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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Expediting a Case in Immigration Court

    For the last few years, the "hot topic" in asylum has been the backlog--the very long delays caused by too many applicants and too few adjudicators. I recently wrote about the backlog at the Asylum Office and what can be done to expedite a case. One commenter suggested that I write a post about expediting cases in Immigration Court, and since I aim to please, here it is.
    Courts are still wrapping up the last of Justice Marshall's immigration cases.
    The first thing to note is that the backlog in Immigration Court is huge. According to recent data, there are over 542,000 cases pending in court (not all of these cases are asylum). The average wait time for a case in Immigration Court is 677 days. The slowest court is Colorado, where wait times average 994 days. That's a long time, especially if you are separated from family members while your case is pending. For what it's worth, I have previously written about some ideas for reducing the wait time in Immigration Court (you will be shocked to learn that EOIR has not yet contacted me to implement these ideas!).


    Second, advancing a case is not easy. The Immigration Court Practice Manual, page 101, specifically notes that, "Motions to advance are disfavored." The motion should "completely articulate the reasons for the request and the adverse consequences if the hearing date is not advanced." Health problems or separation from family may good reasons to advance. I discuss these and other possible reasons here (the post relates to affirmative asylum cases, but the same logic applies).


    Third, expediting a case in Immigration Court is not as straightforward as expediting a case at the Asylum Office. There are different approaches that you can take, depending on the posture of your case. For advancing a case (and for the case itself), it is very helpful to have the assistance of an attorney. Indeed, according to TRAC Immigration, 91% of unrepresented asylum applicants in Immigration Court have their cases denied (whether they get other relief, like Withholding of Removal, I do not know). If you can afford a lawyer (or find one for free), it will be to your benefit in expediting and winning your asylum case in court.


    OK, before we get to the various approaches for advancing a court case, let's start with a bit of background. A case commences in Immigration Court when the Notice to Appear--or NTA--is filed with the court. The NTA lists the reasons why the U.S. government believes it can deport (or, in the more bowdlerized parlance of our time, "remove") someone from the United States. After the court receives the NTA, it schedules the alien for an initial hearing, called a Master Calendar Hearing ("MCH"). At the MCH, the alien--hopefully with the help of an attorney--tells the Immigration Judge ("IJ") whether the allegations in the NTA are admitted or denied, and whether the alien agrees that he can be deported. In most asylum cases, the alien admits that he is deportable, and then informs the Judge that his defense to deportation is his claim for asylum. The IJ then schedules the alien for a Merits Hearing (also called an Individual Hearing), where the alien can present his application for asylum, and either receive asylum (or some other relief) or be ordered deported from the United States. Depending where in this process your case is, the procedures to expedite vary.


    If you have the NTA, but the MCH is not yet scheduled
    : In some cases, the alien receives an NTA, but then waits many months before the MCH is scheduled. In this case, the delay usually lies with DHS (Department of Homeland Security), which issues the NTAs and files them with the Court, rather than with the Court itself. The Immigration Court has an automated number that you can call to check whether your case is scheduled for a hearing date. The phone number is 1-800-898-7180. Follow the prompts and enter your nine-digit Alien number (also called an "A number"). The system will tell you whether your case is scheduled and the date of the next hearing.


    If the system indicates that your "A-number was not found," this probably means that the NTA has not yet been submitted to the Court. Contact the local DHS/ICE Office of the Chief Counsel and talk to the attorney on duty. Perhaps that person can help get the NTA filed with the Court, so the case can begin.


    If your A-number is in the system, but there is no MCH scheduled, contact the Immigration Court directly to ask the clerk for an update. If the Court has the case, it may be possible to file a motion (a formal request) to schedule the case. However, if an IJ is not yet assigned to the case, such a request may disappear into the void once it is filed. Most lawyers (including me) would generally not file a motion until a Judge is assigned, as it is probably a waste of time, but maybe it is possible to try this, if your lawyer is willing.


    While you are waiting for the Court to docket your case (i.e., give you a court date), you can gather evidence and complete your affidavit. That way, once the case is on the schedule, you will be ready to file your documents and ask to expedite.


    If the MCH is scheduled
    : Sometimes, MCHs are scheduled months--or even years--in the future. If your case is assigned to an IJ and you have a MCH date, there are a couple options for expediting.


