Scalia Law Students Help Win Asylum Case


By Sabrina Acerra, Staff Writer

Two George Mason law students working at a D.C. law firm over the summer helped secure asylum for a teenage refugee who fled criminal activity and homelessness in Honduras. The refugee, Carlos*, faced two years in detention and had no family here in the U.S.

The students, Paul Coyle and Anna Schaffner, were working at Wiley Rein LLP and offered to work on the firm’s pro bono case to gain career experience. Coyle is a legal assistant at Wiley Rein, and Schaffner was a summer associate.  The case was their first major pro bono assignment..

“A few days after starting at Wiley, Ted reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in working on Carlos’s case on remand,” explained Schaffner. “I jumped at the opportunity to fight for Carlos’s relief and to work alongside such skilled advocates. I started pouring over past briefs and began researching case law and country conditions.”

Schaffner had previous experience with immigration cases as a legal intern for the Detained Adults Program with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR).

“I traveled to detention centers, spoke with detained immigrants, conducted legal intakes to gather information on their eligibility for relief, and worked on follow up cases regarding bond, parole, and U visas,” she explained. “With my supervising attorney [at CAIR], I briefed three forms of relief – Asylum, Withholding of Removal, and Convention Against Torture – and submitted the brief to the court.”

Wiley Rein’s pro bono practice is led by Ted Howard, one of the firm’s partners. In March 2016, Howard approached Coyle and invited him to serve as a paralegal on the case they accepted from CAIR.

“This was my first time working on an immigration matter so I was learning everything on the job,” said Coyle. “I learned a lot about asylum law, the legal apparatus of the U.S. immigration system, and current conditions in the Northern Triangle region of Central America.”

“I also learned that immigration law practice requires patience,” Coyle added. Fighting the case was a long process that went on for over a year.

“Carlos has applied for asylum, appealed an asylum denial, earned a favorable appeals decision and remand, earned a release from detention on bond pending appeal, and earned asylum status,” said Coyle.

Charles Lemley, a professor at Mason and a partner at Wiley Rein, worked closely with Coyle and Schaffner and spoke highly of their work on the case.

“The bottom line is that Paul and Anna were instrumental in saving a courageous young man from a serious, specific and imminent threat of torture or death,” said Lemley. “Few lawyers can say that they have done so much in the course of an entire career, but I have every reason to believe this is just the first for these two.”

“Working on Carlos’s case with the Wiley team was one of the most influential and rewarding experiences of my life,” said Schaffner. “I encourage Mason students to seek out opportunities to volunteer with immigrants and refugees.”

“This case reminds me that some people in our community have been dealt incredibly difficult hands,” Coyle agreed. “It’s important to be kind to strangers because we don’t know what type of adversity they face on a daily basis.”

*Carlos is a pseudonym to protect his identity.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Cantwell, Creative Services