Working pro bono on behalf of an immigrant seeking asylum from the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon, Wilkinson Stekloff associates Sarah Neuman and Alison Zoschak delivered a victory for their client in Arlington Immigration Court in Virginia just before the Christmas holiday.
The team — which also included partner James Rosenthal, legal assistant Jack Satti, and case manager Patrick O’Keefe — represented an English-speaking teacher from Cameroon who was repeatedly detained and tortured by the Cameroonian government and also received a death threat from the separatist fighters who oppose that same government.
“Our client is passionate about education,” Sarah explained. He was a youth activist, and starting in 2013, he took on a leadership role in an organization focused on youth empowerment. The government mistook the organization’s meetings, which took place in the Anglophone regions of the country, as opposition party meetings. From that time forward, the client was on the government’s blacklist and was repeatedly targeted for detention and torture. He was later detained and tortured for refusing to give the government names of separatist fighters. At the same time, separatist fighters threatened to kill the client based on their mistaken belief that he was a government collaborator. “We knew from the outset that our client had a compelling asylum claim based on the treatment he endured in Cameroon, and we just needed to assemble the evidence to support his story,” Sarah noted.
The team engaged two expert witnesses and obtained several fact-witness affidavits in support of their client’s asylum claim. They filed a brief and hundreds of pages of supporting materials ahead of the October 22, 2021, hearing where the case was argued.
On December 21, 2021, the Immigration Judge granted the client’s asylum application. The government waived its right to appeal.
“This ruling enables our client to remain safely and free of fear in the United States,” said Alison. “We’re so proud to have been able to advocate on his behalf and thrilled to have achieved this successful outcome.”
Since its founding, Wilkinson Stekloff has demonstrated its commitment to pro bono work across practice areas including immigration, family law, civil rights, post-conviction representation, and appellate matters. The firm has been honored with Chambers’ “Highly Commended Pro Bono Program” award and, in 2020, recognized by the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (LACLJ) as its Pro Bono Partner of the Year, noting that the firm’s pro bono advocacy on behalf of low-income women experiencing domestic violence “has been vital to these individual clients and has brought safety and security to them and their children.”
Other significant pro bono victories include:
- In August 2021, Wilkinson Stekloff secured a major win in the Ninth Circuit, convincing the court that non-citizens facing reinstatement of prior deportation orders have a right to counsel in their reasonable fear proceedings before an Immigration Judge.
- Joining forces with the ACLU of Missouri and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the firm represented a class of incarcerated people challenging the Missouri Department of Corrections’ and their private healthcare provider Corizon’s systematic denial of potentially life-saving medications, ultimately leading to a landmark settlement in August 2020, under which Missouri will dedicate $50 million to Hepatitis C treatment.
- Wilkinson Stekloff secured the release of two clients under DC’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (known as “IRAA”), which allows those sentenced as juveniles to petition a court for resentencing after they have served at least 15 years of their sentence.
- In an appellate case, working in partnership with Rights Behind Bars, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rights of incarcerated people, the firm represented a client who was attacked while in detention in an Alabama jail. The Eleventh Circuit ruled for our client, determining that the county sheriff and jail warden had violated his constitutional rights and were not entitled to qualified immunity.