Safe Harbor for Asylum Seekers - McDermott Will & Emery

Safe Harbor for Asylum Seekers


Ms. M. fled Honduras with her three-month-old son after her former partner, a Mara 18 gang member, assaulted her and threatened their children. When Ms. M’s eldest son later came out of hiding, his father kidnapped him and demanded that he sell drugs for Mara 18. The son, only 15 at the time, refused and escaped to the US alone. He was reunited with his mother and brother in New York, where the family sought asylum.

Similar stories play out on a regular basis, with asylum seekers fleeing their home countries to escape gang violence, abuse, persecution and sometimes death.


McDermott pro bono teams frequently work with individuals and families to help them navigate the asylum process with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so they can stay in the US.


In 2022, partnering with organizations such as the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Tahirih Justice Center, these teams helped more than a dozen people remain in the United States.

In Ms. M’s case, a team led by Eli Berman submitted briefs and supporting affidavits from family members, friends and medical experts to the New York immigration court on her behalf. Following her testimony during a merits hearing, the judge ruled that the facts were so “compelling” that asylum was appropriate for Ms. M. and both of her sons. The government waived its right to appeal.


Results from other asylum cases included:

  • Securing asylum for a mother and daughter who had fled El Salvador to escape death threats and extortion by an international gang.
  • Securing asylum for a client from Central African Republic, who faced persecution and death in his home country because his father was a well-known member of a political party overthrown by rebels.
  • Filing a client’s application for lawful permanent resident status, which was approved. We had previously won asylum for the client, saving him from imprisonment and torture by the Eritrean government.
  • Obtaining approval for U nonimmigrant status, as well as a work authorization permit, for a client and her three children living in Guatemala. They can now legally live and work in the US.
  • Securing asylum for a Venezuelan client who faced persecution in his home country based on his sexual orientation and political opinions.

Learn more about our pro bono efforts.