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Villanova Law Students Help Gay Russian Man Gain US Asylum

By Cherri Gregg

VILLANOVA, Pa. (CBS) -- A group of Villanova University law students have helped gain asylum in the United States for a Russian man who claims he was persecuted for years in his home country because he is gay.

In his mid-30s, the man -- whose name is not being revealed for privacy reasons -- claims he was repeatedly attacked and beaten for being gay.

"It became really hard for him to just live his life, and so he decided that he needed to get out," says Michelle Pistone, a law professor who runs the Villanova law school's Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services ("CARES").  She says the man flew to Cuba, then to Mexico, and used his smartphone to cross the border into the United States.

"He saw America as basically this beacon," she says, "as this place that offered freedom to gay people."

Pistone worked with third-year law students Joseph Catuzzi and Michelle Majkut, as well as a student translator who spent more than 1,400 hours working the case over the course of the fall semester while the man sat in jail in York County, Pa.

Pistone says one of the biggest challenges they had to overcome was establishing that the man was gay.

"We basically proved the negative," she tells KYW Newsradio.  "In Russia people get married in their 20s, so it was unusual for him, at the age that he was, to never have been married and to not have had a girlfriend."

He received asylum on November 20th, with only a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops to his name.   Pistone says Villanova law students held a clothing drive and helped the man get a place to stay.  He is now learning English with the assistance of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

In the meantime, Pistone says, the clinic is getting more cases of LGBT refugees seeking asylum as more individuals seek a safe haven.

"Throughout the world, the LGBT community is being persecuted," says Pistone, "and we need to open our doors to them."

For more on CARES go to

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