Last week, the Clinic received its first approval of an asylum case for a client from Afghanistan. The client, Mr. R*, was one of thousands of people evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021 after Kabul fell to the Taliban. In Spring 2022, a local sponsorship circle contacted the Clinic on his behalf seeking immigration representation. After months working with the Clinic, in July, Mr. R had a three-hour-long, emotional interview at the Arlington Asylum Office. Based on his testimony at the interview, his affidavit, and the supporting documents submitted with his application, he was granted asylum. A grant of asylum means that he will be able to stay in the United States, work to support himself, and apply for his green card next year. Looking to his future in the United States, Mr. R wants to one day go to college.
Last Spring, Valerie Stoneback, J.D. ’22, and Mike Arnone, J.D. ’22, were assigned to the case. Clinic Director Stacy Kern-Scheerer and the Clinic’s Fellow Nicole Medved worked with Valerie and Mike to prepare Mr. R’s case.
Professor Kern-Scheerer worked with Valerie to prepare Mr. R’s affidavit, a critical piece of evidence in all asylum cases that provides the foundation for all legal arguments, supporting research, and preparation for the asylum interview. Valerie prepared several trauma-informed interview plans to talk with Mr. R about what he experienced in Afghanistan to get the necessary information about what he and his family had experienced.
“When I walked into our initial interview, I didn’t know what to expect because I knew very little about him. When he shared his story, I saw the love he has for his family, the pain of missing them, and the hope for a life in the United States,” said Valerie. “I remember going to Professor Kern-Scheerer and Nicole after the first interview, explaining his story, and being excited at the prospect of asylum for him.”
Valerie had several interviews with Mr. R, all through an interpreter, about what he experienced in Afghanistan and what he believed would happen to him if he were forced to return. In just a short month, Valerie had gathered all of the information that she needed to finish his affidavit and have it prepared for submission.
Meanwhile, the Clinic’s Fellow Nicole worked with Mike on country conditions research. Mike used what he and Valerie learned in the interviews to research conditions in Afghanistan relevant to Mr. R’s case. Country conditions research added important context to Mr. R’s affidavit and testimony at the interview, supporting his account and providing further proof of Mr. R’s fear of harm by the Taliban. Mike’s research focused on the treatment of attorneys and human rights’ defenders in Afghanistan and threats against their families, which was relevant to Mr. R’s circumstances. For example, Mike found that Afghanistan’s former prosecutors are now in hiding from the members of the Taliban they had prosecuted under the former government and that the Taliban is targeting the families of former government employees, not just the government employees themselves. This kind of research from a variety of sources, including academic papers, human rights reports, and Congressional reports, strengthened Mr. R’s case.
Just after the semester ended, Mr. R’s case was ready to submit, including the affidavit from Mr. R about the threats from the Taliban against his family and hundreds of pages of country conditions research to support Mr. R’s affidavit.
After Mr. R’s asylum interview this summer, to which Nicole accompanied him, there were no updates on his case. In 2021, Congress required that Afghan asylum applicants who came to the United States as part of the evacuation receive a decision on their asylum case within 150 days of submitting their application. Unfortunately, the 150 days came and went for Mr. R with no news on his case. As the Clinic was preparing his next applications to ensure that he maintained lawful status while his case was pending, Mr. R received an update.
Nearly one year to the day since Mr. R started working with the Clinic, his case was approved. He can now live in the United States safely and pursue his dreams of higher education. After one year, he will be eligible for his green card, and, five years after that, his US citizenship.
“Working in the Immigration Clinic was the most fulfilling part of my law school experience, and I am thrilled to have played a part in Mr. R’s story,” said Valerie. “It’s hard to put into words what it means to have helped him win asylum, but I am so thrilled that he can confidently move forward with his new life here. I only hope that he can reunite with his family and—now that he has asylum—that is even more of a possibility.”
“We could not be happier for Mr. R or prouder of the Clinic students who worked tirelessly to prepare his asylum case,” said Professor Kern-Scheerer. “As we continue to work hard for all our clients, we celebrate Mr. R and his asylum grant. To know that he will now have the safety and security that comes with this win gives us not only enormous relief for him, but also hope for the dozens of other Clinic clients who are in similar precarious circumstances.”
Victories like this are made possible by the Clinic’s generous supporters. You can make wins like this a reality for more immigrants in Hampton Roads by donating to the Immigration Clinic.
The Clinic cannot guarantee any particular results for any particular individual or particular case. While the Clinic celebrates our victories, we recognize that each case is unique. Every noncitizen should consult with a licensed attorney about their case if they are concerned about their situation or are interested in applying for any form of immigration relief. The Clinic cannot promise any particular outcome or any timeframe to any client or potential client.
*Name changed and abbreviated for confidentiality.