Cases & Deals

Sierra Leone woman granted asylum under the Convention Against Torture Act

Clients Sierra Leone applicant for U.S. asylum

Associate Victoria Dorfman, Jones Day Washington, along with Partner Larry Rosenberg (Washington) and Partner Lee Ann Russo and associate Gabriel H. Scannapieco (Chicago), represented a refugee from Sierra Leone in the Seventh Circuit, appealing the denial of withholding of removal because of a drug conviction and the denial of relief under the Convention Against Torture. The client, a young woman, was subjected to incomplete Female Genital Mutilation as a child and was threatened by those who performed the original procedure that they will complete it. After she witnessed the murder of her father by rebels, the client escaped with her mother to the United States, where she went to school, obtained a nursing degree and held a job. After being raped by an acquaintance, she became depressed and turned to drugs. She was convicted of purchasing miniscule quantities of crack cocaine for a friend and receiving a small portion for her own use. The prosecuting attorney recognized the unusual circumstances our client experienced and her minimal involvement in the drug offense and recommended against prison. Based on that conviction, the Government claimed that her crime was "particularly serious" and she should be deported. The Immigration Judge agreed and also denied relief under the Convention Against Torture.

The Jones Day team challenged this denial because both the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals relied on erroneous standards to evaluate our client's claims, disregarded her testimony on the likelihood of further torture, and misinterpreted the Department of State Country Reports, which support our client's fear of further torture.

The Seventh Circuit granted the petition for review with respect to the Convention Against Torture claim. The court held that the immigration judge and the Board applied the wrong legal standard for acquiescence of government officials in torture and that, based on proffered evidence, it was an error to reject her fears of further mutilation if she were to return to Sierra Leone. The court remanded on the Convention Against Torture claim, and the immigration judge subsequently granted the client's request for deferral on that ground.

Tunis v. Gonzales, 447 F3d 547 (7th Cir. 2006)

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