As part of the firm’s Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Pro Bono Project, lawyers across Sidley’s U.S. offices have teamed up with prominent nonprofit organizations on multiple federal cases to protect refugees, immigrants, and the legal service providers who represent them. This trailblazing, frequently headline-making work has received broad coverage in the legal and mainstream media. Sidley also partners with several legal departments of our corporate clients to host clinics and staff cases to help asylees and refugees obtain lawful permanent resident status and bring family members to the United States.
Assisted by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Sidley hosts clinics to help asylees and refugees who are seeking lawful permanent resident status or trying to bring family members safely to the United States. In 2020, we successfully piloted a virtual clinic model with the NIJC in order to continue this work during the pandemic. Sidley worked with 64 asylees and refugees in the clinic setting together with the NIJC in 2021.
A Sidley team, working together with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), achieved a settlement in a case — Abdi v. Mayorkas — challenging the blanket denial of parole to asylum seekers detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York. The settlement secures protections won earlier in the case, which was originally brought in 2017, and requires that asylum seekers be: notified of the availability of parole in a language they understand; given a parole interview with an immigration officer; provided an explanation for their parole decision; and informed they can seek reconsideration if parole is initially denied.
Parole is often the only way for asylum seekers who present themselves at a U.S. border or airport to get out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, because the government takes the position that they are not eligible to have a bond set by an immigration judge. In rulings on this case, the court has recognized the severe physical and psychological harms of prolonged detention.
“I fled Cuba where I was a political prisoner and came to America seeking freedom. I was shocked when I got here and asked for asylum but was instead put in jail. I am so happy that this settlement will ensure that there are limits on ICE’s authority to detain people like me and other asylum seekers in the future.”
— Johan Barrios Ramos, class representative
Sidley represented Centro Legal De La Raza, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Tahirih Justice Center, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in a challenge to a new regulation that took effect in January 2021 during the last week of the Trump administration. Sidley co-counseled the case with Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus and Lakin & Wille LLP. The regulation at issue stripped away essential procedural protections for people challenging deportation orders in Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. The regulation was part of a barrage of new rules that targeted the immigrant community in December 2020 and January 2021. After a hearing on March 9, 2021, Judge Susan Illston in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of California issued a 73-page order granting plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin the regulation, ordering a nationwide injunction, and finding in plaintiffs’ favor on every substantive issue.
A cross-office Sidley team secured a major pro bono victory in 2021 on behalf of plaintiffs who sought a temporary restraining order to block a rule widely described by immigrants’ rights advocates as “devastating,” “gutting,” or “eviscerating” asylum relief in the United States. Among other things, the rule would have effectively eliminated asylum for refugees applying on the basis of gender or gang-based violence, and raised various standards required for asylum to practically impossible levels. On January 8, 2021, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a 14-page opinion and order granting plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs were Pangea Legal Services, Dolores Street Community Services, Inc., Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. The Sidley team worked together with co-counsel from the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law.
In addition to impact litigation, Sidley’s lawyers have written powerful amicus briefs to protect the rights of refugees and immigrants. Leading the charge on a brief in partnership with Human Rights First, Sidley studied and took aim at the government’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced countless asylum seekers to return to dangerous conditions in their home countries. Mark Herzog — then D.C. pro bono counsel — helped establish the relationship with Human Rights First when they sought representation as amicus in the Ninth Circuit. Sidley’s relationship with Human Rights First deepened over the years, and Sidley was selected to represent them in the United States Supreme Court. The brief drew signatures from more than 100 major advocacy organizations, including longstanding leaders in the field such as Amnesty International and the Anti-Defamation League.
“When the government’s policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their day in U.S. immigration court went up to the Supreme Court on appeal, Sidley made the first call to us offering assistance. I was not surprised,” said Hardy Vieux, who served Human Rights First as its Senior Vice President on Legal Initiatives when the matter went up to the Supreme Court. “Sidley has long stood by our side as we work to protect refugees,” he said.
Our lawyers obtained U.S. asylum for an immigrant who fled his native Somalia as a teenager to escape threats to his life from the Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab. The client’s father, an outspoken critic of al-Shabaab, was killed by the organization because of his religious and political opposition to the group. Al-Shabaab targeted the client because he shared his father’s political and religious views and refused to join the group. The Sidley team worked with co-counsel from an in-house legal department and the NIJC, which referred the case to Sidley.
“I was lucky to be represented by the excellent pro bono immigration team at Sidley. I received so much support that extended beyond the legal representation. I am forever grateful for this unwavering support.”
— Our client, third from left, pictured here with the Sidley team and our co-counsel (far left)
A Sidley team in Chicago obtained U.S. asylum for our client, who fled his native Honduras to escape threats to his life and his family from Mara 18, one of the two main criminal gangs in Central America. As a young teenager, he received threats from the gang after refusing to cooperate with them and perpetuate violence against his fellow Hondurans. Our client arrived in the United States after completing an arduous 1,600-mile journey in which he crossed much of Central America and Mexico by land. The Sidley team worked together with co-counsel from an in-house legal department and consulted with the NIJC.
“A lot of people told me that my type of case was not winnable. I never thought I would win my case. I am so thankful to you all and I thank God for placing you all in my path. Because of you all, I feel like I have so much to look forward to.”
— Our client, second from right, pictured here with the Sidley team
A Sidley team obtained asylum in New York Immigration Court for an LGBTQ+ client who fled persecution in Cuba. While in Cuba, the police arrested or detained the client over 15 times in addition to fining and physically and verbally abusing our client for being transgender — all of which began when the client was only an adolescent. Our client’s last encounter with the Cuban police occurred following the client’s participation in an LGBTQ+ march. Our client was arrested and jailed for a week, beaten, and threatened with five to eight years’ imprisonment.
In addition to an application for asylum that included country conditions evidence, multiple affidavits in support, and expert reports by a country conditions expert and a psychologist, the Sidley team also filed an application for relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act on behalf of the client. Notably, Sidley was able to obtain asylum for the client in a matter of months, even though the process can sometimes span several years.
Our lawyers won U.S. asylum for an English-speaking woman from Cameroon who fled to the United States in 2013, narrowly escaping a forced marriage to a tribal chief.
In the years that followed, Cameroon became engulfed in a violent conflict between its French- and English-speaking populations in which the government-supported Francophone majority has beaten, kidnapped, and murdered thousands of Anglophones — including several of our client’s family members — based on suspected separatist political opinions.
The client filed her asylum application in 2014, but due to a series of delays in the immigration court (none of which were the fault of our client), she waited until 2021 — eight years after her arrival in the U.S. — to have her case heard. On March 17, 2020, two days prior to her scheduled hearing, all non-detained hearings in the immigration court were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and her hearing was rescheduled for August 17, 2023.
The Sidley team moved to advance her hearing, but that motion was denied because no earlier dates were available. But the team filed another motion to advance and, thanks to a last-minute opening, had just two weeks to prepare our client and our country conditions expert to testify in September 2021.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to appeal the decision to grant asylum to our client. When the immigration judge issued his ruling granting asylum, our client fell to her knees in the courtroom and began to sob. After enduring eight years of heartbreaking separation from her young daughter, she and the Sidley team will now be able to petition the government to allow her daughter to join her in safety in the United States.
“I would like to share my deepest gratitude with everyone on the Sidley team for helping me secure safety in the United States. I am overjoyed to be reunited with my daughter after so many years apart. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
— Our client, pictured second from right, with the Sidley team