Pro Bono Team Preserves American Dream for Family That Fled Terror in Nepal

Thanks to legal residency secured for her by McGuireWoods, a Virginia mother sleeps peacefully at night, safe with her thriving family in the United States — and a world away from the nightmares that pervaded her life in Nepal 10 years ago.

In 2005, a widowed mother of two sons was working for the United Nations World Food Program, delivering sustenance meals of rice and beans to impoverished families in her native Nepal. Maoist rebels, who already had killed another humanitarian aid worker, threatened the woman’s family unless she gave them money for their cause. She gave them all she had — the equivalent of US$70 — but they demanded more and warned they would “take action” if she didn’t comply. So she fled with her young sons to the United States.

By 2009, her sons were doing well in school and she had met, fallen in love with, and married a U.S. citizen. Soon after that, she gave birth to another son and enrolled in nursing school. But all of that was jeopardized when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) opposed her bid for lawful permanent residency.

Based on her 2006 application for asylum, DHS took the position that the woman had aided a terrorist organization in violation of the USA PATRIOT Act when she gave $70 to the Maoist fighters who threatened her family in Nepal. Although the U.S. Immigration Court approved her green card after finding that the Maoists had effectively “robbed” her, DHS challenged the decision before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which ordered her out of the country after concluding in 2013 that although she had been coerced, she had still “afforded material support” to terrorists.

A McGuireWoods pro bono team led by Ryan Frei took the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and persuaded the Department of Justice to suspend the appeal pending further DHS review. Ryan also worked to retain the woman’s eligibility for employment and filed successful applications for her two oldest sons to secure green cards tied to their stepfather’s citizenship.

In April 2015, DHS granted the woman an exemption that allowed McGuireWoods’ pro bono team to reopen her case with the BIA, which remanded it to the Immigration Court. Ryan and a DHS lawyer filed a joint motion to grant her lawful permanent residency, and the court approved it. The woman’s ordeal was over and her family was safe, intact and free from the past.

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