Securing asylum for a LGBTQ+ Russian refugee

The Pro Bono Cause

A transgender Osler pro bono client received asylum in the United States after facing deportation to Russia for several years. A. (whose name has been withheld for privacy reasons) fled Russia in 2014 after surviving a hate crime at the hands of police due to his LGBTQ+ status. As A. was settling into the U.S., he was arrested for overstaying his visa and slated for deportation.

The Osler Pro Bono Connection

Toronto litigation associate Maxwell Czerniawski began working with A. in 2018 through a referral from the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Immigration Equality. Maxwell prepared A.’s petition for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Due to delays in the U.S. asylum system, A. waited four years from his arrest to have a preliminary hearing before the immigration court, and three more years to finally have a hearing on the merits of his asylum application.

Maxwell, with the help of co-counsel and former U.S. colleague Mary Hennessey, drafted and compiled more than 1,000 pages of pleadings, biographical information, and documentary evidence in support of A.’s asylum petition. Maxwell worked with the foremost expert on Russian LGBTQ+ issues to deliver a detailed report on the historical and modern plight of these communities in Russia and the likelihood that A. would be revictimized if deported. Maxwell defeated efforts by government lawyers to remove A.’s asylum proceedings to another court and to dismiss them altogether.

After reviewing the submissions and hearing A.’s harrowing testimony, the immigration judge immediately granted A. asylum and asked the government to waive its appeal rights. The course of A.’s life changed, from fearing imminent deportation to having protected asylee status, in the matter of a few hours. In one year, A. will be a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. Before then, he will have the opportunity to travel abroad to see his family for the first time in more than eight years.

Volunteer Reflections

“It’s easy – and sometimes justified – to be cynical about the immigration system, but it’s one area where the assistance of counsel is often a decisive factor. Thoroughly documenting conditions for the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, attending to every step in the complex asylum process and preparing for the demands of a contentious hearing is challenging as a lawyer, and often impossible as a refugee. Seeing A.’s elation when he received asylum was worth all the hard work.”

Maxwell Czerniawski

Maxwell Czerniawski

Maxwell Czerniawski: Associate, Litigation