June 29, 2023

The New York Asylum Office recently granted asylum to Willkie’s longtime pro bono client, L.T., after his application was pending in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services backlog for over six years.

L.T. is a Tibetan Buddhist monk who was forced to flee the Tibet Autonomous Region of China at just four years old. Following that time, L.T. lived in India at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where he was never eligible to obtain legal residential status.  L.T. sought asylum in the United States based on his actual and imputed political views advocating for an independent Tibet and his status as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.  

China annexed the territory of Tibet in the mid-Twentieth century, at which time the Dalai Lama was sent to live into exile in India. Since then, the Chinese government has severely restricted public opposition to its rule of Tibet and retaliated against any expressions to the contrary. This has spilled over into an oppression of the Tibetan Buddhist religion, because its spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama, who once was also the political leader of Tibet. Even owning a picture of the Dalai Lama can subject Tibetans to imprisonment, surveillance or worse. Because of their devotion to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist monks come under intense scrutiny from the Chinese Government. L.T. has also participated in numerous public demonstrations against the Chinese rule of Tibet. 

Through its partnership with Legal Alliance of Pheonjong, Willkie began representing L.T. in 2018. L.T. timely applied for asylum in 2017 but was stuck in the USCIS backlog for over five years. Willkie filed a writ of mandamus and complaint against the federal government to compel USCIS to schedule L.T. for an asylum interview. In December 2022, after negotiations the U.S. Government, Willkie received notice that the interview was scheduled for June 2023. Once the interview date was secured, Willkie prepared and compiled supporting materials, including multiple affidavits and declarations from L.T. and those in his community (including friends of L.T. still residing in India), a country conditions index, an extensive letter brief, a photo binder showcasing L.T. protesting against the Chinese government, a declaration from a renowned expert on the Tibetan people explaining the severe conditions in both Tibet and India for Tibetan Buddhist monks, and various other materials to accompany the team on interview day.

During the interview, L.T. shared his life experiences of fleeing Tibet at a young age and experiencing discrimination throughout his 27 years in India and his desire to freely practice his religion and express his political views such that he may live a life without fear in the United States. The asylum officer found L.T.’s story compelling and credible. The decision granting asylum was issued quickly after the interview.

The team consisted of Willkie associates Daniel L. Morris, Melissa Peach, Vincent Palmeri and Yongbin Chang and was supervised by senior counsel Richard Mancino.