Students score a victory in child asylum case
The Harvard Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School won a major victory in August when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit granted a rehearing in Mejilla-Romero v. Holder, vacating its original published decision denying a child asylum applicant’s petition for review.
The order granting rehearing directs the Board of Immigration Appeals to address the special treatment of child asylum applicants as set forth in guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.
The Harvard Clinic at GBLS represented the child asylum applicant, Selvin Asael Mejilla-Romero, a Guatemalan boy who had escaped targeted brutalization and death threats on account of his resistance to gang recruitment and his family’s background and political beliefs. He came to the U.S. at 10 years old and later testified at a merits hearing before the Immigration Court at the age of 13. The immigration judge denied the boy’s claim, and in April 2010, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit denied the boy’s petition for review.
But in a petition for rehearing filed June 21, the clinic urged the 1st Circuit to vacate the panel decision, arguing that the Board of Immigration Appeals, immigration judge and 1st Circuit panel had committed legal error by failing to afford child-sensitive treatment to the petitioner’s claim. HIRC filed an amicus brief in support of the petition.
On Aug. 6, the 1st Circuit panel granted the rehearing petition, explicitly directing the Board of Immigration Appeals to consider arguments regarding “the guidelines’ child-sensitive approach” and errors caused by the agency’s “failure to follow the guidelines.”
Praising the 1st Circuit decision, John Willshire-Carrera, co-managing attorney of the Harvard Clinic at the Greater Boston Legal Services and the child petitioner’s lawyer, said, “In this case, we asked the court to recognize the unique situation of children seeking asylum before the courts.”
Professor Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, said: “The court’s unusual step in vacating its prior published decision is a real tribute to the students and attorneys who worked so hard on behalf of their client. I am proud that the clinic has helped to advance United States asylum law, ensuring that children seeking asylum protection in our country are treated with respect for their basic human dignity, and that adjudicators consider their special situations and needs, as required by domestic and international law.”
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