Wisconsin Lawyer: Profile: ‘For the Good’ Spotlight: Rick Lewandowski Helps Tibetan Youth Gain Asylum:

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  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    November
    13
    2008

    Profile: ‘For the Good’ Spotlight: Rick Lewandowski Helps Tibetan Youth Gain Asylum

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    If not for the pro bono help of Madison attorney Rick Lewandowski, a Tibetan teenager faced deportation to his country and the certainty of arrest, imprisonment, and harsh treatment. The case proved to be the most exotic case of Lewandowski’s career.

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 11, November 2008

    Profile

    “For the Good” Spotlight:
    Rick Lewandowski Helps Tibetan Youth Gain Asylum

    If not for the pro bono help of Madison attorney Rick Lewandowski, a Tibetan teenager faced deportation to his country and the certainty of arrest, imprisonment, and harsh treatment. The case proved to be the most exotic of Lewandowski’s career. 

    by Alyson K. Zierdt

    Sidebar:

    Richard 
Lewandowski

    First-year law students sometimes are dismayed to learn that justice and the law can be two very different things. A Tibetan teenager and Madison lawyer Rick Lewandowski, however, proved that the two sometimes do converge.

    Lewandowski, a shareholder with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, represents clients in environmental and other business regulatory matters. Some time ago, he participated in a training session, held in Milwaukee by the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), for lawyers willing to represent immigrants, pro bono, in asylum cases before the Chicago branch of the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. This spring, the NIJC gave Lewandowski his “most exotic and interesting” case in his 30-year career.

    His client, a fatherless, teenaged boy, is from a rural area in Tibet and was living with a relative in one of Tibet’s larger cities. The teenager and his friends heard that the Dalai Lama was going to speak in Nepal and decided to go to hear him. Near the Nepal border, the teenagers were stopped by Chinese soldiers, beaten, arrested, and sentenced to prison for six months of hard labor. In prison, the boy was beaten repeatedly. A blow to his hand, given no medical attention, resulted in lasting injury. Other child-prisoners ranged in age from 10 to 16. Tibetans, particularly accused religious offenders like this boy, were treated most harshly.

    At the end of six months, the boy’s mother borrowed money to pay the fine needed to secure his release. He was ordered never to leave his village again. But he did leave. He left in an effort to gather and sell an herb used in traditional Tibetan medicine, so that his mother could repay the debt she had incurred to free him. This rare herb did not grow in their village. When the boy realized the authorities were looking for him, he left the area and stayed with a relative, who ultimately arranged for him to leave Tibet. He first traveled on foot (part of the way on a rope bridge) to Nepal. He took a bus to Delhi, India (before meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala), where he stayed with a family for six months. Upon a representation that he had relatives in the U.S., but without identification, he flew from Delhi to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Los Angeles. There, because the boy lacked identification, he was detained by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His case was transferred to Chicago – where the NIJC became involved, tapping volunteer Rick Lewandowski to represent the teenager in an asylum hearing.

    Lewandowski needed to convince the court, with only the boy’s testimony and injured hand as evidence, that the boy’s story of arrest and torture was true. Corroborating evidence from Tibet could not be obtained without endangering the boy’s family, so Lewandowski turned to the Internet. He found admissible evidence to establish Tibet’s political situation and support the boy’s description of hard prison labor and the practice of requiring payment from families as a condition of release.

    Alyson K. Zierdt

    Alyson K. Zierdt, Marquette 1981, is a member of the Wisconsin Lawyer editorial advisory board. She is retired and of counsel with Davis & Kuelthau S.C., Oshkosh.  

    Help with crossing the language barrier came from a Chinese law student and Chicago-area Tibetans, as well as a Tibetan friend of Lewandowski’s from Madison. The first time Lewandowski met the boy, it was difficult for the boy to accept that Lewandowski, as his attorney, spoke only for him – not for the state.

    Because the boy was a “juvenile in detention” (and was held at an undisclosed location in Chicago), his asylum application moved quickly to hearing. The stakes were high: A return to Tibet would assuredly have resulted in him being arrested again. As a second-time offender, a very lengthy prison sentence and harsh – even life-threatening – treatment was sure to occur.

    Lewandowski won asylum for the boy, who will be eligible to apply for a green card in July 2009. He will be placed with a foster family, and he hopes to become a U.S. citizen.

    Lewandowski expressed appreciation to Jon Bundy, a summer associate from the U.W. Law School, for his help on the case. Bundy not only had the summer associate experience of a lifetime but also the chance to see an established lawyer contributing to save a young man’s life.