Locke Lord Pro Bono Feature
The scars on the woman's body are a testament to years of physical abuse and unspeakable violence. The black skin of her forehead and both cheeks are marred by hyper-pigmented spots and scars from burns and numerous beatings. Her nose is battered and permanently scarred. Forged into the skin of her upper right back is a human bite mark. Both legs bear burn scars inflicted with a smoldering stick. Scars from knife wounds dot her upper back and right ankle.
The woman's psychological scars are worse. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, hallucinations and flashbacks.
Now, after years of struggling to escape her native Darfur in Sudan, the 48-year-old woman is free for the first time in her life. A team of pro bono lawyers from Locke Lord's Chicago office, led by Partner Ann Walsh and Associate Shereefat Balogun, worked more than three years to gain political asylum for their client. An immigration judge granted our client asylum in October 2011.
"Our next battle is to get our clients' children to join her in the United States as safely and quickly as possible," Walsh said. "Until then, we're only halfway done."
Because of the danger the woman's family continues to face in Sudan, we are not using her name. Her story unfolds in the war-torn region of Darfur, Sudan, where she grew up, married, bore three daughters and ran a small business selling honey and other goods. The woman and her family have dark black skin and are members of the Für tribe, all considered inferior by the Arab militia and government-backed group called Janjaweed. War escalated in her homeland in 1999, the year her husband disappeared while tending cattle. It was a turning point for the family.
Despite constant searching, our client never learned her husband's fate and presumes the Janjaweed murdered him. While searching for him, she was captured by the Janjaweed and was tortured, beaten and raped, a system of persecution that continued for several years. When the militia attacked her village in 2005, they set fire to her home, beat and raped her again while her family huddled in an underground storage area. Her uncle, along with several children and adults from the village, were killed in the attack.
She was able to escape to the United States through Egypt, but the woman she paid to help her was a human smuggler who put her in the hands of people who forced her to work without pay and held her prisoner. A kind Detroit police officer helped put her in touch with a group that ultimately led her to the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago and to Locke Lord's pro bono lawyers.