    First, you can file a motion to advance the date of the MCH. If the MCH is sooner, the final (Merits) hearing will be sooner as well. Whether the IJ will grant the motion and give you an earlier appointment is anyone's guess. Some IJs (and their clerks) are good about this; others, not so much.


    Second, you can request to do the MCH in writing (in lieu of attending the hearing in-person). Check the Immigration Court Practice Manual, pages 70 to 72, for information about filing written pleadings. If the Judge allows this, you can avoid attending the MCH and go directly to the Merits Hearing. Just be sure that your affidavit and all supporting documents are submitted, so you are ready to go if and when the IJ schedules you for a final hearing.


    Many attorney, including me, do not like filing motions to advance the MCH or motions for a written MCH. The reason is because they often do not work, and so what happens is this: You prepare and file the motion, call the Court several times, and ultimately have to attend the MCH anyway. When lawyers spend time doing extra work, it is fair for them to charge the client additional money. So don't be surprised if your lawyer tells you that filing a motion will cost extra.


    At the MCH
    : Typically, when you go to the MCH, the IJ gives you the first date available on her calendar for a Merits Hearing. But there are a few things you can do to try to get the earliest possible date.


    One thing is to complete the entire case (the affidavit and all supporting documents) and give them to the IJ at the MCH. That way, if there happens to be an early opening, you can take the date (and sometimes, IJs do have early dates--for example, if another case has been cancelled). Many lawyers (again, including me) don't love this because it requires us to do all the work in advance, and it often does not help. Don't be surprised if the lawyer wants to charge extra for getting the work done early (many lawyers--and other humans--prefer to put off until tomorrow what we do not need to do today).


    Second, you (or your lawyer) can try to talk to the DHS attorney prior to the MCH to see whether any issues in the case can be narrowed (usually, it is not possible to talk to DHS about the substance of the case prior to the MCH, as they have not yet reviewed the file). If that happens, maybe you will need less time to present the case, and you can tell the IJ that you expect a relatively short Merits Hearing. It may be easier for the IJ to find a one-hour opening on his calendar than a three hour opening (normally IJs reserve a three-hour time slot for asylum cases), and so you may end up with an earlier date. Even if you cannot talk with the DHS attorney, you can tell the IJ that you expect to complete the case in an hour and try to convince him to give you an earlier date, if he has one.


    Third, if you have a compelling reason for seeking an earlier Merits Hearing, tell the IJ. If you have evidence demonstrating the need for an earlier date, give it to the IJ. Maybe the Judge will not have an earlier date available immediately, but at least he can keep the situation in mind and accommodate you if an earlier date opens up.


    Finally, if you simply arrive early at the MCH and get in line, you may end up with an earlier Merits Hearing date than if you show up late to the MCH since IJs usually give out their earlier dates first.


    After the MCH, but before the Merits Hearing
    : Waiting times between the MCH and the Merits Hearing are very variable, depending on the Immigration Judge's schedule. Assuming that the IJ has given you the first available Merits Hearing date (which is normal - see the previous section), there is not much point in requesting an earlier date immediately after the MCH. Maybe if you wait a few months and if luck is on your side, a spot will open up and your request will be granted. Or--if the Judge has an effective clerk--you can file a motion to advance, and the clerk will save it until a spot opens up for you.


    Another possibility is to talk to the DHS attorney to see whether issues can be narrowed, which might make it more likely that the case can be advance (see the previous section).


    Some words of caution
    : Keep in mind that the Immigration Court system is a mess. Judges come and go. Priorities shift, which sometimes causes cases to be moved. It is quite common for court dates to change. Even if you do nothing, a far-off date may be rescheduled to an earlier day, or an upcoming hearing might be delayed. If you successfully advance your court date, it is possible that the Court will later rescheduled your case to a more distant date (this happened to us once). It is difficult to remain patient (and sane) through it all, but maybe being aware of this reality will somehow help.


    Also, remember to make sure that your biometrics (fingerprints) are up to date. If not, you may arrive at the Merits Hearing only to have it delayed because the background checks were not complete.


