This past spring, clinical students in the Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Clinic helped prepare a defensive asylum claim for Cesar*, an indigenous Guatemalan man who suffered severe persecution in his home country. Two clinical students, Isabel Espinosa Moguel ’23 and Juan Castano ’23, worked on the case “from start to finish” over the course of two semesters, under the supervision of Program Director Sabi Ardalan and Staff Attorney Jason Corral. Juan and Isabel worked on nearly all aspect of Cesar’s case, helping draft Cesar’s declaration, as well as supporting declarations from friends and family, working with country experts and forensic medical evaluators, researching country conditions, and preparing for trial.
“The work was definitely challenging,” said Isabel. “It was emotionally difficult to help our client prepare a declaration and prepare for giving testimony at the hearing, which entailed parsing all the details of some very traumatic experiences.” Luckily, both Juan and Isabel had a chance to learn about trauma-informed lawyering during their time at HIRC, and according to their supervisors, “did an amazing job of building rapport with the client” as they worked intensively to prepare Cesar for his hearing.
In May 2022, after months of hard work, Cesar and his legal team arrived at the immigration court in Boston prepared to offer his testimony along with expert testimony, braced for cross-examination of both Cesar and the expert witnesses, and ready to present oral argument to persuade the judge.
Before the trial began, the Immigration Judge left the room to allow the HIRC legal team to confer with the lawyer representing the US government. After a brief conversation, the government attorney stipulated to the fact that Cesar was eligible for asylum without having to hear any testimony. “I don’t think any of us were expecting our court experience to go the way it did,” Isabel admitted, but said that she “couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
Both the attorneys supervising the case were also surprised by the events in the court room. “I believe it’s further proof that Juan and Isabel did a stellar job preparing the record for the case,” said Sabi.
Everyone on Cesar’s legal team was overjoyed when the judge granted him asylum and they are excited for him to continue to build his life in the United States without the looming threat of being returned to Guatemala. The students also expressed gratitude for being able to be part of Cesar’s legal team and help see his case through to the end. “As an aspiring immigration lawyer, this experience was invaluable for me,” said Isabel. “I learned the importance of time spent developing trust with a client, since this is the foundation of good representation.”
Throughout their time working with Cesar, Juan and Isabel demonstrated tenacity, patience, and compassion, all essential qualities of any good lawyer. On behalf of the entire staff at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, we thank Juan and Isabel for their dedication to their client.
*Name has been changed to protect client confidentiality.