Rachel Lerner won asylum for a gay pro bono client who faced severe discrimination and possible violence if he returned to his native Jamaica.
Growing up in Jamaica, the man suffered ridicule and abuse by his family, neighbors, colleagues and even strangers on the street. He struggled to hide his orientation, fearing violence and abuse from the police and others. Forced to leave college, rejected by his church where he had been a member of the choir, and evicted from several apartments, he lived in constant fear for his life and was unable to establish meaningful and healthy relationships.
The murder rate in Jamaica is high with a disproportionate number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned homophobic remarks and violence in Jamaica and Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of mob violence against LGBT individuals there.
The client’s life improved dramatically when he came to the U.S. in November 2006 with a H2B temporary work visa and no longer faced the same level of discrimination or danger. When the visa expired in early 2009, he was terrified of returning to Jamaica. A friend told him about Immigration Equality, the national organization that helps obtain asylum for those persecuted in their home country based on their sexual orientation, transgender identity or HIV status. They referred his case to Proskauer.
As part of the asylum process, it is necessary to prepare a "declaration" or life story. This was very difficult for the man, whose memories of life in Jamaica were deeply suppressed and painful to discuss. Through hours of interviews and numerous meetings, Ms. Lerner was able to convince him to share his story for the declaration and in preparation for the hearing. Two weeks after the hearing, he learned that he had been granted asylum.
Although she works as a corporate lawyer in the challenging area of broker-dealer and investment adviser regulation, Ms. Lerner said, "I volunteer for pro bono assignments in order to work on cases that touch me as a human being."