Human Rights Clinic Saves Jamaican Man from Deportation, Likely Torture

Tessa Walker and Kimberly Rhoten
Tessa Walker and Kimberly Rhoten outside Cleveland Immigration Court.

Thanks to the hard work of the new International Human Rights Clinic, a Cleveland man no longer has to fear being deported to Jamaica, where he is likely to be tortured and killed. A violent gang that tortured him in 2003, shortly after killing his parents and brother, would likely terrorize him again if he had to return. Concerned about his safety, the man has asked that his name not be published and will be referred to as “Mr. H.”

This month, Judge Thomas Janas of Cleveland Immigration Court agreed with the clinic’s argument that Mr. H cannot be deported because, as party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is prohibited from sending anyone to a country where he or she will be tortured.

Professor Sital Kalantry, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, which just completed its inaugural year, and new alumnae Kimberly Rhoten, ’13, and Tessa Walker, ’13, represented Mr. H in court. The U.S. government has decided not to appeal the decision.

Mr. H’s case is long and complicated, but Kalantry put it simply in her announcement of the decision: “Our collective efforts have likely saved a man from torture and death.”

Kalantry has been working on the case since August 2012, when she was a clinical professor at Cornell University Law School. When she came to Chicago in January, she brought the case with her. In the months since, Rhoten and Walker have worked tirelessly for this outcome and argued the case at an immigration court hearing on June 18 in Cleveland, Ohio after they had graduated. The judge’s decision came down on July 3, nearly three weeks after the hearing.

“We were so incredibly relieved and excited to hear it,” Rhoten said. In March, Rhoten and Walker drove the 300 miles to Hamilton, Ohio, to visit Mr. H in county jail and interview him. (He was detained near Cincinnati even though he lived in Cleveland and appeared by videoconference at his immigration hearing in Cleveland.)  

“We wanted him to be comfortable with us as his representatives,” Walker said. “It’s difficult to get to know clients over the phone.”

In May, the students made the trip again to prepare for his hearing, which was originally scheduled for that month. They asked Mr. H all the questions he could be expected to answer in court. About a year before, at his first hearing, the man appeared before the judge with no legal representation. “He was grateful not to go through this again by himself,” Rhoten said.

The journey has been long and difficult for Mr. H. He first entered the U.S. in 1996 and was married to a U.S. citizen in 2001. Not long after, his family back in Jamaica became the targets of a gang called the Shower Posse because their home was located in a politically strategic neighborhood. Mr. H’s mother worked for the People’s National Party (PNP), which opposed the Jamaican Labor Party (JLP). The Shower Posse supports the JLP.  Mr. H said that JLP members ran families who didn’t agree with them out of their homes, using violence when necessary. Mr. H’s family died violently while he was in the United States; his parents were shot and his brother burned alive.  

Then, Mr. H was deported in the summer of 2003 and captured by the Shower Posse. They took him to a house, beat him with guns, tied him to a chair, and told him to await his execution at dawn. Mr. H managed to get free of his restraints and run away. In December of that year, he tried to reenter the U.S. and was sent back to Jamaica by authorities on the same plane; a few days later, he reentered the U.S. successfully. In 2011, Mr. H pled guilty to two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, and was imprisoned.  Mr. H said that he agreed to give someone who was trafficking marijuana a car ride in exchange for $50.  He testified against the other defendants and received a reduced sentence.  When he went to prison, his undocumented status was revealed and deportation proceedings began.

In May of 2012, in a hearing where Mr. H appeared pro se, or without counsel, Judge Janas granted deferral of his deportation under the Convention Against Torture. However, Department of Homeland Security appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) remanded the case back to the immigration judge to consider supplemental information.

The BIA raised several questions on its appeal, all of which were answered by the clinic. The BIA asked why when Mr. H was turned away from the United States at Chicago O’Hare Airport in December 2003, he didn’t express a fear for his life. The clinic responded that Mr. H did not know he had any opportunity to file an application for relief at that time, and no immigration officer offered him the option. The BIA also questioned the length of time since Mr. H had a run-in with the Shower Posse – 10 years – and whether the threat had passed. The clinic brought in country conditions experts to prove it indeed had not, that Jamaica was just as dangerous for a man in Mr. H’s position now as it was then, and that law enforcement would be likely to cooperate with gangs looking for Mr. H.

The BIA asked if relocation was possible; the country conditions expert also explained the tiny size of Jamaica, which is about the size of Connecticut, to show that it is not ever possible to get away. The Shower Posse remains powerful throughout the country.

Kalantry said that after the government decided not to appeal a second time, she received a grateful phone call from Mr. H. For once, she said, she didn’t talk to him in jail, but instead from his father-in-law’s home.

“He was so grateful to the students who worked on the case and asked me over and over again to thank them,” Kalantry said.

It was an impressive outcome for students who had little to no courtroom experience; Walker had never appeared in court before, and Rhoten only briefly during a domestic violence hearing. Even so, thanks to talent and immense amounts of preparation, the students successfully questioned and cross-examined all the witnesses. Kalantry handled the opening and closing arguments.

To get ready, the students participated in a moot court where Elizabeth Frankel served as judge and Erica Zunkel the government attorney. Frankel is a Lecturer in Law and the Associate Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Zunkel is a Fellow in the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic. Fellow students Brian Ahn, ’14, Evan Feinauer, ’15, Matt DuWaldt, ’15, and Alex Kiles, ’14,  played the roles of witnesses.

Rhoten and Walker also wrote a pre-hearing brief, found the three expert witnesses (one doctor and two experts on Jamaica conditions), and prepared exhibits.  

“Kimberly and Tessa zealously represented our client. They were prepared, articulate, and confident, and they worked unbelievably hard,” Kalantry said.

Now, Rhoten and Walker are studying for the bar and getting ready to start their first post-Law School jobs. Rhoten is moving to India, where she will be a research fellow at the Center for Health Law and Technology at Jindal Law School. Walker will be a fellow at the International Justice Resource Center in San Francisco.

For Mr. H, he can finally resume his life with his family, safe from harm. His pastor has found him a lead on a job, and he’s working on obtaining a work permit, Kalantry said.

Kalantry feels great satisfaction in the case’s outcome after a year of hard work and so much at stake.

“After the hearing ended (on June 18), his 8-year-old son asked me if his father was coming home that day,” she said. “I felt so happy after the decision came because I knew that that the son would be reunited with his father soon.”