When Morrison & Foerster's pro bono client Alice sought asylum from Cameroon in February 2015, after enduring repeated physical and emotional abuse at the hands of local authorities for being a lesbian, she had no other choice but to flee and seek asylum in the United States. What she didn't realize at the time was that her decision would lead her through a complex and challenging four year-long separation from her two young sons, who remained in Cameroon. Thanks to Alice's unwavering determination, the help of local organizations, her Cameroonian LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area, and assistance from a MoFo pro bono legal team, Alice, who last saw her youngest son K when he was just two years old, was finally reunited with him on September 12, 2019.
According to MoFo associate Shannon Sibold, a member of Alice's pro bono team, Alice was desperate when she first approached MoFo in the summer of 2015, seeking help with navigating the U.S. immigration system. At the time, her sons were staying for short periods of time in different homes of Alice's acquaintances in Cameroon and she was unsure of their overall welfare, or when she'd be able to see them again.
Shannon explains that she was selected to be on the case, due, in part, to her ability to speak French fluently, Alice's native language. The case, says Shannon, who is a corporate lawyer, is unlike any other she has worked on in her professional career.
"This is a case that deals with peoples' lives where the stakes are incredibly high. It has been the most challenging case I have ever worked on, but, it is also the most rewarding case I've ever worked on," she adds.
According to Shannon, one of the most memorable moments in the case was being able to witness Alice receiving her asylum papers and realizing that she was finally safe — and home — in the United States.
Shannon also can't help but marvel at Alice's resolve and resilience throughout the entire ordeal; what might have broken another's spirit awoke a fighter in Alice.
"I am absolutely inspired and blown away by how far Alice has come," she notes.
In spite of all the adversity she faced throughout this long and painful journey, Alice never lost sight of her goal: using all of her strength and resources to reunite with her sons and secure her family's safety. Today, not only has Alice learned English; she has also trained herself to be, and now is, a nurses' aid at a health care facility. Alice has also established a safe and loving home for her sons to come home to.
However, the real celebration finally came when K was reunited with his mother last month after a four-year long separation. The reunion, arranged by MoFo, was something Shannon and her colleague Hila Cohen, who also worked on the case, won't soon forget. Both were present with Alice at the airport during the emotional reunion.
"It's hard to capture what the moment was like in words," Shannon notes, "but mother and son embraced for what felt like the world's longest hug and it was a very special moment."
In addition to witnessing the emotional reunion, Shannon and Hila were both on hand to present K and Alice with $1,200 in Target gift cards with funds raised from various MoFo offices, as well clothes and toys that the firm donated, to help K adjust to his new life in the U.S. with his mom.
However, the fight is still not over, according to Shannon and Hila, who are still working hard to secure asylum for Alice's other son, who is nine years old and still living in Cameroon.
"We will continue to do whatever we can to bring him home to Alice and reunite the whole family," says Shannon.
For now, K is settling into his new life in San Jose with his mom, and he has recently enrolled in school.