In The Matter of Y.A.

Motion Granted. Deportation Order Terminated

Our firm was retained to represent a client who was seeking to reopen his removal proceedings in order to apply for asylum on the basis of his being a member of the particular social group of male homosexuals in Belarus.

The client (“Respondent”), a native and citizen of Belarus, was last admitted to the United States as a J-1 nonimmigrant in 2001. He obtained counsel and applied for asylum within the one-year filing deadline, but for a variety of reasons he missed his removal hearing. As a result of that failure to appear, the Respondent had been ordered removed in absentia in 2002.

That did not change the fact that the Respondent retained a strong fear of returning to Belarus due to his facing persecution on the basis of his being a member of the particular social group of male homosexuals in Belarus. In 2016, through another attorney, the client sought to have his removal proceedings reopened, arguing that his failure to appear was explained by exceptional circumstances. In that instance, his motion to reopen was denied.

The respondent then sought the services of The Law Offices of Grinberg & Segal for an assessment of whether it was feasible to move to reopen removal proceedings on alternative grounds. After carefully examining the facts of his case and the situation in his native Belarus, we filed a motion to reopen on his behalf, arguing that changed country conditions in Belarus materially changed the situation for homosexual men in the country for the worse such that the client should have another opportunity to present his claims for protection from removal.

The Immigration Judge carefully studied our motion and agreed that country conditions in Belarus have changed in such a way that reopening proceedings was necessary to allow the Respondent to present his meritorious case for asylum. The Immigration Judge recognized our careful argument from the outset of her discussion:

[T]he Respondent is not claiming that 'the fact of continued violent incidents against homosexuals in Belarus is, by itself, a changed country condition.' [Resp. 2020 Motion] Rather, the Respondent argues that, since 2002, conditions have worsened for homosexuals to such an extent that, if the Respondent were returned to Belarus, he would be at a heightened risk of harm due to his status as a 'male homosexual.' [Resp. 2020 Motion]

Indeed, this distinction was critical to making the respondent's case. The Respondent had been subject to past persecution in Belarus two decades ago, and we believe that he had made a strong claim when he initially petitioned for asylum. However, in order to prevail on the motion to reopen removal proceedings, we had to show more than that conditions in Belarus were bad and remained bad. The Immigration Judge would only grant reopening if the evidence established that conditions in Belarus for sexual minorities had gone from bad to worse since the respondent initially sought asylum nearly twenty years ago. We were confident that we made the case, and the Immigration Judge agreed.

In granting our motion, the Immigration Judge credited many facts that we uncovered and discussed. For example, since 2001-2002, Belarus has changed its laws in ways that specifically target homosexual men, and as a result there has been an increase in official rhetoric and private violence against homosexuals. There are no signs that the situation will improve. For example, new restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly in Belarus not only stifles those who work to make Belarus a safer and more accepting society, but also make it more likely that the situation for sexual minorities in the country will continue to degrade. Significantly, the voluminous evidence we compiled was not available at the time of the respondent's initial asylum application — a key requirement to its being material to his motion to reopen.

The motion to reopen is not the end of the case, but rather a new beginning. That the motion was granted does not guarantee that the respondent will win asylum relief, but it was a necessary step as a threshold matter for him to have the opportunity to make his case. In light of the respondent's past victimization, his honesty, and his upstanding life in the United States, we believe and hope that he will ultimately win relief in the form of asylum, thus ensuring both his safety from future persecution and his bright future here in the United States. It was our firm's pleasure to successfully assist him in taking the first necessary step toward that future.