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“My entire life changed when I found a lawyer” 
A Chicago immigration judge has granted refugee protection to Biuma Malu, a gender-nonconforming lesbian from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The decision to grant Ms. Malu withholding of removal marked the final step in a protracted legal battle, which began in 2011 when she was detained without access to legal representation.
After Ms. Malu was initially denied protection while detained in Atlanta, she wrote to NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative asking for help. NIJC represented Ms. Malu before the Board of Immigration Appeals and later, with pro bono representation from attorneys at Sidley Austin LLP, in her appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. While Ms. Malu’s request for Supreme Court review was pending, her attorneys negotiated a settlement that would afford her a second chance to present her story to a judge and seek protection in the United States. On August 6, 2015, she got that second chance and was granted relief.
“The judge’s decision granting Ms. Malu protection comes as a huge relief,” said Keren Zwick, managing attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. “This case is a clear illustration of the critical need for legal representation in immigration proceedings.”
As a Congolese lesbian, Ms. Malu would have faced persecution and torture if forced to return to her country, but gathering the documentation and evidence she needed to prove it was impossible while she was detained for 18 months and isolated from counsel. The process for remedying her initial lack of counsel involved years of litigation, including 13 legal briefs and significant advocacy by 12 organizations who submitted friend-of-the court briefs throughout her legal process.
When Ms. Malu was initially taken into custody, the Department of Homeland Security issued an administrative removal order based on an erroneous interpretation of a 2011 criminal conviction. That decision prolonged Ms. Malu’s time in detention and precluded her from accessing some of the procedural protections that exist in standard immigration cases.
“I did not know it at the time, but my entire life changed when I found a lawyer.” Ms. Malu said.  “I did not know what I had to say or do to fight my case, and after months in detention, I had lost all faith. I am fortunate to have the support of people who did not give up and who did have faith.”
More information about Ms. Malu’s legal case and a list of firms and organizations that supported her case are available at