On Nov. 26, Immigration and Human Rights Clinic client Liliana Pastora Rodriguez Montero and her daughter received official news that they had been granted asylum, a moment of happy news uncharacteristic of 2020. Rodriguez is a well-known Venezuelan Human Rights lawyer who has fought for marginalized communities throughout her 26-year legal career.
Referred by Human Rights First to the UDC Immigration and Human Rights Law Clinic in Fall 2019, Rodriguez started working with Professor Lindsay M. Harris and then-3L Shanté McWhite, ’20. Clinical Associate Laura Newman, 1L, and staff assistant Miguel Aguero provided Spanish-English interpretation for meetings, and McWhite worked to submit the asylum claim and craft a detailed declaration. Rodriguez has been a human rights attorney in Venezuela for almost two decades, most recently working to hold state hospitals accountable for providing adequate medical treatment to children with chronic illnesses. Prior to this, Rodriguez has worked to represent patients with chronic diseases in demanding their treatments and medications.
Rodriguez’s work, in coordination with various human rights organizations in Venezuela and driven by her Catholic faith and commitment to remedying injustice, brought her to the attention of the Venezuelan government and colectivos, armed supporters of the regime. Eventually, after receiving threats to her life and that of her daughter, it was no longer safe to stay in Venezuela.
In January 2020, Sophia Iwuagwu, ’20, joined the team and worked with McWhite to interview overseas witnesses. The team put together supportive sworn statements from Rodriguez’s former colleagues and clients to support her application. They also worked up the legal brief and supporting documents, but the anticipated Spring 2020 asylum interview was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with Rodriguez, Iwuagwu, who is now working as a judicial law clerk at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals said, “Liliana is a hardworking attorney and extraordinary mother who sacrificed her life to advocate for the human rights of marginalized Venezuelans. While the Venezuelan government did not value her sacrifices, it is encouraging to see that the U.S. continues to stand as a beacon of light in the world by granting Liliana’s petition for asylum. I am convinced that Liliana will make the best use of this opportunity to add value to the United States as she continues to fight against injustice.”
In Fall 2020, while Professor Harris was visiting at American University’s Washington College of Law as Acting Director of their International Human Rights Law Clinic, AU 3L students Alexis Rossetti and Amanda Grau joined the team to take the case over the finish line. Rossetti and Grau prepared Rodriguez for her asylum interview and delivered a closing statement, tying all the evidence in support of her claim together.
After being granted, Rodriguez tweeted:
“On the International Day of #HumanRights Defenders I want to congratulate in a special way @Prof_LMHarris , an extraordinary, intelligent, human and beautiful #Woman, who advocates for the Universal Declaration of #DDHH to come true and fulfill. Thank you. In a difficult and traumatic immigration process, @Prof_LMHarris, along with her students from the Universities of the District of Columbia and American, was there at all times, guiding and assisting until victory was achieved. I owe her my daughter’s life and mine. Thank you.”
Professor Harris added, “an asylum grant in 2020 is increasingly rare and a remarkable achievement. That the students – at both UDC and AU – worked diligently to prepare this application amidst a global pandemic shows how ready they are to practice law and how adaptable they have been! It has been an immense privilege to work with Liliana and her daughter.”