Statutes of Liberty: An Asylum Case From Two Perspectives — The Lawyer and the Client – About Your Online Magazine


This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information provided here is of a general nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

In this two-part series, we’ll show you an asylum case from two perspectives: that of the client and that of her attorney. Today, we will show our point of view – how an asylum seeker walks through the door, how we develop the case and how we present it to the government. We’ve changed some elements to protect our client’s identity (eg country of origin), but we’ll certainly provide the gist of the case.

An excellent asylum claim, a grumpy lawyer

Mr. J.’s case began – like most of our cases – with a phone call, a previous relationship, and a referral. Our reference source told us that he met Mr. J – a foreign official – and that Mr. J was cut off by his home government, and Mr. J had a bunch of kids, and was there anything we could do? Our answer to that question is always the same: we don’t know if the law offers a solution, but it can, and we would be happy to meet Mr. J for a consultation.

Mr. J came to our office with a very unusual story. He had risen through the ranks of the security services in his home country of Azerbaijan, primarily engaged in counterterrorism and anti-corruption efforts. The United States, as part of its cooperative relationship with Azerbaijan, supports counterterrorism and anti-corruption programs here, so Mr. J was selected from among his peers to participate in advanced training in the United States. Over a long career, Mr. J has become an important security officer, working closely with the President of Azerbaijan.

Mr. J returned to the United States once again, sponsored by Azerbaijan, to complete his postgraduate course. While Mr. J was studying (and excelling in his studies), the president of Azerbaijan fell from power. The new administration immediately arrested the former president – and began arresting the former president’s allies, associates and employees. (Fans of “lock it!” and “lock it!” should take note: it’s never just “lock it” he up ”- takes a microsecond to become“ lock they up.”)

Mr. J. has provided us with a bundle of documents relating to his previous service, his studies in the United States, his relationship with the old government, and the new government’s fumbling attempts to call him back. Laura Maria Lorenzo spent five weeks preparing a communiqué with Mr. J – and working to connect him to institutions that can provide medical services and basic support to his large family as he rebuilds a new life.

We are now at the stage where we feel ready to submit Mr J’s application. We advise him that it may be many years before he sees an asylum officer. We’ve come to terms with the fact that his career as a senior official is over – he will be working as a handyman to support his family for the foreseeable future.

If we’re lucky, we’ll have Mr. J in front of the asylum office in 2024 and we’ll win. If we’re unlucky, Mr. J’s asylum case will be sent to the immigration courts to be heard at a distant date. (The test date of 2028 wouldn’t surprise us.) Either way, he can count on us to defend the correct result.

As always, we’d love to hear your opinion and we’ll do our best to respond.

Paula Fonseca