By Michael Lukens
Nicholas Nyemah, Dominique Casimir, and Daniel Dovev from Arnold & Porter recently won an asylum claim for an LGBT man from Swaziland who faced possible death in his home country. Working with their mentors from CAIR Coalition, the team’s case was one of the first cases before a new immigration judge.
And a compelling case it was. Their client, Virgil* is a 27-year-old man from the Kingdom of Swaziland who had faced persecution (physical, verbal, and emotional abuse from both the community and family) since he was a child. When Virgil officially came out as gay in 2008, however, things immediately got much worse.
That year, as he was waiting for cab, Virgil was dragged into a mob who spat on him and ridiculed him for being gay. Soon thereafter, three men were sent by a local chief to Virgil’s home to beat him and cut him with a knife. When Virgil went to report the incident, the police would not take his case because of his sexual orientation. For the same reasons, a local hospital refused to treat him, requiring him literally to stitch his own wounds.
Fearing for his life and knowing that the Swazi government prosecutes homosexuality and sodomy with imprisonment and eviction from one’s home or community, Virgil fled for the United States where he was promptly locked up in a government detention center. His luck changed, however, when he met his attorneys from Arnold & Porter at the center. The team took several trips to work with Virgil in the jail, taking great pains to recognize his past trauma and calmly walk him through the legal process. Throughout many months, they developed his case and supporting record to prove his claim.
Nicholas, Dominique, and Daniel put together such a strong package of evidence and legal briefing that the government attorneys had little choice but to concede on many of the points in contention. Especially in these intolerant times, only outstanding lawyering can bring achieve such a result. Due to the government’s concessions, the hearing lasted less than 30 minutes, asylum was granted, and Virgil is now safe and free.
Without his team, Virgil would have been deported back to Swaziland to face death or exile. He is incredibly thankful for his attorneys and credits them with saving his life.
Michael Lukens is the Pro Bono Director and Operations Director for CAIR Coalition.