Pro Bono Team Secures Asylum for Gay Russian Professional - McDermott Will & Emery

Pro Bono Team Secures Asylum for Gay Russian Professional


In recent years, Russia’s LGBTQ+ population has faced an escalating crackdown on their rights. In 2023, the country’s supreme court designated LGBTQ+ activists as “extremists.”

Martin*, a successful Russian professional, was forced to flee Russia in 2016 after being outed as a gay man.


When Martin filed for asylum in the United States in early January 2017, asylum applicants already faced extreme delays. He found his application stranded in a massive backlog of unprocessed cases.

Then, in 2018, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reverted to the traditional “last-in, first-out” policy for processing applications – effectively pushing Martin’s application further back in line with each new asylum application filed. Martin’s prospects for a speedy decision dimmed further.


Following USCIS’s policy change – and after the agency rejected two petitions to expedite Martin’s application based on medical concerns – a McDermott pro bono team led by Daniel Powers, Lisa P. Rumin and Marisa E. Poncia pursued several new strategies to accelerate Martin’s case.


On January 18, 2024, the team secured Martin’s asylum following seven years of tireless work.

The McDermott team explored every avenue in helping Martin navigate the asylum process. First, they learned that Martin and his husband wanted to adopt an adolescent member of the LGBTQ+ community and start a family – but adoption agencies had rejected their application because of their uncertain immigration status. Despite prior unsuccessful attempts to expedite Martin’s case, the team relentlessly continued to advocate for Martin. In a new petition, the team argued that USCIS’s delays denied Martin a basic human right and caused harm to both Martin and the potential adoptee.

As part of that effort, the team identified experts to describe the limited number of parents willing to adopt LGBTQ+ adolescents, the traumas that LGBTQ+ adolescents face in the foster care system and the ways in which these youth benefit from being adopted by LGBTQ+ parents. The arguments prevailed, and USCIS interviewed Martin in November 2022 – but momentum stalled, and no decision on Martin’s asylum application was forthcoming.

Working with McDermott’s pro bono partner, Human Rights First, the team then developed a two-pronged follow-on approach. They worked to keep Martin’s case top of mind with the local USCIS asylum office while also laying the groundwork for a potential mandamus action (suing USCIS to make a decision about Martin’s application if it continued to delay).

To keep the asylum office’s attention on Martin’s application, the team created a record of their multiple attempts over the preceding year to obtain a decision from USCIS. Their work culminated in a request for assistance from the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office, which elevated the case for administrative review. McDermott advised Martin to let the process play out for a short time before making a renewed in-person inquiry or moving forward with litigation.

The day before the planned in-person visit to the asylum office, USCIS granted Martin asylum.


Martin was delighted by the outcome and had nothing but praise for the team’s efforts. He told them, “I cannot [fully] express my gratitude for each of you personally and the amazing company McDermott Will & Emery who supported us and stayed with us all these long years!”

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*Name changed to protect anonymity