Client, supervising attorney Romy Lerner, 2L Tyler Koteskey, and 2L Maria Piselli outside of Miami Immigration Court
For ten years, Ana Reyes*, a law student and an activist with Venezuela’s political opposition, fought to defend freedom of speech, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law under increasingly authoritarian and repressive Venezuelan regimes. After enduring physical attacks, including being shot with rubber bullets, the death of a close friend and political ally, and threats of arrest and confinement in Venezuela’s notorious prisons, Reyes fled Venezuela to the United States.
After initially losing her case before the asylum office, where she attended an interview without counsel, Reyes turned to Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic for help. Law students Maria Piselli and Tyler Kotesky, both 2Ls, recently tried her asylum case before an immigration judge at the Miami Immigration Court and were successful.
“I am incredibly proud of the students’ hard work which resulted in such a great victory for our client,” said Romy Lerner, associate director of the Immigration Clinic.
By preparing the case from start to finish, the students gained experience in all aspects of litigation—they conducted multiple client and witness interviews, drafted declarations, researched and wrote legal memos, drafted examination questions for the client and other witnesses, and prepared the client for her testimony. Finally, they tried the case before the immigration judge.
“Our success in Ms. Reyes’s asylum case was without a doubt the most rewarding experience of my law school career so far and well worth the months of hard work I put in,” said Piselli. “As a Venezuelan immigrant myself, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help someone like Ms. Reyes remain in the United States. This case and the clinic experience overall have provided an incredible learning and practical experience.”
Miami, with a large immigrant community from Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond, is one of the best places to practice immigration law. Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic also benefits from a local immigration bench that welcomes student practice. The judges not only permit students to conduct merits hearing, they often take the time to offer feedback and advice on student performance, as the judge did in this case.
“It was a challenging and rewarding experience,” said Koteskey. “I loved that our work really centered around getting to know Ms. Reyes herself. We got to know her story, her passions, her life, and her hopes. I am also thankful for the help of everyone in the Immigration Clinic, especially Professor Romy Lerner, in encouraging us and helping us learn so much in this process.”
Three years after her arrival in the United States, Reyes has been granted the right to remain here as an asylee. Her status provides her with a path towards citizenship.
“I want to thank the University of Miami Immigration Clinic, especially my lawyers and those students who gave it their all and won…and just as I told them that day ‘THEY ARE THE BEST’ and I am certain that they have a very successful future waiting for them,” said Reyes, who has big plans for her life here in the United States. She has expressed an interest in joining the army as an aviation officer or continuing her legal education.
*pseudonym used to protect client’s identity