An aslyee who has been in limbo for more than five years is now eligible for lawful permanent residence and eventually citizenship, thanks to hard-working students in Georgia State Law’s Immigration Clinic.
On December 7, Katie Beno-Valencia (J.D. ’24) and Angela Flores (J.D. ’24) were the lead advocates in a Merits hearing before an Atlanta immigration judge with a 96.9 percent denial rate. In February, they received the judge’s decision granting their client asylum on the basis of her race and identity as a member of the social group “Indigenous females in Guatemala.”
The students were coached by the clinic’s supervising attorney Will Miller and associate clinical professor Emily Torstveit Ngara.
“This was a highly stressful situation—losing meant an order of deportation back to Guatemala, where our client’s life would be in danger,” said Miller. “As a result of the students’ efforts, and of their skill and savvy at trial, our client is no longer in removal proceedings and soon will have her green card.”
The students devoted almost 300 hours of work to prepare for the trial after receiving the case in late August 2022.
“They started from close to zero, but got their arms around the law pretty quickly,” said Miller.
The students collected evidence, corresponded with fact witnesses in Guatemala and prepared written declarations for signature. They observed other asylum proceedings at the Atlanta Immigration Court with alumni Judge Pamela Peynado (J.D.’14) and Joshua McCall (J.D.’21) and then practiced all aspects of their trial numerous times.
“The preparation helped me get through the nerves of going to trial,” Beno-Valencia said. “I really appreciated the support our professors offered us; they helped us develop skills and tools for not only this case but to use in our future careers. I felt proud of the work we did and proud of our client.”
At the Dec. 7 trial, Beno-Valencia led the direct exam of the expert witness for Guatemalan asylum seekers. Flores led the direct exam of the client as she shared her testimony.
“This case was truly one of the best-lawyered cases I have seen in my time in practice,” said Ngara. “The students rose to the occasion and ensured that the necessary information made it into the record during testimony, overcoming technical difficulties, language barriers and layers of trauma in the process. The client is incredibly resilient, courageous, hard-working and empathetic. The state of Georgia is better for her being in it, and I am thrilled that she will be able to stay here as long as she chooses.”
During her testimony, the client shared painful details of what happened to her in Guatemala, often through tears.
“Angela accomplished something many seasoned asylum attorneys often fail to do—elicit testimony from a traumatized client consistent, down to the last detail, with the client’s previously submitted written declaration,” said Miller.
Flores attributes the successful direct examination to the diligent preparation of the team, the guidance from professors and the client’s courage and resilience.
“For a client to tell a deeply personal story about the persecution they survived, they have to re-experience it. Understanding how difficult that is, caring deeply for your client, and maintaining hope is important for attorneys of clients who have survived trauma,” she said.
Both Flores and Beno-Valencia were drawn to Georgia State Law because of its Immigration Clinic and their desire to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
Before attending law school, Beno-Valencia worked as a paralegal at an immigration law firm and at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), She plans to practice immigration law after graduation and says programs like the Immigration Clinic are important “because it offers an individual who may not be able to obtain representation otherwise a chance to have their day in court.”
Flores, who previously worked with children in foster care, hopes to become a child advocate attorney.
“My experience participating in the clinic exceeded all my expectations of what I could learn and accomplish in a semester,” Flores said. “It is an honor to directly represent those who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a reminder that all things are possible.”
-Written by Stacey L. Evans (B.A. ’02)