Senior Project: Asylum Seeker

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East Sider helped Cameroonian political refugee

By Max A. Goldstein

Senior year for the typical college student means partying and an abundance of free time before entering the working world. For Lane Bodian, however, the last year at Franklin & Marshall was spent trying to win asylum for a Cameroon man under attack for his political views.

Bodian, a soccer player who grew up in the East 70s and attended Westminster Boarding School in Connecticut, got involved in the case through a class, “Human Rights and Human Wrongs. Although he could not elaborate on the case"s details because it has yet to go before a judge, he said the situation was dire.

“If he went back to Cameroon, Bodian said of the man, “he would suffer serious repercussions. He might be killed.

A soccer team trip in March 2008 brought Bodian and fellow soccer player Matt Melino, from Westfield, N.J., to Africa. The team had been engaged in an ongoing effort in the impoverished city of Khayelitsha, South Africa, to teach HIV/AIDS prevention to children using soccer as a platform. They expanded the project to include construction of a new soccer field in memory of a fellow teammate, Chris Campbell, who collapsed and died while running just before the start of the fall 2007 season.

Lane Bodian was inspired to get involved in human rights after a soccer team trip to South Africa.

“That trip really inspired me and Matt to do more, and I think that it inspired us to sign up for this class, Bodian said.

Dr. Susan Dicklitch, an associate dean at Franklin & Marshall, co-teaches the class with lawyers from the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, a non-
profit legal services organization. Other pro-bono law firms worked with the class, providing students with internship opportunities. The students worked in pairs with lawyers on asylum and immigration cases, helping to write affidavits, compile human rights research and compose internal legal memos that showed the strengths and weaknesses of the cases.

Bodian and Melino were assigned a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was working on the Cameroonian man"s case. The two traveled to the capitol to help the lawyer question the man about his story.

“It was really intense talking to him. He told us he was tortured for his political beliefs, Bodian said. “It was eye-opening listening to what this man went through, and to see what one man is capable of doing to another.

After a four-and-a-half-hour follow-up interview via Skype with the asylum seeker, the seniors began to research and write an affidavit for the man"s trial. Their work yielded 490 pages documenting the crimes and conditions of the politically repressed in Cameroon in an effort to prove to the judge at the upcoming trial that their client would be in serious danger if he returned home.

Although everyone in the class worked on composing legal documents, Bodian and Melino"s affidavit was much longer than was required. The pair also went to unusual lengths in their travel to Washington, D.C., and their efforts to enlist help from a friend who spoke French, the asylum-seeker"s language. Bodian said he was amazed at the opportunity he was given to work so closely on a real case.

“We were doing the work of law school students and lawyers. It was unbelievable that we were able to do this and just be undergraduates, said Bodian, who is confidant that their work will help the man gain permanent residency in the United States.

Dicklitch said the case had not yet proceeded to its merits hearing, but that Bodian and Melino should feel proud of their work.

“My hope is that students will realize the impact that they can have on another person"s life's even if they don"t win asylum for the client, Dicklitch wrote in an email. “I want them to realize that they can make a difference's not even's but because they are college students.

Bodian said his experiences in a city with so many immigrants helped him appreciate the significance of his work.

“I think growing up in New York exposes us to a whole variety of culture and different people, he said. “Now, when I see a guy on the street, I think twice before I make a judgment, because everyone has their own unique story.

Although the students missed out on free time during their senior year, Bodian, who hopes to work in law or politics on Capitol Hill, said the effort was worthwhile.

“We decided that working with asylum seekers would be more meaningful than some extra down time, Bodian said. “I"m still looking for a job, so I guess right now is my down time. 

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