AUSTIN, May 8, 2019 - On May 2, 2019, Baker Botts associates Maddy Dwertman and Leah Burcat-Hastings obtained a grant of asylum in Pearsall Immigration Court for pro bono client V.G. A 19-year-old transgender woman from Honduras, V.G. suffered severe physical and sexual abuse on account of her gender identity and perceived sexual orientation for more than a decade. Following the brutal murder of a friend—also a transgender woman and V.G.’s only support—V.G. fled Honduras under threat of death in October 2018. V.G. presented herself to U.S. immigration authorities at the Agua Prieta border crossing in December 2018 and requested asylum. V.G. was detained upon arrival and transferred to South Texas Detention Complex, where she was held along with several dozen transgender asylum seekers from Central America awaiting their hearings in Pearsall Immigration Court.
V.G.’s case was referred to Baker Botts by Immigration Justice Campaign in mid-March 2019. In the span of six weeks, Dwertman and Burcat-Hastings, with the assistance of Austin litigation associates Delaney McMullan, Grayson McDaniel, and Mary Margaret Roark and paralegal clerk Morgan Lawson, retained three expert witnesses, compiled an 1,800-plus page evidentiary record, drafted a pre-hearing brief, and made more than a dozen trips to South Texas Detention Complex, located roughly 130 miles south of Austin, to meet with V.G. and prepare for the hearing. Representation of the client required navigating several barriers that interfere with detainees’ access to counsel and their exercise of basic due process rights.
Following an individual hearing on May 2, V.G. received a grant of asylum from Immigration Judge Elizabeth Martinez, who found that V.G. was also entitled to withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture. The government waived its right to appeal, and V.G. was released from detention on May 3, 2019.
The grant of asylum in this case resulted from an incredible team effort involving 18 lawyers and staff from five Baker Botts offices. During the course of V.G.’s representation, the Austin team received invaluable support from: Josue Caballero (Dallas), Ruben Gandia (Dallas), Ruth Olivo (New York), Sherwin Faridifar (Austin), Carlos Marquez (Washington, D.C.), Stacey Benson (Austin), Monica Santiago-Petway (Houston), Nora Rodriguez (Houston), Gloria Guerra (Austin), Johnny Garza (Austin), Samia Broadaway (Austin), and Patrick Leahy (Austin). Scott Powers (Austin) served as the supervising partner.
V.G. is the fourth transgender woman that the Austin office has successfully defended in Immigration Court removal proceedings since 2017.
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