Federal Court cites UConn law professor in landmark immigration case

A UConn law professor is helping to dismantle the view, long held by US immigration authorities, that people with more than one nationality generally cannot get asylum.

In a recent decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit cited the arguments of Professor Jon Bauer to overturn a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals. The council decided that family members fleeing severe persecution in Honduras, where they lived, were not eligible for asylum in the United States because they had not demonstrated that they would also be persecuted. in Nicaragua, where they had an inherited right to citizenship. . They were refused asylum and deported to Nicaragua.

In reversing the advice, the appeals court accepted Bauer’s argument that, under federal law, an asylum seeker must prove that he is persecuted in only one country of citizenship to establish his eligibility for asylum. The appeals court was persuaded that the language adopted by Congress in the 1980 Refugee Act is broader and offers more generous protection than the international treaty governing refugees on which US law was generally modeled.

The decision is significant for many migrants who are entitled to citizenship, by inheritance or other means, in a country they have never lived in and may never even have visited, said Bauer. It’s a topic that has interested him since his early days as director of the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at UConn Law School.

“We had the case of a young woman from Bosnia who also had Croatian nationality because her father was from Croatia,” says Bauer. “But Croatia, like Bosnia, was a war-torn country. She had very good reasons for not wanting to go.

The clinic was able to show that the woman would also have been persecuted in Croatia. But the case sent Bauer on an exploration of the law. His research uncovered historical evidence that Congress, when it passed the Refugee Act, intended to allow people to qualify for asylum if they were at risk of persecution in one of their Country of Citizenship.

“There is very good reason to think that what Congress was trying to do in making this change was to ensure that Jews fleeing the Soviet Union – and by the late 1970s there were many of them – could come to the United States as refugees even though Israel has classified them as citizens,” Bauer said.

In 2014 he published an article about his findings in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. In its recent decision, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit quoted this article extensively and relied on arguments made by Bauer in an amicus (or friend of the court) brief and in his oral argument in court.

Bauer got involved in the case, Zepeda-Lopez vs. Garland, at the request of a former student, Tina Colón Williams ’14 JD, now a partner at Esperanza Attorney at Law in New Haven. Williams and her colleague, Yazmin Rodriguez, represent the Zepeda-Lopez family, whose members sought asylum from persecution in Honduras.

When she initially argued the case, Williams says, she relied heavily on Bauer’s previous research on the issue of dual citizenship. “When it was time to appeal the case to the Second Circuit, we immediately reached out to him to see if he wanted to be involved as an amicus,” she said. “As we described the facts, his face lit up because I think he knew then that this could be a really game-changing case.”

The experience of working with his former teacher was “an absolute joy,” says Williams. “The impact of this case is enormous, a major correction of nearly a decade of misinterpretation of the law with big implications for all asylum seekers with dual nationality.”

While preparing the case, Bauer recruited several organizations that advocate for refugees to join, including HIAS, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, and Integrated Refugee and Refugee Services. immigrants. He also recruited several people to help with the practice, or “moot,” for advocacy, including UConn law professors Kiel Brennan-Marquez, Timothy Everett, Valeria Gomez, and Carleen Zubrzycki.

“Professor Bauer’s achievement is an excellent example of the outstanding efforts of our clinical faculty to advance and develop the law, in addition to their essential work on behalf of individual clients,” said Jessica Rubin, Associate Dean for Education. experiential. “It is gratifying to see the collaboration with alumni, the bar and public interest organizations producing such significant progress.”

The court ruling does not automatically grant the Zepeda-Lopez family asylum, but it does give them a chance to demonstrate that the persecution they suffered in Honduras is sufficient grounds to grant it. The decision binds the Board of Immigration Appeals in the states covered by the Second Circuit – New York, Connecticut and Vermont. And it gives asylum seekers in other jurisdictions an established argument if the council again imposes the requirement to prove persecution in each nation of citizenship.

“Hopefully this will lead to similar decisions in other circuits,” Bauer said. “Even within the Second Circuit, this is expected to affect many asylum seekers who were previously deemed ineligible for asylum. Now they at least have a fighting chance.

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