Wittliff Cutter partner Leah Bhimani Buratti recently concluded an 11-year pro bono case on behalf of a Honduran woman fleeing domestic violence in her native country.
After multiple appeals, remands, and venue change requests, the U.S. government agreed to withholding of removal for Leah’s client, Y.P. The client was not eligible for asylum because she had been previously deported (before she knew she was potentially eligible for asylum), but the withholding of removal order allows Y.P. to continue safely living and working in the United States.
Leah took on the case through American Gateways, a non-profit providing legal services to low-income immigrants. She has served on the Board of Directors for many years and previously served as the Board president.
“My client fled horrific violence and persecution in Honduras, and nearly died of dehydration in the desert trying to seek safety here,” Leah said. “She is so deeply grateful to be able to stay. And I am so proud that – even when it takes a while – our country provides refuge for those who desperately seek safety from persecution.”
Y.P. fled Honduras to escape her abusive husband because local authorities do not prosecute or punish domestic abusers. Her first two attempts to reach the United States ended in deportation, but on her third attempt, she was told by another immigrant that she might qualify for asylum, so she began the process with the help of American Gateways.
While the case was pending, Y.P. was held for a year in a Texas detention facility. There, she became friends with another immigrant who was released to join her family in New York. The friend helped Y.P. settle in New York when she was released from detention on bond. Y.P. eventually married and gave birth to a daughter, now 3, all while her withholding of removal case was pending.
Over the years, Y.P.’s request for withholding of removal was denied twice by a San Antonio immigration judge, who was twice ordered by the appellate immigration court to reconsider the case. The case was ultimately transferred to New York, where the ICE prosecutor agreed to the withholding of removal request.
Leah’s longtime work with American Gateways earned her the Austin Bar Foundation’s David H. Walter Community Excellence award in 2022.
“I am the daughter and great granddaughter of immigrants, and I view this work as paying it forward,” Leah said. “Had our country not opened its doors to my great grandparents, they likely would have perished in the Holocaust. I hope that America continues to be a safe haven to those who are forced to flee persecution.”
Over the more than a decade this case has worked its way through the courts, Leah has been assisted by many attorneys, including her former McKool Smith colleagues Mitch Verboncoeur and Rebecca Matsumura, as well as Wittliff Cutter associate Joshua Kelly.