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Pro Bono Client Wins Appeal Reviving Asylum Bid

Paul, Weiss, alongside co-counsel The Saltrese Law Firm, won a significant victory for a pro bono client, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit revived our client’s asylum bid. In a 2-1 decision, the court held that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) abused its discretion by treating our client’s asylum appeal as waived, and remanded the case for the BIA to address the merits of the appeal. The ruling is a rare instance of an asylum seeker getting relief at the appellate level.

Our client is a 49-year-old Mexican citizen and mother of three who has lived in the United States since entering in 1995 or 1996 without inspection. She was charged with inadmissibility by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 and subsequently applied for asylum, stressing two incidences of violence in the previous year against her family members in Mexico—the kidnapping of her uncle and the murder of her female cousin.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the immigration judge issued an opinion in 2019 denying the asylum application, specifically holding that the applicant had not shown a well-founded fear of future persecution due to her membership in a particular social group, as required by law. Our client appealed to the BIA, which determined that she had waived her argument with respect to the immigration judge’s denial of her asylum application. She then retained Paul, Weiss and petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review the BIA’s decision.

In our filings and at oral argument, we successfully argued that our client clearly challenged the immigration judge’s holding that she had not demonstrated a well-founded fear of persecution based on her membership in a particular social group—in this case, her status as a woman repatriated to Mexico from the United States. As the appellate court noted, the immigration judge “failed to mention” our client’s “strongest evidence that she would in fact face persecution on that basis—the murder of her cousin, a woman repatriated to Mexico from the United States.”

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the BIA “abused its discretion” by failing to address the merits of our client’s asylum appeal, further noting that, while the BIA “is not obligated to develop arguments for litigants, it may also not turn a blind eye to the arguments plainly before it.”

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation associates Brian Lipshutz, who argued the appeal, Matthew Higgins, Abigail Frisch Vice, Garrett West, Matteo Godi, Muamera Hadzic and Yishai Schwartz. The team was supervised by litigation partner Kannon Shanmugam.

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