Cases & Deals

Cameroonian political activist wins U.S. asylum

Clients Cameroon applicant for U.S. political asylum

Jones Day won an appeal for a Cameroonian pro bono client, Mireille Tchemkou, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Ms. Tchemkou successfully challenged rulings by both an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals holding that her persecution by governmental authorities in her West African homeland, based on her student activism, did not warrant asylum.

Ms. Tchemkou, a member of the ethnic minority Bamileke tribe, was abducted, imprisoned, beaten and/or tortured on several occasions in retaliation for her protests against her government's discriminatory treatment of Bamileke tribe members. The beatings were serious enough that Ms. Tchemkou was hospitalized for 24 days and was permanently disfigured. Nonetheless, an immigration judge in Chicago found that Ms. Tchemkou, while credible, had not established past persecution because the incidents were temporally separated from one another and not sufficiently serious. The immigration judge also held that she hadn't shown a reasonable fear of future persecution, despite police summonses for her arrest on record following her flight from Cameroon, and a letter from her uncle - an officer with an opposition political party in Cameroon - warning her not to come back for fear she would be killed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.

The Seventh Circuit panel's opinion confirmed that the "atrocities suffered by Ms. Tchemkou," including being "detained under terrible conditions," "deprived of food, water and sanitation facilities," and "forced to clean human waste off the floor of a crowded cell in which she was the only woman," were persecution against her on account of her political opinion. The Court ruled that the record was more than sufficient to meet the eligibility requirements for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture.

The appellate team included Chicago partner Brian Murray, and Chicago associates, Gabe Scannapieco, and Katie Poleon.

On remand from the Seventh Circuit, Board of Immigration Appeals issued an order stating that, in light of the Seventh Circuit ruling, it was remanding the case only for purposes of conducting security checks. On remand to the IJ, the government opposed asylum claiming that its background check on our client revealed information that rendered her unsuitable for asylum. Brian and Chicago associate Vered Jona ultimately persuaded the government that its opposition was unfounded, and they dropped their planned second appeal to the BIA. Our client finally was granted asylum in October, 2009.

While her case was pending, Ms. Tchemkou completed undergraduate and advanced coursework in nursing, and is now working as a cardiac nurse in Chicago.

Tchemkou v. Gonzales, 495 F.3d 785 (7th Cir. 2007)