Immigrant Rights Clinic secures permanent relief for deported veterans
A soldier and a sailor are reunited with their families in the United States, thanks to the Immigrant Rights Clinic's work to return them from exile abroad.
Student-attorneys in Duke Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic have successfully represented two members of Black Deported Veterans of America (BDVA) in their bids to return to the United States from more than a decade in exile.
Over the past two academic years, in collaboration with the ACLU of Southern California, seven Duke Law students facilitated the efforts of Elsworth Smith and Mark DeSouza to return to the home they love and served.
“Our clients, their family and friends, and of course our students poured out their blood, sweat, and tears into bringing Mr. Smith and Mr. DeSouza home,” said Clinical Fellow Jenny Kim. “We are beyond thrilled to help restore honor and home to the veterans who bravely served our country.”
There are an estimated 700,000 foreign-born veterans in the U.S armed forces. Incurring even certain misdemeanors can result in deportation to their country of birth, in addition to a sentence. While the actual number of deported veterans is unknown due to inconsistent government record-keeping, advocates estimate hundreds remain overseas, lacking access to benefits, such as health care, to which they would otherwise be entitled through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“It is a rare honor to help someone overcome an order of deportation and return to the United States after a decade of separation,” said Clinical Professor of Law and Immigrant Rights Clinic Director Kate Evans, adding that the work with veterans is continuing.
“These cases have provided students with the opportunity to collaborate across clinics and to work with the country’s leading attorneys and organizers in this area to see justice done for their clients.”
An exiled sailor returns to the only home he knows
U.S. Navy veteran Elsworth Smith is now back in Chicago after spending 13 years in exile in Belize, thanks to the work of Tad Abramowich ’24, Analese Bridges JD/LLM ’24, Injee Hong ’24, Grey Howard ’23, Allie Munford ’24, and Alexys Ogorek ’23. Smith was brought to the United States as an infant and had never even visited Belize before his deportation in 2009.
Through the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrant Military Members and Veterans Initiative (IMMVI), Smith enlisted Howard to help him apply for humanitarian parole, a temporary grant to enter the United States that would allow Smith to get VA medical care for diabetes and gastroenteritis and reunite with his family, including three children who are U.S. citizens and two grandchildren.
While the parole application was pending, Smith’s cousin, also a U.S. Navy veteran, was murdered in Chicago. Bridges and Munford helped Smith, who felt the pain of separation from his family acutely during this difficult time, apply for expedited consideration of his application.
IMMVI, through an extraordinary exercise of discretion, then granted Smith humanitarian parole for one year. Upon his return, Bridges prepared and submitted a request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion to reopen and dismiss his immigration proceedings. ICE agreed, and restored Smith’s status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
“It was an honor to reunite Mr. Smith with his family,” Bridges said. “Making the call that he was finally able to be reunited with his loved ones was a moment of profound joy in my law school career.”
Last semester, leveraging the expertise of Clinical Professor Jamie Lau, supervising attorney of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, Abramowich and Hong applied for a pardon of forgiveness for Smith’s decades-old conviction of knowingly cashing a bad check that was the basis for his deportation. If granted, the pardon will open the pathway for Smith to become a U.S. citizen, allowing him to remain in the only country he knows as home without fear of deportation.
Abramowich said he was inspired by Smith’s determination to better himself and make a fresh start.
“Though I am grateful that the Department of Homeland Security has allowed Mr. Smith to return home, he continues to suffer outsized consequences for his mistakes,” Abramowich said.
“Seeing the harsh immigration consequences that he suffered despite his honorable military service underscored the injustices inherent within our immigration system for me.”
Hong called facilitating Smith’s return “the most fulfilling experience of law school.”
“I am proud of the work the Immigrant Rights Clinic is doing to support these U.S. veterans, but there needs to be more large-scale changes to help the people who have sacrificed so much for our own safety and security,” Hong said.
“I am hopeful that Governor Cooper will recognize the meaningful repercussions a second chance could have for Mr. Smith and his family’s futures.”
A soldier is reunited with his family and gets critical medical care
Munford and Shirley Garrett ’24 represented Mark DeSouza, a U.S. Army veteran deported to Jamaica who had suffered two strokes and subsequent cognitive impairment.
Following his second stroke in August 2022, Garrett submitted an emergency request for humanitarian parole. It was granted, and DeSouza returned to the U.S. in January 2023, reuniting with his children, who are U.S. citizens, and receiving critical medical care through the VA. Garrett traveled to the airport for the homecoming.
Munford then worked to pursue permanent relief, submitting a request for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion to restore DeSouza’s status to that of a lawful permanent resident. It was denied by ICE in spring 2023. Undeterred, the clinic renewed the request in fall 2023. This time, ICE agreed to reopen and dismiss DeSouza’s removal proceedings. If granted, DeSouza’s residency will soon be permanent.
“It's hard to put into words the excitement I feel about the prospect of Mr. DeSouza getting his green card and the relief of him being reunited with his family,” said Munford, who admitted feeling discouraged when ICE first denied the request.
“Working with Mr. DeSouza illustrated to me the obstacles to justice that exist in our immigration system, so I am beyond grateful to see him finally get a positive result out of this often-disheartening process. I feel very privileged to have gotten the chance to work with Mr. DeSouza, his family, and everyone at the Immigrant Rights Clinic.”
Garrett, who worked closely with DeSouza’s children over several semesters, added, “It has truly been an honor to work with Mr. DeSouza and his family. At the same time, this case really illuminated the volatility of the U.S. immigration system.
“While I am overjoyed at the prospect of permanent residency in the U.S. for Mr. DeSouza, I feel a deep frustration for how long, expensive, and unfair this process has been, and my heart goes out to the many military families whose loved ones do not have the resources or access to organizational support that would allow them to be reunited.”