Asylum Achieved

Greg Hardesty • May 8, 2024
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Immigration Clinic law student Jaya Loharuka wins a sensitive case for an Ethiopian woman seeking asylum in the U.S.


Third-year law student Jaya Loharuka calls her work in USC Gould School of Law’s Immigration Clinic “the best and most fulfilling part of my experience at Gould.”

In a life-changing case, Loharuka was able to win asylum for a woman from Ethiopia.

Testifying that she had been tortured and sexually assaulted in her homeland because her father was a political dissident, the Ethiopian woman was facing deportation from the U.S.

Loharuka had her back.

Loharuka, who graduated in May, appeared on the record before an immigration judge and conducted the hearing in December 2023 that would determine the 34-year-old’s fate.

Over the course of the four-hour asylum hearing, Loharuka answered all questions from the judge, conducted the client’s direct examination, and delivered the closing argument. She was supervised by clinical co-director and USC Gould Professor Niels Frenzen, an attorney specializing in immigration and refugee law.

In a bench ruling, the judge ended up granting the woman asylum — despite questioning the veracity of some of the woman’s claims.

Representing the Ethiopian woman in court was the kind of golden opportunity provided to second- and third-year law students who are accepted into the Immigration Clinic, which provides high-quality pro-bono legal representation to clients.

Two-year fellowship

Loharuka, the daughter of two physicians who immigrated from India and the first in her family to go into law, will continue enjoying the fruits of working at the Immigration Clinic.

As a recipient of the prestigious Immigrant Justice Corps fellowship, she will work full time at the clinic for two years after she earns her law degree.

“I really wanted to be able to stay at the clinic,” Loharuka says. “It’s a unique opportunity.”

And although many of Loharuka’s fellow graduating law students will be stepping into jobs that will pay triple her salary, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This type of legal victory – assuring this woman, for the first time in six years, is not going to be deported somewhere where she will face certain harm, torture or death‚ makes the whole thing worth it for me,” Loharuka says.

High-impact cases

Loharuka got interested in law when she was an undergraduate at UCLA, where she majored in American Literature with a minor in Civic Engagement, a new program that focuses on how public policies affect local communities.

Before joining USC Gould, she completed an internship at the Compton Courthouse, where she assisted people in divorce, child custody, and eviction cases who couldn’t afford to hire an attorney and had to represent themselves.

“I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons at the USC Immigration Clinic about how to properly communicate with clients and manage their expectations during difficult times,” Loharuka says of her time at USC Gould. “These people face a system completely rigged against them, so it’s important for me to be in a position of continually advocating for them.”

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