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Law School Clinic Rescues Haitian Client

April 03, 2024 (3 min read)

Miami Law Staff, Apr. 2, 2024

"The University of Miami School of Law Immigration Clinic halted the deportation of a Haitian woman by demonstrating to an immigration judge the substantial risk of torture she faces upon return to Haiti. 

Amelia Anderson and Fiona Zhang represented their client in a court hearing in April when they were second-year law students. After six hours of testimony from the client and an expert witness, the judge refrained from issuing a decision and instead opted to deliberate before issuing a written decision. Ten months later, the judge issued a 14-page, single-spaced decision, meticulously outlining the grounds on which the client qualifies for relief under the Convention Against Torture.

The clinic's client arrived in the United States 30 years ago and was a lawful permanent resident. Immigration authorities started removal proceedings against her after she was convicted two decades ago for possessing drugs in her airplane luggage. 

She cooperated with U.S. drug authorities, providing crucial assistance that led to the conviction of high-ranking members of a drug cartel with connections to the Haitian government. The drug cartel vowed to kill her if she were to be repatriated to Haiti. In addition, the client faced being incarcerated in Haiti upon her return and subjected to torture, defined by the Convention as "severe pain or suffering." 

As documented by Miami Law's Human Rights Clinic in a 2023 report, the Haitian government has restarted its illegal practice of jailing people deported from the United States who have a criminal history. In the jails and prisons, people are raped, beaten, starved, and forced into squalid cells without room to lie down. In her decision, the immigration judge found that "the Haitian government, by and through its officers, is actively engaging in acts that amount to torture." 

"Fighting for immigrant rights and justice was the main reason I decided to become a lawyer," said Anderson. "I spent my entire second year of law school focused on my cases with the Immigration Clinic. Now, even though I have worked with various firms, nonprofits, and even a federal judge, as a graduating 3L, I look back on the clinic work as the most important thing I've done while here in Miami. I'm so grateful to my clinical fellows, classmates, and professor for their immense help in making sure that our client was not returned to Haiti and can continue to live here in the U.S. with her family."

With the threat of deportation lifted, the clinic's client can now focus on her family, work, and community. She is a primary caregiver to her grandson, who has special needs and is a regular volunteer in her community through her church. Her commitment to serving others underscores her resilience and dedication to making a positive impact despite her challenges.

"I'm really happy for our client, who is one of the most inspiring women I've ever met," said Zhang. "She truly deserves to stay in the United States. Her case had been with the clinic for around eight years when Amelia and I took it on. We spent countless hours doing research, drafting briefs, working with the expert witness, and preparing our client for the individual hearing that lasted over six hours. I cried when drafting the briefing in the case because I was deeply touched by how strong and positive our client is, even after so many unfortunate events that took place in her life.

"I'm a 3L graduating in May this year. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten the reason why I came to law school. The urge to make money took over my will to work in public interest. Hearing about the result of our client's case reminded me of the reason of why I came to law school. Although I'll not pursue a career in public interest upon graduation, I will for sure dedicate lots of time doing pro bono work for the people that need it the most," Zhang said.

Established in the fall of 2009, the Immigration Clinic offers a challenging opportunity for students to advocate for immigrants in various complex immigration proceedings. In addition to helping individual clients, students collaborate with other immigrant rights groups on projects that reform the law and advance the cause of social justice for immigrants."

Immigration Clinic Students Fiona Zhang and Amelia Anderson.