HIAS Volunteer Wins Asylum for Belarusian Dissident in North Carolina

By Rachel Nusbaum, HIAS.org

“Asylum is an amazing thing,” Marty Rosenbluth said. His smile was audible, even over the phone, as he described his most recent win.

“When you’re in the courtroom, and that client gets good news...that's the best feeling in the world. Money can’t buy that.”

Rosenbluth is an immigration lawyer by trade, although he notes he is something of a latecomer to the profession. “Law is really a third or fourth career for me,” he says. “The day I got fitted for my cap and gown in law school, I got my AARP card in the mail.”

That was eight years ago. Today, he is of counsel with the Polanco Law Firm of Raleigh-Durham. He has also represented dozens of refugees and other immigrants fighting against their detention and deportation.

“I went to law school with the intention of doing international human rights law,” recalls Rosenbluth, who had spent years volunteering with Amnesty International in the U.S. as well as working with human rights organizations overseas. “But then I saw what was happening to the immigrant community in North Carolina, and I realized that I didn’t have to go overseas to do human rights work. There was awful stuff happening right here.”

When Ilya*, a HIAS client, needed representation in North Carolina, the legal team turned to Rosenbluth to help argue the case on his behalf.

Ilya first came to HIAS New York after hearing about their successful representation of other dissidents in the expatriate Belarusian community. Simon Wettenhall, lead advocate at HIAS, prepared his case and provided initial representation at the New York Asylum Office. However, when his case was referred to immigration court with a two-year wait before his hearing, Ilya could no longer afford to support his family in an expensive city like New York. So the family moved to North Carolina, which is where they met Rosenbluth.

“Ilya was very politically active, involved in all types of peaceful protest activity,” Rosenbluth said of his client. “He would do everything from handing out leaflets to organizing small protests to doing campaign work.”

Such public dissent carries a high price in Ilya’s native Belarus.

“He had been arrested numerous times. He had been beaten numerous times. He had been tortured in jail,” Rosenbluth said. “They do this thing in Belarus where the cops hit you in your leg in a certain way. And what finally convinced him that it was time to leave was that his doctor basically said, ‘if you get beaten like this again, you’ll never walk again.’ So he had to flee the country.”

“If there’s anyone asylum was made for, it’s cases like this. There’s just no possible way he could continue living in Belarus, unless he decided just to shut up and not protest. But, you know, he’s a stubborn old goat. There’s no way he was ever going to do that,” Rosenbluth said.

On Christmas Eve, he got some unexpected good news: the judge had decided the case in his favor. Ilya had been granted asylum. “This judge denies 91% of his asylum cases. So winning a case before him is a true miracle,” Rosenbluth said.

Asked about the impact this decision will have on his client’s life, Rosenbluth is effusive.  

“I don’t want to sound redundant but, you know, he has asylum! He gets to be here, and he’s safe. And the Belarusian government can’t hurt him. He’s not going to get arrested again, he’s not going to get tortured again. And he’s free to speak his mind. He’s even free to protest against the Belarusian government from here.”   

“Cases like this show the life-changing potential of pro bono work,” said HIAS Managing Attorney Liz Sweet. “HIAS relies on dedicated volunteer attorneys like Marty to provide high quality representation to the many asylum seekers in need of counsel. Only with legal representation do asylum seekers have a fair shot at obtaining legal protection and safety in the United States.”

Interested in taking on a case yourself? Find out more about upcoming asylum trainings in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area.   

*Names have been changed to protect the client’s privacy

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