anara told them why her father had beaten her—because she was a lesbian—the officers laughed and mocked her. The officers took Anara down a hallway to another room and locked the door behind them. Despite Anara’s tears and pleas for them to stop, the officers raped her.
The officers released Anara the following day, and she managed to get back to her dorm at college. She knew she needed to flee somewhere safe—somewhere she could be free. To her, that was America. She finished the spring semester at the university and traveled to the United States in May of 2017 on a J-1 visa. She filed her petition for asylum a few months later.
In 2018, Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons and Partner Peter J. Brennan partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center and lawyers from JP Morgan Chase to take on her case. They collected documentary evidence, drafted a brief, and prepared Anara for an eventual interview, even though the interview was not expected to come for many years. In the middle of this year, the team sought an expedited interview, which was granted. They were given two-weeks’ notice and prepared Anara for her interview and finalized the brief. Anara was calm, brave, and passionate in her interview. Within 48 hours of Anara’s interview, the government granted Anara’s petition for asylum. When the team told Anara that she had been granted asylum, she cried and told them, “It is like a big American family is opening its arms to welcome me in.”