MORGANTOWN – Two West Virginia University College of Law students recently argued an immigration case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago.
Kirk Auvil and Phillip Wachowiak, both third-year students, represented Rufino Antonio Estrada-Martinez before the court Sept. 24, against Loretta Lynch, attorney general of the United States. Estrada-Martinez is a client of the WVU Immigration Law Clinic
After an immigration judge granted Estrada-Martinez, a native Honduran, a withholding of removal, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the decision. A withholding of removal protects citizens from being deported from America into a country where they face persecution. The BIA argued that because Estrada-Martinez convicted serious crimes in Honduras, he should not be granted withholding.
Estrada-Martinez then employed the help of the WVU Immigration Law Clinic to appeal the BIA’s conviction. The case was assigned to Auvil and Wachowiak.
“The immigration clinic usually takes one appeal case a year in order to give the team experience at the appellate level,” Wachowiak said. "All of the WVU law school was behind us, not just the clinic.”
Wachowiak had to balance a packed graduate level course schedule with case preparation.
“I basically had to try to finish everything for class for the week on a Sunday night,” said Wachowiak.
Auvil, on the other hand, felt that his class schedule actually served to the case's benefit.
“My schedule mostly consists of clinic and immigration,” said Auvil. “The classes that I did have were preparing me for this argument.”
After only having four weeks to prepare their arguments, both Auvil and Wachowiak said they were nervous.
“Speaking at the 7th was one of the more majorly intense experiences of my life,” said Wachowiak. “It was something I think Kirk and I can be proud of, and relieved it’s over.”
“The building itself was very intimidating,” said Auvil. “By the time that we came up, we were pretty psyched out. We had seen some people crash and burn under the withering fire of the judges.”
After arguing their case, both felt they had prepared for the questions the judges had asked.
“We weren’t really surprised. They didn’t throw us any curveballs, and we knew the record very well,” said Auvil. “It’s possible that our client will be granted withholding. If anything, we think that he will get deferral under the Convention Against Torture Order. The judges were more responsive to the torture argument.”
The Convention Against Torture Order prohibits a state from extraditing a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that he would be subjected to torture.
“I think both Kirk and I did well,” said Wachowiak. “Even the judges said they thought we handled it very well.”