Jennifer Acevedo, who completed a Justice Fellowship at Brooklyn Defender Services in August, shares her experience working with her client Aliyents Giuseppe. Arrested by police during a protest in Venezuela, Aliyents Giuseppe was given two options — join a government-sponsored guerilla group or leave the country. He left and travelled to the U.S. border seeking safety and protection.
Jennifer recounts her experience representing Aliyents Giuseppe.
In 2021, when I started my fellowship, I inherited Aliyents Giuseppe’s case from Jiyoon Kim, a 2019 IJC Fellow. Aliyents Giuseppe had been a client of Brooklyn Defender Services since 2018.
Aliyents Giuseppe, a 24-year-old man from Venezuela, faced many challenges as a young adult. He dealt with physical and emotional abuse and spent time living in orphanages. Despite his difficult upbringing, Aliyents Giuseppe’s adoptive grandparents treated him kindly and encouraged him to join a military academy. They thought it would be a good opportunity for him to work and build a future. Aliyents Giuseppe enrolled but did not stay for long.
After realizing he was being indoctrinated into communist ideas — instructed to kneel and pray to ex-President Hugo Chavez — Aliyents Giuseppe withdrew from the academy.
He began attending protests in Venezuela, one of which turned violent. Aliyents Giuseppe was detained by law enforcement officers for three days and was tortured, beaten, and sexually assaulted. On the third day of his imprisonment, the officers gave Aliyents Giuseppe two choices: he could leave Venezuela and never return, or he could join the Tupamaros, a guerrilla group known to kidnap and kill civilians opposed to the government.
Aliyents Giuseppe left Venezuela.
After a long journey, he arrived at the southwest border and was detained in December 2017. Aliyents Giuseppe spent months in detention, calling several organizations for legal assistance. He finally connected with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Center referred him to the head pastor Tom Hagood at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, and he was released from detention. The Columbia Presbyterian Church has played a huge role in Aliyents Giuseppe’s life and the lives of other asylum seekers.
Aliyents Giuseppe lived at the church for several months before moving to Rhode Island and then New York City in 2018. Brooklyn Defender Services accepted his case for representation and his removal proceedings was transferred to the New York immigration court. Aliyents Giuseppe later moved back to Georgia due to the pandemic among other reasons including his struggles in finding a job, but his removal proceedings continued in New York. At his scheduled merits hearing in February 2023, the government attorney moved to change venue back to Georgia, where Aliyents Giuseppe was residing.
Transferring Aliyents Giuseppe’s case to Georgia would have been alarming for many reasons — Brooklyn Defender Services had represented Aliyents Giuseppe for five years and he was unlikely to find representation in Georgia where the representation rate is very low; Georgia’s asylum grant rate is the lowest in the country; and most importantly, Aliyents Giuseppe would be denied an opportunity to have his asylum case adjudicated for several more years.
I argued assertively for the judge to deny the government’s motion. The judge gave both parties two weeks to submit a brief on the change of venue issue.
Thankfully, in March 2023, the judge denied the government’s motion and scheduled a merits hearing in May. Aliyents Giuseppe testified credibly. Following cross examination, the government lawyer stipulated that our witnesses would testify in conformity with their declarations and deferred to the judge for his decision.
Aliyents Giuseppe was granted asylum!
Aliyents Giuseppe is excited to move on to the next step in applying for his green card. His goals are to join the army and become an exemplary citizen of the U.S.
There were many ups and downs with Aliyents Giuseppe’s case, but the result was worth it. My supervisor Angie Juarbe Santaliz, a former IJC fellow (’16), was instrumental in helping me prepare for the case. Erika Arias, Aliyents Giuseppe’s social worker who supported him since 2018, was also crucial to my work. I had a lot of support from my colleagues who helped me prepare Aliyents Giuseppe for his hearing, and others who shared with me their past experiences with the judge who presided over Aliyents Giuseppe’s case.
After completing her Fellowship in August 2023, Jennifer joined Brooklyn Defender Services as a staff attorney. IJC has trained and mobilized more than 320 Fellows to provide quality counsel to immigrants like Aliyents Giuseppe. Of those fellows, more than 90% advance into careers in immigration law, just like Jennifer.
Want to be a Justice Fellow like Jennifer? Applications for our 2024 Class of Justice Fellows are open until October 20. Apply now!