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Weil Pro Bono Team, HIV Law Project Help Gambian Couple Living with HIV/AIDS Gain Asylum in United States

A Gambian couple living with HIV/AIDS, ordered deported 17 years ago, has now been granted asylum to remain in the United States. The order granting the couple’s asylum application was issued yesterday by Immigration Judge Javier Balasquide. A Weil pro bono team represented the couple and was assisted by the HIV Law Project, the referring organization.

In addition to living with HIV/AIDS, the wife suffered female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia, which is a basis for seeking asylum in the United States, and the couple feared a similar fate for their four daughters, who were born in the United States, if they were forced to return to The Gambia.

When Weil was first brought on to the case nearly five years ago, the couple was effectively ineligible for asylum relief due to the procedural posture of the case. The Weil team persuaded the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Chief Counsel to join its motion to the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen the case, a significant victory in itself because it is the U.S. government's policy to join a motion "only under exceptional and compelling circumstances." The Board of Immigration Appeals granted the joint motion to reopen sua sponte, and remanded the case to Immigration Court in New York.

A hearing on the merits of the couple’s case before Judge Balasquide was scheduled for August 2013. In preparation for the hearing, which is similar to a bench trial, the Weil team built a strong case, gathering evidence on The Gambia, FGM and HIV/AIDS from healthcare providers and experts, and submitting pre-hearing briefs, affidavits and exhibits. At the merits hearing, the team conducted direct and redirect examinations of the couple, and defended them during ICE counsel’s cross-examination. Judge Balasquide adjourned the proceeding to November 5 to render a formal opinion.

At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Balasquide granted the couple’s asylum application; because ICE counsel waived their right to appeal, the order is final. The granting of asylum provides the couple with a path to citizenship, allows them to remain in the United States to receive the care they need to control their HIV/AIDS, and prevents the endangerment of their four US-born daughters. Upon issuing the order, the judge congratulated the couple and their family, and also thanked Weil for its pro bono representation.

The Weil pro bono team on this matter included partner Adam Hemlock, associates Matthew Howatt and Melanie Conroy, and paralegal Angela Oliva, as well as former associate Michael Firestone and former paralegal Stephanie Schiffman (both on the appeal). Cristina Velez, HIV Law Project’s Supervising Immigration Attorney, assisted the Weil team.