When Gladys Namuyonga came to the University of La Verne College of Law’s Justice and Immigration Clinic in 2014, she had been disowned by her family, denied employment, and even received death threats for her sexual orientation in her native Uganda.
But with the persistence of law students and faculty, the Los Angeles woman received asylum this year, and is now working to pass her exam to be a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
“I was excited,” she said. “I finally felt like I had a home where I could stay. This is where I had started a new life. Denying asylum would be like losing a life for me. I couldn’t see myself going back to Uganda at all.”
The College of Law’s Justice and Immigration Clinic opened in 2008 to provide pro bono assistance to immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. Law students who participate in the clinic gain experience through interviewing clients, preparing documents, and representing clients in immigration hearings.
I finally felt like I had a home where I could stay.
Namuyonga, 40, fled Uganda for the U.S. because her community did not accept her for being gay. Homosexual activity in Uganda is illegal. She came to Southern California, despite having no friends or family here to support her.
A married couple from Uganda gave her a place to stay. But she needed a way to remain in the U.S. “I needed any help I could get,” she said.
Another Ugandan who had been granted asylum took her to the College of Law for assistance.
There, she met Professor of Law Diane Uchimiya, who founded the clinic. The professor agreed to help.
“It was like a breath of fresh air,” Namuyonga said.
John Gallegos, JD ’18, who graduated last spring, said he first met Namuyonga a few weeks before her interview, but previous students had led paperwork to lay the groundwork for her case. Gallegos, Marita Valdez, JD ’18, and Uchimiya accompanied Namuyonga to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum office in Anaheim for interviews.
Before going, the team prepared Namuyonga for the interviews. Once there, Gallegos delivered a closing argument, insisting that Namuyonga deserved a better life, free from persecution.
“I argued that if she was to return to Uganda, she would face no employment prospects, public and private shame, potential imprisonment, and possible death,” he said.
While she waited for the government to decide her fate, Namuyonga had been going to school to be a nurse and worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills.
The uncertain future weighed heavily on her, as did the new presidential administration’s shifting policies on immigration.
But after four years, she finally got some relief.
The government granted her request for asylum, a victory for both Namuyonga and the College of Law.
“The asylum process entailed a lot of hard work for our client since she had to remember and recall horrible moments in her life,” Gallegos said. “Because of this, I was so happy her hard work paid off.”
Namuyonga says she can now obtain a green card and apply for citizenship in five years.
She plans to return to the College of Law when she takes the next step to become an American citizen.
“They’re so helpful to people like us who come here with no hope, not knowing how things are going to turn out,” she said.
Gallegos, who hopes to become a general practice attorney in Palm Springs, said he joined the clinic, in part, because of his interest in immigration law and the political climate regarding immigrants.
“This case showed me the United States is and should always be a leader in asylum and immigrant rights,” he said. “Our client saw the U.S. as a beacon of hope for a better life, just like the millions of immigrants that came to the country before her.”