More than 10 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Yet we are still awaiting the designation of Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status to take effect upon the publication of a forthcoming Federal Register, and relevant U.S. agencies have not yet produced the
Nearly six years after our pro bono client first filed his asylum application, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finally granted him asylum in the United States. Our client is a gay man living with HIV who fled Uzbekistan because he had suffered anti-gay violence and feared he would…
In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers. In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.
In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.
The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013). In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.” Id. at 770. The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.
It is either a crime or fundamentally unsafe to be LGBTQ in more than 80 countries around the world. For the LGBTQ individuals forced to flee such conditions, seeking asylum in the United States is an opportunity to lead authentic lives safe from emotional harm and physical violence.
However, due to recent legal and policy developments, LGBTQ asylum seekers are facing new challenges as they struggle to navigate the U.S. immigration system. During a recent panel presentation at Proskauer’s New York office, Immigration Equality—the nation’s leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization—teamed up with Bloomberg LP and Proskauer to educate pro bono lawyers about these developments and enable them to represent LGBTQ asylum seekers.
Immigration Equality’s Executive Director, Aaron Morris, began the program by describing the harmful effects expected to result from the “Presidential Memorandum on Additional Measures to Enhance Border Security and Restore Integrity to Our Immigration System” issued on April 29, 2019. This memorandum orders the Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security to impose a filing fee for asylum applications and initial employment authorization applications filed by asylum seekers. At present, there is no fee for these applications. The memorandum also directs that asylum applicants who “entered or attempted to enter the United States unlawfully” should be barred from receiving employment authorization while their asylum applications remain pending. These policy changes, if implemented, will cause significant hardship for LGBTQ immigrants fleeing persecution, many of whom are unable to afford filing fees and will struggle to support themselves in the U.S. if they are not permitted to work lawfully here.
In a crowded federal building earlier this month, against a backdrop of innocent child laughter and knowing adult tears, among joyful embraces and somber reassurances, a Proskauer client heard the last three digits of his alien registration number echo off the anxious faces around him, and he made his way to the window from where the voice rang. Seconds later—composing himself before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official on the other side of the glass—his fate came: “Congratulations, you have been granted asylum in the United States.”
Only six months after Immigration Equality, a leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization, referred this client to us, Proskauer successfully secured his right to remain in the United States indefinitely as an asylee, away from the persecution he had faced in his native country.
Tradition is a funny thing. It can be tempting to dismiss it as something static and fixed, when in fact, it is a dynamic and ever-evolving creature. It is a tradition’s inheritors who determine what to maintain, adapt and carry on; traditions are an amalgamation of both the present and the past. It is through this reiterative process that traditions grow strong enough to stand the test of time.
Every fall, law firms across the United States determine what parts of their traditions and culture to instill in the next generation of attorneys joining their ranks as first-year associates. New hire orientations can set the tone not only for the future of a firm, but for the shape of associates’ entire careers. Proskauer passes on a tradition of public service through its first-year associate pro bono program, which gives each new member of the Firm a pro bono matter as their first assignment.
Because the corporate social responsibility and pro bono presentation is the very first session of Proskauer’s orientation program, new associates learn about this assignment within hours of starting at the Firm, even before we are inducted into our respective practice groups.