Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic Defends Client Facing Torture Because of His Religion

A team of three Minnesota Law students in the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic (FILC) recently briefed and argued an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on behalf of an Iraqi citizen and long-term resident of the United States, Walid Abdulahad. The case, Abdulahad v. Garland, presents important issues of immigration and administrative law. The anticipated decision could impact the rights of noncitizens seeking protection in the United States from torture and other forms of violence inflicted on religious grounds.

Mr. Abdulahad is a devout Chaldean Christian who has called the United States home for the past 25 years since arriving as a refugee in 1997. Now, because of an erroneous decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denying his motion to reopen his removal proceedings based on changed—and dire—country conditions in Iraq, Mr. Abdulahad faces removal to a country where he fears he will be tortured in part on account of his Christian faith. He is a member of the Chaldean Christian religious minority, which continues to suffer government-sponsored violence, including torture, internal displacement, and westward migration. Persecution, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and extinction are all terms used in international discourse and foreign policy discussions regarding Chaldean Christians in modern-day Iraq.

The three FILC students, Jeremy Ruppert ’24, Coryn Johnson ’24, and Chloe Chambers ’25, have led all aspects of Mr. Abdulahad’s case. During the 2022-2023 academic year, Ruppert and Johnson researched, drafted, and filed opening and reply briefs urging the Sixth Circuit to require the BIA to apply the correct legal standards for adjudicating motions to reopen based on changed country conditions. Like Mr. Abdulahad’s, these motions often involve a fear of torture inflicted on religious minorities. During the Fall 2023 semester, Chambers and Ruppert worked together to prepare Ruppert to present oral argument on October 26, 2023, before a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio. The students have been supervised by Adjunct Clinical Professor Mary Georgevich ’18, and Associate Clinical Professor Nadia Anguiano ’17, both themselves former students of the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, which Anguiano now directs. FILC is one of the founding clinics of the Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans and represents Mr. Abdulahad pro bono along with Russell Abrutyn, a Michigan-based immigration practitioner.

The Clinic’s work was notably acknowledged by the presiding judge on the panel at oral argument. At the conclusion of the argument, Judge Karen Nelson Moore commended the law students’ efforts, noting that they “have done an admirable job.” Judge Moore continued, “It’s impressive to have law students who perform as wonderfully as University of Minnesota Law School has performed throughout the argument [and] briefing.”

For the students, representing their client has been a highlight of their law school experience. Ruppert feels “incredibly fortunate to have been part of the team trusted with bringing justice for Mr. Abdulahad,” whom he describes as “an incredibly kind, thoughtful, and caring person.” The experience has also highlighted for students the critical role that clinical programs can play in shaping immigration law and policy and in protecting the rights of individual clients. Chambers adds that “being part of Mr. Abdulahad’s case team has been an honor and demonstrates the very best of what clinical practice has to offer.” She notes the especially collaborative nature of the Clinic’s approach, highlighting the balance her clinical professors “struck between offering guidance and treating students like colleagues in the case.” For Johnson, the hardship that immigration laws often impose on individuals seeking protection from religious violence continues to motivate her to pursue this work. “The extreme burdens of proof and confusing nature of the many standards asylees and applicants for protection must meet force individuals like Mr. Abdulahad into years of uncertainty and fear of removal; those burdens serve as a reminder of the importance of our Clinic’s work to continue fighting for a more humane immigration system,” she adds.

A decision in the case is expected in the coming months.  Listen to the audio of the argument

Nadia Anguiano-Wehde, Immigration Advocacy Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor, Clinics

Nadia Anguiano ’17

Associate Clinical Professor of Law

Mary Georgevich ’18

Adjunct: General Curriculum