Cooley's Pro Bono Team Wins Fourth Circuit Ruling in Asylum Case

Washington, DC – February 5, 2015 – Cooley attorneys successfully persuaded the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to grant pro bono client Faustin Mukadi Ilunga's petition for review and to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and Immigration Court  orders that had denied him asylum.

Mr. Ilunga, a 36-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been a Cooley client since 2008. Capital Area Immigrants' Rights (CAIR) Coalition, a DC-based nonprofit that provides legal assistance to detained immigrants, originally referred the case to Cooley and consulted with Cooley on the case throughout. CAIR Coalition is a great partner to the firm's pro bono program, and Cooley and CAIR have a long history of working together on pro bono cases.

While in the DRC, Mr. Ilunga was illegally detained and severely physically and mentally abused by government officials on account of his political opinion. In 2008, after escaping from prison, Mr. Ilunga fled to the United States, while his wife and children fled to a Zambian refugee camp.

Mr. Ilunga applied for asylum, but the immigration judge found that his testimony and documentary evidence were not credible because of minor perceived inconsistencies and because Mr. Ilunga's demeanor raised "concerns regarding plausibility and vagueness." The immigration judge denied Mr. Ilunga's asylum application, and the BIA upheld the decision.

Cooley filed a petition for review of the BIA's decision with the Fourth Circuit. Following oral argument, the Fourth Circuit held that the adverse credibility findings manifested "a basic misunderstanding of the human condition." The Court agreed with Cooley that the immigration judge and the BIA erred in denying Mr. Ilunga's asylum petition, determining that the perceived inconsistencies were insufficient to support an adverse credibility finding. Each perceived inconsistency was undermined by translation problems, was not actually inconsistent, or was speculative. The Court also concluded that the immigration judge and the BIA failed to consider a plethora of documentary evidence supporting a finding that Mr. Ilunga had been persecuted. 

The case will be remanded to the BIA for further proceedings consistent with the Fourth Circuit's opinion.

"CAIR Coalition congratulates Cooley on their tremendous Fourth Circuit win," said Kathy Doan, Executive Director for CAIR. "This is not only a victory for Mr. Ilunga and his family, but for all asylum seekers who struggle to share stories of violence and trauma in often inhospitable court rooms."

This decision is expected to have considerable impact because it makes clear that immigration judges cannot rely on trivial inconsistencies and inconsequential demeanor findings to conclude that an asylum applicant is not credible.

The Cooley pro bono team advising Mr. Ilunga included partner Erich Veitenheimer, of counsel Lori Mason, special counsel Charles Charpentier and associates Dana Moss, Sarah Talkovsky and Joshua Siegel.

CAIR Coalition Legal Director Heidi Altman and Human Rights First Staff Attorney Cori Hash provided valuable expertise.

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Related Contacts
Joshua Siegel  Special Counsel Washington, DC
Erich Veitenheimer  Senior Counsel Washington, DC
Related Practices & Industries

Pro Bono