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A Pro Bono Victory for Law Students, Clinicians

April 28, 2022 (4 min read)

ABA Commission on Immigration, Apr. 27, 2022

"“I’m really happy and grateful because I won my case, but on my own I would not have known how. Today, I am happy because I am free.” Soon after receiving the news that he had been granted asylum, Boubacar reflected on the outcome of his appeals case and shared his feelings of relief and appreciation. The impact of this win is major: not only will Boubacar be able to continue living with his loved ones in New York, but his asylum grant ensures that he will have protection and a path to citizenship as well.

The teams at the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic at Cornell Law School and the American Bar Association’s South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) have also been celebrating the recent positive outcome of Boubacar’s case before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). This win would not have been possible without the involvement of two Cornell Law School student attorneys, Patty Garcia-Linares and Dana Kinel (both now licensed), as well as their clinical supervisor, Estelle McKee. Pro bono support plays a vital role in the immigration legal system where respondents do not have a right to appointed counsel, and often it makes immigration relief possible for migrants like Boubacar who may otherwise feel in the dark about how to fight and win their case.

Boubacar fled his home country in West Africa to escape the persecution he experienced there, traveling through South and Central America before being detained after arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. “The migration journey was not easy. It was very hard, but it was the only way I could save my life and one day be free,” Boubacar shares. “I left my country and traveled through several different countries. I didn’t get help in those different places. I didn’t have a chance to be helped there, but in this country, I got help in seeing a judge, getting representation, fighting my case, and getting asylum.” While in ICE detention, Boubacar received a Legal Orientation from the ProBAR team and shared his story with us. ProBAR was able to assist Boubacar in finding a pro bono attorney for his initial asylum hearing while he was detained. The claim for asylum was denied, but the ProBAR team stepped in to assist with his first appeal and secured a grant of withholding of removal, a form of relief that offers less protections than asylum. After more than a year in ICE custody, Boubacar was then able to seek release from detention and reunified with his loved ones in New York, but the withholding grant left him without a guarantee of permanent protection and without a path to citizenship, which would be available to him through asylum. At this point, Boubacar and his attorney reserved the right to appeal, believing he would eventually be able to win asylum. Patty, Dana, and Estelle at Cornell Law’s Appellate Clinic stepped in.

The Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic isa clinical course in which students represent clients appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals and federal court from denials of asylum and similar forms of relief from removal. Students in the clinic develop their understanding of immigration law and build skills for appellate writing and client communication. Estelle directs this clinic with Stephen Yale-Loehr, and supervised Patty and Dana while they navigated Boubacar’s appeal.

Dana joined the clinic as a 2L at Cornell Law School to gain hands-on client-based experience and to advocate for those in need. Similarly, Patty wanted to gain experience in brief writing while using her legal skills to give back to the community. Tasked as a team with Boubacar’s appeal, Dana and Patty met weekly and worked together to communicate with the client, review previous filings, and write the appeal brief from the record. Estelle met with the students to provide input, discuss strategy, and guide their writing and research. The students did excellent work to communicate their client’s story effectively and to develop arguments that addressed key issues in the case. Together they crafted a strong case to appeal the judge’s previous denial of asylum.

When reflecting on their experiences and the importance of pro bono, both Patty and Dana agree that pro bono assistance is crucial to clients in Boubacar’s situation, and that there is a great need for more representation in asylum work and in the immigration field. “I am grateful to have secured a positive outcome for the client. Pro bono work is crucial and ensures that people in vulnerable positions get the help that they need,” Patty shares. “Every attorney should do pro bono in a way that is interesting to them. If you are interested in immigration work, there are a lot of resources out there -- through firms or through nonprofits that place cases.”

ProBAR thanks Dana, Patty, and Estelle for the hard work that they did on this case. The role that pro bono support played in Boubacar’s case was invaluable, and we urge you to get involved if you are looking to make a difference in a migrant’s case.


If you are interested in getting involved as a pro bono attorney with ProBAR or another initiative of the ABA Commission on Immigration, please sign up here to receive additional information about our opportunities and the resources available to support our volunteers.

About ProBAR

Founded in 1989 as a project of the American Bar Association, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) empowers immigrants through high-quality legal education, representation, and connections to services. ProBAR serves immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley border region with a particular focus on the legal needs of adults and unaccompanied children in federal custody."