The Immigrant Rights Clinic won a seven-year battle on June 1 when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it was dropping its case against Mohammed Azam. The 26-year-old Bangladeshi’s deportation proceedings resulted from his compliance with a recently ended, post-9/11 special registration program for Arab and Muslim men that many immigrant rights advocates deemed racial profiling.

Azam came to the U.S. with his family when he was nine. By the time he registered with the program in 2003, his visa had expired, but his father had applied for a labor certificate, the first step toward permanent resident status, in 2001. Although the government took six years to approve that application, ultimately Azam’s father was able to sponsor both his wife and daughter to become permanent residents. The long bureaucratic delay, however, denied Azam the same chance as his mother and younger sister; at 22, the government said, he was one year too old to receive the crucial benefit that would have been his six years earlier.

In February, an immigration judge ruled that Azam should not have to pay the price for the government’s slowness. Citing the Child Status Protection Act, passed by Congress in 2002 to protect those who turn 21 during the long application process, the judge ruled that Azam’s deportation proceedings should cease and that he should become a permanent resident. Nevertheless, the government proceeded to appeal the case.

But everything changed on May 31, when the New York Times published a piece on Azam’s long ordeal. The very next day, an ICE spokesman said they would drop the appeal, allowing Azam to remain in the U.S. permanently.

“One of the things this case illustrates is the kind of high-level lawyering that happens in our clinic,” said Professor Nancy Morawetz ’81. “I think that, without this kind of advocacy, this client might well have been deported a long time ago.”

Over the past seven years, 11 clinic students have represented Azam: Kelli Barton '10, Briana Beltran '11, Arlen Benjamin-Gomez '06, Annie Lai '06, Sonia Lin '08, Benjamin Locke '11, Hena Mansori '06, Roopal Patel '11, Anna Purinton '09, Camilo Romero '12, and Jennifer Turner '06.

“We’re teaching students to be social justice lawyers,” said Morawetz. “It’s an area where you have to be thinking about litigation at all levels, you have to be paying attention to legislation, and you have to be thinking about media. All of these things are important for just about anything that you do as an advocate. There’s a time and a place for each form of advocacy. At this point, where we had won in front of the immigration judge, it was a good time to turn to other forms of advocacy to get his story out there and get someone to pay attention to whether it made sense to keep appealing and pursuing deportation.”

In that vein, the Immigrant Rights Clinic obtained letters supporting Azam signed by U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, the borough presidents of both Manhattan and Staten Island, three New York State senators, seven New York State Assembly members, nine New York City Council members, and representatives of numerous community-based and legal advocacy organizations. Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, told the New York Times that Azam “is what our country is all about. For ICE people to dig in their heels, I think, is just outrageous.”

As a result of the dropped appeal, Azam, who worked his way through college at a Häagen-Dazs shop where he is now manager, will be able to attend his sister’s wedding out of the country in July. He also wants to open a Subway franchise with a friend, but had needed permanent resident status to be able to attend franchisee training. Now he can.

Posted on June 2, 2011