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June 30, 2011
By Julia Toepfer

NIJC wins relief for hundreds of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers each year, but some of those victories are especially close to our hearts because of the individuals’ strength, courage, and resilience. After 6 years of fighting his case in court, Rashed Binrashed finally received word last month that the Board of Immigration Appeals has granted him withholding of removal, a form protection for people who have been persecuted or face future persecution in their native countries. Throughout his case, Rashed was an eloquent advocate for immigration detention and court reform. He courageously spoke on many occasions to Chicago audiences about the events that brought him to the United States and the challenges he faced in the process of obtaining protection in this country.

Rashed fled Yemen as a teenager in 1999 after his family began receiving threats from the government because of his father’s activism in the pro-democracy opposition party that lost the country’s civil war. When the government’s intelligence service began kidnapping other politically active people and their families, Rashed escaped to the United States to seek asylum. Following some incorrect legal advice, Rashed applied for – and won – asylum claiming he was from Somalia. In 2005 a police officer pulled Rashed over for a broken taillight and searched his car, uncovered his Yemeni identity, and turned him over to the Department of Homeland Security. The safety and security Rashed had found in the United States was shattered and he found himself facing deportation to a country where he knew he would meet a severe threat of persecution.

“I was detained for nearly three years, and that whole time, I never knew when it would end,” Rashed wrote in a testimony submitted for a hearing on the U.S. detention system convened in March this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “Being in detention breaks you down psychologically. There is nothing you can do from the inside and very little others can do from the outside.”

Watch a video of Rashed speaking during a panel discussion about his experience in the immigration detention system:

NIJC and pro bono attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Baker & Daniels LLP represented Rashed as he appealed the deportation order all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 2007, the Seventh Circuit ruled in Rashed’s favor and remanded his case back to the immigration courts, but the immigration judge refused to set a bond in Rashed’s case. Rashed’s pro bono attorneys appealed that decision and prevailed several months later. Rashed was finally released in March 2008, after friends and family paid his bond.

Due to backlogs and inefficiencies in the immigration court system, Rashed’s case dragged out for more than three years following his release. Rashed experienced many of the immigration court system’s notorious failings including scheduling delays due to judges’ massive caseloads, rescheduling of hearings multiple times, and case transfers to other judges. During this period, Rashed was not allowed to legally work, go to school, drive a car, receive medical care, or have any form of identification. The government refused to recognize his presence in the United States at all. During this strenuous time, Rashed continued to speak at events for NIJC and other human rights groups to raise awareness of the injustices in the immigration detention and court systems.

Finally, Rashed has resolution and relief. Rashed’s success “is a true testament to a client who was willing to hang in there and see his case through to the end despite so many hurdles and years,” said Colby Kingsbury, who provided pro bono representation for Rashed. “I hope, and I am sure that Rashed agrees, that Rashed’s case can be used as a shining example to other immigrants consumed by the U.S. legal system to never give up if there is still an opportunity to win.”