CLASP students help win deportation reprieve, keeping dreams alive for Kazakh family

Photo of CLASP law students Louis Althaus (left) and Brandon Jeffrey Jang again green ivy of Osgoode main entrance.
Louis Althaus (left) and Brandon Jeffrey Jang.

It was a textbook case of why textbooks are never enough at Osgoode.

Over a whirlwind three weeks last month, 2L students Louis Althaus and Brandon Jeffrey Jang had the opportunity to change a family’s life – working in the high-stakes world of immigration law and picking up invaluable, front-line lawyering lessons from one of Osgoode’s premier clinical offerings: the Community and Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP).

To fight an impending deportation order, Althaus and Jang – guided by CLASP’s expert immigration lawyer, Subodh Bharati – worked evenings and weekends, mobilizing every legal strategy they could to keep the family from being forcibly returned to Kazakhstan, where they faced potential persecution and death.

Thanks in part to their hard work in winning an 11th hour reprieve, the family’s 14-year-old daughter, who was voted valedictorian by her Grade 8 classmates days before the deportation was to take effect, now has a chance of realizing her dream of becoming a doctor in their new Canadian homeland.

“It was a privilege to work on this case and have so much of the family’s trust,” said Althaus. “We were so thrilled to turn it around and get them the best result we could have hoped for.”

In the course of three weeks, Jang and Althaus filed a 180-page stay motion to the Federal Court of Canada, detailed affidavits to support a humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and a deferral request to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The two students spent time getting to know the family, which helped them add critical information to the original H&C application, which was prepared by a Toronto law firm. “It was important to us that we brought their stories to life,” Jang said. “Beyond all that, their belief in Louis and I gave us strength to fight hard for them.”

The family’s 2017 escape from Kazakhstan, where the father, a shopkeeper, was beaten and threatened with death by a local gang, reunited him with his brother and sister in Canada and enabled him to care for his sister, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In little more than six years, the hardworking family’s three children became fluent in English and excelled in school.

A thank-you note sent by the mother to the CLASP legal team after the successful resolution of the case was filled with emotion.

“Hello, Subodh, Louis, and Brandon,” she wrote. “My happiest day was June 26, 2023, the day when you called and informed us of the amazing news.

“I was so delighted that for a short while my voice disappeared and my eyes filled with tears,” she added. “These were tears of joy and happiness. Your knowledge and experience have helped us pass through difficult processes. I want to express my huge gratitude to you.”

The two law students said it has been an honour for them to learn from seasoned supervising lawyers like Bharati and their law school peers. “But what this case has really taught me is that it’s about learning from the client, too,” said Jang. “I want to carry this mindset throughout my legal career. The family’s stories taught me a lot about compassion and empathy, most importantly being there for people who need it the most.”

Althaus, who is originally from Germany, and Jang, a Scarborough native, said many law firms would not have had the resources to delve so deeply into the family’s story on a legal aid retainer. The experience “truly highlighted the magic” of Osgoode’s clinic system, added Althaus.

The two Osgoode students said they were also inspired by Bharati’s guidance and will carry those lessons with them, no matter what area of law they ultimately decide to pursue.

“Subodh taught us to be courageous and to take initiative,” said Althaus. “He’s willing to fight for his clients on all fronts and to exhaust every avenue possible within the judicial system – and he has instilled that in us, too.”

Bharati said CLASP offers an incredible opportunity to students.

“They are able to work directly with vulnerable and marginalized people who truly need them,” he explained. “In doing so, they see, not only the privilege an Osgoode education affords them but their immense capacity to do good. These experiences will stay with them for the rest of their careers.”

Jang said he applied to CLASP largely on the strength of the glowing reviews he heard from other law students who had worked there.

“Just hearing the real difference you can make actually doing work on a case and having a real influence on someone’s life – that was something I was drawn to,” he added. “I wanted an opportunity to help give a voice to people who need it the most, and CLASP provides a specialized opportunity to do so. After a few months working here, I can truly say that the clinic believes in its students.”

Althaus said Osgoode’s wide selection of clinical programs was a strong drawing card when it came time to pick a law school.

“When I chose Osgoode, I chose it knowing it has the most extensive clinical system in the country,” he noted. “I don’t think I could have worked on a case like this at any other law school.”