Trans Haitian Woman Protected from Deportation by Immigration Clinic

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Immigration Clinic students with client

Immigration Clinic students with client

Students in Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic halted the deportation of a trans woman from Haiti after a battle that lasted over five years and involved seventeen students and three tribunals. 

Students Fight Deportation 

The clinic first encountered the client when she was detained, had a final order of deportation and was on the brink of being sent back to Haiti. To fight the deportation, students petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and also filed an administrative motion to reopen the deportation proceedings before the immigration judge. 

After succeeding in reopening the proceedings, students secured the release of their client through a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in U.S. District Court. In the spring of 2017, Danielle Befeler, ’18, and Kaneily Alfaro Valdes, ’17, conducted a merit hearing in immigration court. Finally, this spring, 2Ls Tesneem Shraiteh, and Bianca Velikopoljski successfully persuaded the immigration judge to grant asylum.

Fleeing Persecution in Haiti

The client feared a return to Haiti because of the brutal violence she experienced while a child in Haiti. Because her family and community perceived her as gay or “massisi” she was raped, cut, whipped, burned, and threatened with death. 

Dr. Stephen Symes of UM’s medical school verified that the client’s scars were consistent with her account of the injuries she sustained. Two experts on country conditions in Haiti testified to the violence against trans individuals in Haiti.

Reflecting on the experience, 2L Tesneem Shraiteh said, “We had to be prepared for all of the judge’s potential concerns. Putting everything we’ve learned throughout the year into practice was an invaluable experience. Knowing that we made a difference in our client’s life is immensely rewarding.” 

The students and client alike felt the impact of the case. 

Delving into Asylum Law and Courtroom Advocacy

“We had the opportunity to become thoroughly versed in asylum law and courtroom advocacy,” said Bianca Velikopoljski, 2L.  “Getting to know our client and the ordeals she has been through was truly a humbling experience, and it made securing a victory for her all the more rewarding. This experience certainly has made the law appeal to me on a more basic human level.”

Over the last five years, the following additional students have worked on the case:  Callan Martinez, JD  ‘17, Caroline McGee, JD ‘16, Cassandra Pierre. JD ‘16, Mandeep Sehmbi, JD ‘15, Lindsay Macdonald, JD ‘15, Ian Shaw, JD ‘14, Ross Militello, JD ‘14, Daniel Nenkov, JD ‘14, Stephanie Almirola, JD ‘14, Haley Kornfield, JD ‘14, Francesse Lucius, JD ‘14, Alanna McCoy, JD ‘14, and Misato Sawada, JD ’13.

The Immigration Clinic is part of Miami Law’s Clinical Program in which second and third-year students represent clients and work on advocacy projects under the supervision of Clinic Director, Rebecca Sharpless, and Deputy Director, Romy Lerner