Vol. 81, No. 3, March
For the Good: Representing asylum seekers has
taught Linda Clifford the true meaning of personal courage
by Susan M. Schaubel
Imagine being forced to flee your homeland because you converted to a
different religion. Your host country has denied your application for
asylum and you
face religious persecution, possibly death, if you are forced to return
You come to the United States in hope of finding a safe place for you
two daughters to live. Your fate, as well as that of your family, now
the hands of an immigration judge. You face a complicated legal process,
you have no money to hire an attorney.
Attorney Linda Clifford stepped forward to provide pro bono
representation to the woman whose dilemma is recounted above. Clifford
Attorney Choua Vang of Godfrey & Kahn S.C., Appleton, to prepare for
three-day asylum hearing. In addition to gathering affidavits from
and accounts of the conditions in their client's Central Asia home
of Kazakhstan, the attorneys prepared expert witnesses to appear in the
proceeding. The immigration judge found in favor of Clifford's client
the attorneys on their case presentation.
Clifford, with Linda Clifford Law Office LLC, Madison,
woman along with many other asylum seekers during her 33 years in
addition to her immigration and family law practice, Clifford dedicates
pro bono hours to those seeking refuge from persecution.
It is hard to choose representative cases from the many pro bono
that Clifford has taken on over the years. While many of Clifford's pro
clients face religious persecution if returned to their home countries,
face violence for different reasons. Clifford once represented an
who was persecuted for the political beliefs of her family. Both the
her family were taken into custody and questioned by the new government.
client's father was killed and other family members disappeared after
entering government custody. Clifford's client managed to escape from
though she suffered from the effects of polio. After leaving a refugee
arrived in the United States on a temporary medical visa. Clifford took
the woman's cause and won asylum for her client. The woman is now a U.S.
and is reunited with her family.
Schaubel, U.W. 1993, is a Sheboygan County Circuit Court
commissioner and a member of the State Bar Wisconsin
editorial advisory board.
When she first began practicing law, Clifford didn't know that
immigration and asylum law would play such an important part in her
career. As a young
lawyer, Clifford represented a biotechnology firm in Wisconsin. The
needed assistance in bringing a foreign scientist to work here in the
States. Clifford had no prior experience in immigration law, but she
took on the
task and found a new area of practice for herself.
In working with asylum seekers, Clifford says that she has come
understand "what personal courage really is." Many of her
clients have been forced
from their homelands, after suffering both physical and psychological
When they arrive in the United States, the clients become participants
complicated and difficult legal proceedings that will permanently change
If they are deported, clients may face violence or death in the
they are returned to. "Many legal cases are about who gets more or
less money at
the outcome," Clifford said. The consequences in asylum cases are
serious possible. You worry about what could happen to the client if you
Clifford finds that asylum cases are filled with unique
government sets a very high burden for allowing aliens to stay in the
United States. To convince officials to approve a client's application
asylum, Clifford must prove that the client's fears are justified.
evidence that exists frequently is thousands of miles away. Statements
must be corroborated. Witnesses can be difficult to locate over such
distances, and "many of the people who know what's happening in a
country are living
in fear themselves." Many cases take one to three years to prepare
In recent years, more delays and increased unpredictability have entered
With the difficult legal burdens and the emotional toll asylum
take on an attorney, Clifford often is asked whether her pro bono work
it. She considers her pro bono work on behalf of asylum seekers some of
most fulfilling work of her career. "It's definitely worth
it," she said.
"I've learned a lot about world politics and different cultures.
learned much more about the world we live in."
"For the Good" spotlight: Reports on pro bono in
This column recognizes the efforts of Wisconsin lawyers who donate
time and professional skills to individuals with legal needs who are
pay for a lawyer and to projects serving those individuals. Developed
by Wisconsin Lawyer editorial board members, look for
"Spotlight" profiles in
Do you know of a lawyer or local project that illustrates
Lawyers Making a Difference" through the gift of time and talent?
suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org; subject line: pro bono