Minnesota Law Students Author Comprehensive Report on Conditions Faced by LGBTIQ Community in Guatemala

Three Minnesota Law students, working in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, produced a comprehensive and significant report shining a spotlight on the harsh and repressive conditions faced by  the LGBTIQ community in Guatemala.

The students—Yemaya Hanna, 3L, Patrick Murray, 3L, and Ryan Rainey '21—worked in close collaboration with clinic director Professor Stephen Meili and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, & Migration, which published the well-researched report. ORAM is an international nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and empowering LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees globally,

The report shows that members of the LGBTIQ community encounter significant hardships, including government action and social norms that result in persecution and other harms. It describes the national legal framework applying to sexual minorities in Guatemala, as well as the various legal and social barriers which those persons encounter on a daily basis.

The well-documented report will be extremely valuable to lawyers and others advocates for members of the Guatemalan LGBTIQ community applying for asylum in the United States and other countries of refuge. (Generally, in order to qualify for asylum, individuals must show that they are either the victim of past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution.)

“The conditions faced by LGBTIQ individuals in Guatemala are absolutely appalling,” says Hanna, who is the student director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. “In the report we discussed how lawmakers, law enforcement officers, and fellow citizens all play a role in terrorizing LGBTIQ individuals in Guatemala. LGBTIQ individuals regularly experience discrimination, hate crimes, violent attacks, wrongful arrest and imprisonment, and limited access to healthcare.”

Gaining Experience Doing Good

In addition to the tremendous help that the report will offer to practitioners seeking to make out an asylum claim for LGBTIQ clients from Guatemala, the experience was a professionally and personally fulfilling one for the students involved.

“Given the dearth of legal protections for LGBTIQ individuals in Guatemala, the research for this report required creativity and dedication,” says Murray. “Working on this report taught me to continue digging for answers, no matter how bleak the initial research is. This report was also an excellent opportunity to work on a long-term research project with a team. I will carry these lessons and experiences with me throughout my career.”

Elaborating on the teamwork component, Murray continues, “Ryan Rainey's work on this report showed me the true value of our work as student attorneys. His patience and empathy will stay with me throughout my career. Yemaya Hanna is a rock star. Her dedication and brilliance inspires me on a daily basis, pushing me to become a better writer and advocate.”

Hannah says while taking on such a comprehensive research project seemed overwhelming at first, the help and support she received from her talented teammates, as well as from other students enrolled in the clinic not directly working on the project, allowed her to power through and reach the finish line. 

‘An Incredible Teacher and Mentor’

Hanna and Murray are both grateful to Professor Meili for the support he gave them in this project.

“Professor Meili is an incredible teacher and mentor,” Hanna says. “He teaches his students to believe in themselves by challenging us to do things outside of our comfort zones. He supported us along the way, but also adopted a hands-off approach that allowed us to take the lead on all of the research and drafting. His guidance over these past two years has given me confidence and taught me that I should follow instincts when I approach new projects or problems as an attorney.”

Murray says Meili’s approach embodies the clinic philosophy. “He zealously approaches every clinic matter, using opportunities such as this report to sincerely mentor each student. His selfless leadership helped me become a better researcher, a better future lawyer, and a better man.”

To Hanna, the students’ completion of this report was a key step in their journey to be lawyer-leaders. 

“Part of being an effective leader is providing your community with the tools they need to succeed,” she explains. “Our clinic was contacted to author this report in order to fill a research gap in the immigration and human rights community. There was not a comprehensive and recent report on this topic available, and so it was difficult for those representing LGBT clients from Guatemala to truly capture the situation in the country. I believe that by authoring this report, our clinic has given advocates another tool they can use to provide stronger advocacy and representation to their clients.”

-By Mark A. Cohen