PUBLISHED:May 13, 2021

Immigrant Rights Clinic students win asylum for three children


“Lifesaving” work for Honduran family caps off Duke Law experience for eight 3Ls

Luca Tomasi '21 with the family at the children's asylum interview Luca Tomasi '21 with the family at the children's asylum interview

In a major win for a family of women and children fleeing domestic violence in Honduras, students in the Immigrant Rights Clinic have secured grants of asylum for three children seeking refuge in the United States.  

The clinic has been working with the family since January 2020, when an asylum organization in California referred the children’s mother and grandmother to the clinic. Upon meeting with the women, clinic students realized that the family actually has seven separate asylum claims. The children’s mother and grandmother will be represented by clinic students this fall as their cases proceed in Charlotte Immigration Court.

“Winning asylum takes a village, and these victories are the product of the herculean efforts of our clinic students,” said Clinical Professor and Clinic Director Kate Evans. “With these asylum grants in hand, this family has some serious wind at their backs.”

Luca Tomasi ’21 and Andres Paciuc ’21 represented the children at their seven-hour affirmative asylum interview in Arlington, Virginia, on March 19. They received notice of the positive result on May 4.

“I’m overjoyed for the children and their family,” Tomasi said. “It was a privilege to work with and get to know them over the course of the semester. They are tremendously bright, funny, and optimistic, and they handled the pressure of their asylum interviews with courage and poise well beyond their years.”

“From legal writing to client interviewing, it is a surreal feeling to learn that all of our hard work paid off,” Paciuc said. “After getting to know the kids throughout the semester, I am beyond ecstatic that their lives are changed for the better.”

Alex Bednar ’21, Andrew Frank ’21, and Sam Moore ’21 gathered evidence, drafted affidavits, prepared expert declarations, and developed the core legal theories. Natalie Pate ’21, Christine Mullen ’21, and Lucas Fernandez-Rocha ’20 identified the children’s independent asylum claims and filed the initial asylum applications on their behalf. 

Moore said the experience opened his eyes to the challenges asylum seekers face, especially those without legal representation.

“It was clear from the beginning that the children deserved a grant of asylum—indeed their lives depended on it—and yet recent legal opinions restricting the scope of asylum law made the outcome far from a foregone conclusion,” he said, adding that it took many interviews for the family to feel comfortable enough to share their painful memories, and weeks to peel back the layers of their experiences.

“I’m proud of—and genuinely impressed by—all three children, and I’m excited for what the future has in store for them here in the U.S.,” Tomasi said. “This case, and more generally, my time with the Immigrant Rights Clinic, has been one of the true highlights of my experience at Duke Law.”

Bednar added, “It was an amazing experience to work with the whole family and I can’t express how happy I am for them.”

Said clinic supervising attorney Shane Ellison: “The students’ work here has radically impacted the trajectory of these children’s futures for the better. It is not an exaggeration to say their collective efforts have saved three precious lives.”