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Florida Coastal School of Law students at the airport with their client, Sakina, to welcome her husband, Rajabili, upon his arrival to the United States.

Pro bono spotlight: Florida Coastal immigrants’ rights clinic achieves another amazing outcome

By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

In 2008, the Florida Coastal School of Law Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic students began working on a pro bono case referred from Jackson–

ville Area Legal Aid’s refugee project.

Sakina, a legal permanent resident, fled Afghanistan and was resettled to the United States with her children.

Sakina had always believed that she had lost her first and second husbands to the war in Afghanistan and Taliban extremists.

In early 2007, Sakina learned that her first husband, Rajabali, had miraculously survived years of abuse by the Taliban and had escaped and was looking for his family.

Sakina and her family had presumed that Rajabali had been killed years earlier by the Taliban.

Sakina had even remarried per custom and grieved the loss of her second husband, who was killed by an explosion. After suffering both losses, Sakina took her children and fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan.

She was overjoyed at the thought of uniting with her husband again and reintroducing her children to their father.

However, due to the passage of time and the series of tragic events, Sakina needed an attorney to help her navigate the complicated immigration system.

Upon referral from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Sakina came to the Florida Coastal School of Law Immigrant and Human Rights Clinic for assistance in reuniting her family.

The case was challenging because in order to bring her husband quickly to the United States, Sakina first needed to become a U.S. citizen. Due to the trauma she had suffered in Afghanistan, it was not easy for her to meet the English and United States history and civics requirements.

Sakina needed the help of the law clinic to apply for a disability waiver.

Law students in Florida Coastal’s clinic worked on the case under the supervision of Professor Ericka Curran and staff attorney Vanessa Bernadotte. The students worked diligently on the case, and Sakina became a naturalized United States citizen.

After becoming a citizen, Sakina received assistance from the clinic with filing a family-based immigration petition. The case was unique because first Sakina needed to prove that Rajabili was alive and that their marriage was still valid.

In all prior paperwork she had listed him as deceased. The case took several years to resolve, during which time Rajabali became very ill and was struggling to survive. His family feared they would never see him again.

Finally, after years of separation, Sakina and Rajabali were reunited this month. Clinical students accompanied Sakina and her children to meet Rajabali at the Jacksonville International Airport. Students Afije Jonuzi, Maryory Baez, Seok Mi Kim and Vanessa Bernadotte all attended the reunion.

Jonuzi said the experience was particularly moving for her because her own family immigrated to the United States years ago. She could imagine how difficult it had been for the family to suffer so many years apart.

“This particular case touched many students and really demonstrated their dedication to public service,” Curran said.

More than 200 hours were spent working on the case over the years. Many of the students who worked on the case were bilingual and could speak to Sakina in her native language while others used volunteer student interpreters.

Rajabali is thrilled to be in the United States and so thankful for the work of the clinic.

Our whole community is served by the work of the professors and students involved in the clinics at Florida Coastal. Heartiest congratulations and deep appreciation are extended to all involved in this case and the many cases of low-income people that are resolved with this important resource.

Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Circuit are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, The JBA Pro Bono Committee, kathy.para@jaxlegalaid.org.

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