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Two Brothers, Reunited

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Immigration Clinic helps Cameroonian client win asylum

By Anne Bergman

Clinton (left photo, at top) and George Tibuck were reunited thanks to the work of law student Kate Kafka (bottom) and the USC Gould School's Immigration Clinic.

Clinton and Gerard Tibuck had a lot to celebrate at Thanksgiving this year, as they reunited at Dulles Airport in November after more than three years apart. The Cameroonian brothers had been separated since 2015, when Gerard fled Cameroon, eventually settling in Maryland after he was briefly detained and released on bail.

Clinton had remained with their family — father, mother and two younger siblings — in Cameroon, where he was a university student. Eventually Clinton was arrested by the police and tortured for peacefully protesting abuses experienced by Cameroon’s minority Anglophone community. His father got him released but when the police sought Clinton again, they ended up arresting the father because Clinton had escaped. When his father, who had lung cancer, died of injuries sustained during his arrest, Clinton knew it was time to flee Cameroon and follow his brother to the United States.

He headed to neighboring Nigeria, where he ended up on a boat to South America. In Panama, Clinton’s passport was stolen, but he didn’t let that deter him from heading north. When he arrived at the U.S./Mexico border, he presented himself for asylum, received a number on the list of asylum-seeking migrants and ended up at the ICE detention center in Irvine.

Shortly thereafter, in mid-October, 2L law student Kate Kafka took the reins as the lead attorney of Clinton’s case, under the supervision of Prof. Jean Reisz, co-director of Gould’s Immigration Clinic. It was Kafka’s first Immigration Clinic case.

“The first time we met was at his first hearing. I was alone in the courtroom,” Kafka recalls, noting that she felt an affinity for Clinton, as they are the same age and even shared the same college major, English.

“I remember thinking, ‘Is this young lady going to represent me?’” Clinton says with a laugh. “But as soon as she stood up in court, I knew she was going to do it. I only had confidence in her.”

The admiration was mutual, as Kafka recounts how Clinton’s good memory and ability to clearly articulate his story served him well in the courtroom. “He was a great witness, so earnest and respectful. His answers were perfect,” she says.

Before her court appearance, Kafka, who estimates she spent 40 hours a week for three weeks working on Clinton’s case, had researched the tumultuous history of Cameroon in order to present a full picture of the injustices and patterns of abuse to the judge. “It lends credibility to an asylum case when the first-hand narrative fits with current events in the country,” Kafka says. “He’s lucky he got out when he did.”

Reisz and Prof. Niels Frenzen, with whom she codirects the Immigration Clinic, were with Kafka every step of the way.

“Because Clinton was detained, Kate had to work with tight litigation deadlines and did so with impressive professionalism,” says Reisz. “After a particularly stressful filing, Kate surprised me by saying that she now knew she wanted to do litigation. Kate was especially prepared and competent and conducted the entire hearing on her own and better than most immigration attorneys.”

Throughout, Kafka kept in touch with Clinton’s brother Gerard, who was nervous about his own case getting denied for fear of how it could negatively impact Clinton’s case. “Gerard called me right after he won asylum,” Kafka says.

All that was left was to wait for the outcome of Clinton’s case. “Before we got the decision I was so nervous. I didn’t sleep,” says Kafka. “I was so worried about what would happen to him if we didn’t win. I could see that being in the detention center was weighing on him.”

“When the judge said I was granted asylum, I couldn’t believe it,” Clinton admits.

“When I called Gerard right after we won asylum for Clinton, he cried and yelped,” Kafka says. “You could tell he was dancing around the room. Even I got emotional. It was the best experience of my life.”

Clinton was released later that night. Volunteers from Friends of Orange County Detainees (FOCD) provided Clinton with a place to stay, and through connections with the Orange County airport, got him on a flight to Dulles to reunite with his brother. “Because the FOCD had a connection with the airport, they were able to get him on a flight. Otherwise he would have had to take a bus across the country,” Kafka explains.

For Kafka, winning her first case gave her a boost of confidence. She’ll be working for a big law firm in San Francisco this summer and wants to continue doing pro bono immigration work. “Coming to law school was always about helping people,” she says. “To know that I made a tangible difference in someone’s life really locked me in and convinced me that I’d made the right choice.”

Meanwhile, Clinton is living with Gerard and adjusting to Maryland weather and work as a landscaper. He acknowledges softly that “everything’s good,” but admits to being troubled by thoughts of his mother and two younger siblings who remain in Cameroon.

Yet he allows himself aspirations. “I want to be a lawyer. But I want to practice criminal law, not immigration law,” Clinton says with a laugh.



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