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The Supreme Court issued its ruling today in Negusie v. Holder (No. 07-499), which presents the question whether an alien compelled by threats of death and serious injury to act as a military guard in a prison where people were being persecuted on the basis of a protected ground is barred from seeking asylum. Together with the Yale Law School Supreme Court Clinic, Mayer Brown provided pro bono representation to the petitioner, Daniel Girmai Negusie, who has applied for asylum.

In the 8-1 decision in Negusie’s favor, the opinion for the Court authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy reversed an earlier decision by the Fifth Circuit holding that Congress had excluded from asylum eligibility all persons coerced to engage in persecutive conduct. The ruling also remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine whether it is appropriate to take into account whether the conduct was coerced.

Mayer Brown partner Andrew Pincus argued the case before the Court and special counsel Charles Rothfeld assisted with the case.

“We are gratified by the Court's decision that Congress did not categorically bar consideration of asylum applications from persons who are persecuted by being forced by threats of death or serious injury to engage in acts that resulted in persecution of others,” Mr. Pincus said. “As the briefs in this case showed, victims of persecution on grounds of religion, nationality or other grounds frequently are forced by their persecutors to act against their co-religionists or fellow citizens; that was one of the features of the religious persecution that led to the founding of our country.

“The law has long refused to penalize individuals on the basis of coerced conduct. We are hopeful that when the Board of Immigration Appeals reconsiders this case it will recognize that principle and open the door to consideration of asylum applications by these victims of persecution.”

See this link: for the opinion.