Goodwin Procter attorneys recently helped pro bono client Ricardo C. overcome several significant legal hurdles to obtain asylum in the United States.
A closeted gay man, Ricardo grew up in a small rural town of 4,000 in Guatemala. He was trained as a teacher and studying for his law degree when his fear of anti-gay hate crimes caused him to flee to the United States in 2006. Ricardo only knew six gay people in his small town. Four of them were murdered because of their sexuality, including one man who was wrapped in barbed wire and burned alive.
Ricardo, desperate to flee Guatemala, paid smugglers $6,000 to help him leave the country. When he arrived in the United States, the smugglers kept him in a hotel room, at gunpoint, until his family wired them over $1,000 more to secure his release.
Ricardo’s case came to Goodwin Procter in 2012 through the Whitman Walker Clinic, a Washington D.C.-based community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS care and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender care.
When Goodwin took the case, we immediately faced our first legal challenge. In order to be eligible for asylum, immigrants must file within one year of entering the country, and Ricardo had already been in the United States for six years before learning he was eligible for asylum.
Because Ricardo’s father, who was also gay, was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in Guatemala in 2010, Goodwin was able to show that Ricardo had a credible fear of persecution if forced to return to Guatemala, but this only gave Ricardo one extra year to apply after the date of his father’s death.
To extend the application deadline into 2012, Goodwin worked with Ricardo’s psychiatrist to show that the death of Ricardo’s father had caused him significant psychological trauma. Ricardo was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, and symptoms of PTSD. With this diagnosis, Goodwin was able to show that Ricardo was not physically or mentally able to apply for asylum until his condition improved in 2012.
Although Goodwin filed Ricardo’s asylum application two months after beginning the case, we faced another hurdle when the government lost Ricardo’s application for asylum, and therefore failed to record the original filing date. After receiving Ricardo’s second asylum application, the government reviewed Ricardo’s evidence and testimony during an interview in early February 2013. After the interview, Ricardo finally received asylum more than seven years after he had fled from Guatemala.
Goodwin Procter has represented numerous pro bono clients—children and adults—seeking asylum in the United States, including 48 cases since the beginning of 2012. Our attorneys have advised clients from Belize, Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Rwanda, Tibet, and Uganda in cases in Massachusetts, New York, California and Washington D.C. Other recent victories include two separate petitions for asylum on behalf of individuals from Guatemala. The first petition was for a young women who faced child sexual abuse and fled from Guatemala to the United States. The second was on behalf of a young child who fled after armed soldiers threatened and ultimately abducted his parents and siblings during Guatemala’s civil war. The firm routinely partners with nonprofit and social services organizations to provide legal representation to refugees.