Wisconsin Lawyer: For the Good: Representing asylum seekers has taught Linda Clifford the true meaning of personal courage:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

Top Link Bar

    WisBar.org may be unavailable Sept 17 from 5:00PM until 9:00PM for system maintenance.

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search

Advanced

    For the Good: Representing asylum seekers has taught Linda Clifford the true meaning of personal courage

    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 home. You come to the United States in hope of finding a safe place for you and your two daughters to live. Your fate, as well as that of your family, now rests in the hands of an immigration judge. You face a complicated legal process, but you have no money to hire an attorney.

    Susan M. Schaubel

    Share This:

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2008

    For the Good: Representing asylum seekers has taught Linda Clifford the true meaning of personal courage

    Linda 
Clifford

    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 home. You come to the United States in hope of finding a safe place for you and your two daughters to live. Your fate, as well as that of your family, now rests in the hands of an immigration judge. You face a complicated legal process, but 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 worked with Attorney Choua Vang of Godfrey & Kahn S.C., Appleton, to prepare for the woman's three-day asylum hearing. In addition to gathering affidavits from eyewitnesses and accounts of the conditions in their client's Central Asia home country of Kazakhstan, the attorneys prepared expert witnesses to appear in the proceeding. The immigration judge found in favor of Clifford's client and commended the attorneys on their case presentation.

    Clifford, with Linda Clifford Law Office LLC, Madison, represented this woman along with many other asylum seekers during her 33 years in practice. In addition to her immigration and family law practice, Clifford dedicates many pro bono hours to those seeking refuge from persecution.

    It is hard to choose representative cases from the many pro bono cases that Clifford has taken on over the years. While many of Clifford's pro bono clients face religious persecution if returned to their home countries, others face violence for different reasons. Clifford once represented an Ethiopian woman who was persecuted for the political beliefs of her family. Both the client and her family were taken into custody and questioned by the new government. The client's father was killed and other family members disappeared after entering government custody. Clifford's client managed to escape from prison, even though she suffered from the effects of polio. After leaving a refugee camp, she arrived in the United States on a temporary medical visa. Clifford took up the woman's cause and won asylum for her client. The woman is now a U.S. citizen and is reunited with her family.

    Susan M. Schaubel, U.W. 1993, is a Sheboygan County Circuit Court commissioner and a member of the State Bar Wisconsin Lawyer 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 client needed assistance in bringing a foreign scientist to work here in the United 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 to understand "what personal courage really is." Many of her clients have been forced from their homelands, after suffering both physical and psychological trauma. When they arrive in the United States, the clients become participants in complicated and difficult legal proceedings that will permanently change their lives. If they are deported, clients may face violence or death in the countries that 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 "the most serious possible. You worry about what could happen to the client if you lose."

    Clifford finds that asylum cases are filled with unique challenges. The government sets a very high burden for allowing aliens to stay in the United States. To convince officials to approve a client's application for asylum, Clifford must prove that the client's fears are justified. Whatever evidence that exists frequently is thousands of miles away. Statements and evidence must be corroborated. Witnesses can be difficult to locate over such long 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 and conclude. In recent years, more delays and increased unpredictability have entered into the system.

    With the difficult legal burdens and the emotional toll asylum work can take on an attorney, Clifford often is asked whether her pro bono work is worth it. She considers her pro bono work on behalf of asylum seekers some of the most fulfilling work of her career. "It's definitely worth it," she said. "I've learned a lot about world politics and different cultures. I've also learned much more about the world we live in."

    "For the Good" spotlight: Reports on pro bono in action

    This column recognizes the efforts of Wisconsin lawyers who donate their time and professional skills to individuals with legal needs who are unable to pay for a lawyer and to projects serving those individuals. Developed and written by Wisconsin Lawyer editorial board members, look for "Spotlight" profiles in alternating months.

    Do you know of a lawyer or local project that illustrates "Wisconsin Lawyers Making a Difference" through the gift of time and talent? Send your suggestions to: wislawyer@wisbar.org; subject line: pro bono spotlight.




To view or add comment, Login