Boston College Immigration and Asylum Project Attorney and Fellow Mary Holper JD '03 with "Ms. K" last year. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
BC Immigration Program Aids 'Ms. K'
Law, GSSW students help Liberian woman fight deportation
By Greg Frost
A Liberian immigrant who faced deportation by federal authorities for a pair of shoplifting offenses will instead be allowed to stay in the United States thanks in large part to efforts by the Boston College Immigration and Asylum Project (BCIAP) and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).
A US immigration judge decided to let the woman, known as "Ms. K," remain in the United States after BCIAP Attorney and Fellow Mary Holper JD '03 and second-year BC Law student Tara Slepkow presented evidence of the hardships she would face were she forced to return to Liberia.
"They may have literally saved this young woman's life, bringing her back from the brink of a tragic deportation, getting her released from federal custody, and developing a workable treatment and life plan for her," Clinical Prof. Daniel Kanstroom (Law) said of Holper and Slepkow.
Kanstroom, an associate director of BC's Center for Human Rights and International Justice, said the case was a good example of the multi-disciplinary approach that BC is taking toward human rights issues.
Not only did Boston College community members provide Ms. K with legal assistance, but Jennifer McDonald, a student in the Graduate School of Social Work, found various treatment programs that would take Ms. K if she could be released from detention, Kanstroom said.
In 1991, according to the BCIAP representatives, Ms. K fled civil war in her home country and came to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. In Liberia, she had suffered genital mutilation and had been forced to watch brutal killings during the war that left her suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Arriving in the US as a teenager, she had little reprieve from her suffering. After being physically and mentally abused for years, she was introduced to crack cocaine, which led to a string of petty crimes. She was later convicted of two shoplifting offenses in Rhode Island, for which she received suspended sentences. Under federal immigration laws, however, the convictions meant that she faced mandatory detention and deportation.
Former BCIAP Fellow Alexandra Dufresne met Ms. K last July at a regional county jail where she was detained. Dufresne filed an application for asylum and withholding of removal, citing the persecution that Ms. K would suffer in Liberia on account of her ethnicity. Dufresne also worked with the Roger Williams Criminal Defense Clinic in Rhode Island, which agreed to represent Ms. K to seek the reduction of her shoplifting sentences. The team was successful and Ms. K became eligible for a special waiver of deportation available to long-term permanent residents.
Holper took over the case in August and, together with BC law students, submitted briefs in support of Ms. K's applications to stay in the United States. The team also arranged for Ms. K to be examined by a gynecologist from Boston Medical Center to verify that she had suffered genital mutilation, and by a psychologist to verify the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and the need for further medication and therapy.
On Dec. 29, Ms. K appeared before an immigration judge in Boston, represented by Holper and Slepkow. The judge was convinced by the proof the pair submitted about hardships Ms. K would face in Liberia. The judge also was impressed by Ms. K's desire to rehabilitate from her drug use and the hardship that her young children would suffer if they were separated from their mother. The judge granted a discretionary waiver of deportation and the government has agreed not to appeal that ruling.
Ms. K was released the same day and was reunited with her family in Providence.
Holper said that while Ms. K's case was not BCIAP's first immigration victory, it felt good to know that she had helped keep a family together.
"I filled big shoes here, so the previous BCIAP fellows before me had many successes preventing people from being deported," she said.