Asylum Granted Still Comes With Challenges: Nina’s Story

There are generally two ways to make an asylum claim. An asylum claim made while one is in detention goes before a judge, this is a defensive claim. Immigrants being arrested on the Southern border and held in mass detention are making defensive asylum claims in hopes of being allowed to remain in the United States.

But if you travel to the US with a valid visa and decide that instead of returning home, you want to remain. If you are afraid of what might happen to you upon returning to your home country, then you can make an affirmative application for asylum.

At our legal clinics, we probably see a client a month who wants to make an affirmative application for asylum. The application is extensive. It includes a detailed interview where the applicant has to describe what happened to them at home to justify their staying in the United States. As with any other legal process, a story is only worth so much, you also need to furnish documentation to support it.

Nina came to our Pontiac clinic about two years ago with a story and proof to back it up:

Nina from Cameroon

The road to asylum was not easy for Nina from Cameroon. As a teacher of English language literature in a country where the French speakers control the military and are in a civil war with English speakers, Nina was an obvious target. The French/English divide in Cameroon goes back to the nation’s colonial powers that claimed it in the early 20th century. The legacy of colonialism in Cameroon is a nation with two violently conflicting cultures.

Nina was arrested in her home country for teaching poetry from an English speaking Cameroonian poet who wrote of equality for all in Cameroon and peach between English and French speakers. Even though the state had approved her curriculum, she was ordered never teach that author or anyone similar again. While detained, she was beaten and sexually abused.
After being released, her house was burned down as further reprisal, and she knew that she and her family couldn’t live in Cameroon any longer. Fortunately, she was invited to California to attend a conference for teachers of literature. This was her chance to find a way out for herself and her family.

After the conference, Nina made her way to a friend’s house in Detroit. She came to SWIRC’s Pontiac Clinic, and we helped her complete her application for asylum. Because she was part of a group being oppressed in Cameroon (English speakers), was assaulted by her own government, and had records of the medical treatment she received, she was a good fit for asylum. We accompanied her to her USCIS interview in Chicago, and she was granted asylum within six months, six months after that, she had a work permit.

We quickly made applications for her husband and two young children. It can take a long time to receive approval for family to join an asylee in the United States. Nina’s husband was killed by his government a couple of months after Nina was granted asylum. We are still working with her on getting her children, who are currently living with other family, visas to come to the United States.

Because her teaching credentials don’t transfer to the United States, Nina is now working as a nurses aid in a nursing home. She has brought us more clients, other English-speaking Cameroonians who have been able to escape their country to seek a life free from violence in the US.


The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free and low-cost legal services to those who need them most in the Detroit area, with a focus on recent immigrants and refugees.

We were founded in 2014 by Kevin Piecuch, our Executive Director and principal attorney, to help meet the great need for quality legal services in underserved communities. We believe that everyone deserves justice regardless of your country of origin, the color of your skin, or your ability to afford an attorney.

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