    Finally, do not give up. Immigration Judges are human. If they see a compelling reason to expedite a case, most of them will try to help. Explain your situation to the Judge, or let your lawyer explain, and maybe you will end up with an earlier date.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. Help Celebrate the Launch of a New NGO to Assist Asylum Seekers

    The community of asylum seekers (people waiting for their asylum cases) has grown exponentially over the past few years. Across the U.S., something like 540,000 people--including many asylum seekers--are waiting for their Immigration Court cases, and over 150,000 otehrs are waiting for their cases to be decided by the Asylum Office. Because this "backlog" is relatively new, there is a dearth of services available for such asylum applicants. A new non-profit aims to help fill that gap.
    There are more people in the backlog than in Cleveland, Ohio (and which group is worse off, I am not sure).
    The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project ("ASAP") is a community-based nonprofit providing comprehensive services to support the estimated 50,000 individuals pursing asylum in the Washington, DC-Metro region. The group launched in 2016 and received its 501(c)(3) non-profit status earlier this week (so donations are tax deductible). Its mission is to provide services that support the safety, stability, and economic security of asylum seekers and their families. ASAP's programs include:

    Employment
    : ASAP’s employment program combines individualized career planning, 30-hours of job readiness training, and job placement services to address common employment barriers encountered by asylum seekers. The goal is to equip asylum seekers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to secure and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.


    Community
    : ASAP’s community program facilitates opportunities for asylum seekers to connect with each other, ASAP volunteers, and the larger community. The group also maintains a list of asylees willing and able to provide support and guidance to newly arrived asylum seekers.


    Legal
    : ASAP offers asylum law trainings, legal information sessions, and “Know Your Rights” workshops on demand to clients, attorneys, law students, and community partners. ASAP can also provide targeted referrals to pro bono and low bono immigration legal service providers.


    Outreach
    : ASAP conducts educational awareness events co-facilitated by asylum seekers and asylees. The organization has given talks and presentations to audiences ranging from elementary school-aged children to adults. By engaging audiences of all ages, ASAP works to plant the seeds of social change.


    Social Services
    (Coming 2018): ASAP works with clients to create a comprehensive assessment of their life in the U.S. in order to identify client needs, recognize strengths, and prioritize goals. ASAP works with a coalition of community partners to provide information, resources, and referrals to ensure client safety and stability.


    To celebrate this new organization and to congratulate ASAP's first class of asylum seekers who will have completed an intensive one-week job readiness training, the group is holding an event called Together We Rise: A Family-Friendly Celebration on April 29, 2017 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM in Bethesda, Maryland. You can sign up for this free event, or make donations, here. The celebration will include food and friends, and activities for the younger guests, such as face-painting, fishing for ducks in a "pond," and henna art.


    To learn more about the party and ASAP, visit the group's Facebook page here, or email them at asylumprojectdc@gmail.com. Also, if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, please contact ASAP
    at asylumprojectdc@gmail.com.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

    Updated 04-14-2017 at 08:11 AM by JDzubow

  3. Pro-Life Attorney Named Director of Office of Refugee Resettlement

    E. Scott Lloyd has been named Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the office at the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with assisting refugees resettle in the United States. Mr. Lloyd's background includes government service, work in the private sector, and a strong devotion to conservative Christian causes.
    Scott Lloyd, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
    Mr. Lloyd got his start helping his law school professor represent the parents of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state. The case pitted Ms. Schiavo's husband and legal guardian against Ms. Schiavo's parents:

    Schiavo's husband argued that Schiavo would not have wanted prolonged artificial life support without the prospect of recovery, and elected to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo's parents argued in favor of continuing artificial nutrition and hydration and challenged Schiavo's medical diagnosis. The highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges presented by her parents caused a seven-year delay before Schiavo's feeding tube was ultimately removed [in 2005, leading to her death].

    Mr. Lloyd built on this experience by assisting Americans United for Life (the self-described "legal architect of the pro-life movement") to develop a policy on end-of-life issues. He also helped a Congressional Subcommittee prepare for a hearing and issue a report on the "chemical abortion drug" RU-486.


    In 2010, Mr. Lloyd co-founded a law firm called Legal Works Apostolate, "a full-service law firm providing effective representation and counsel, informed by the particular concerns of families and institutions that must navigate the 'thickets of the law' while remaining faithful to Church teaching." All of the firm's attorneys and staff "undertake or persist only in work that is consistent with our deep and abiding concern for the right to life and the sacramental nature of marriage."


    Immediately prior to his job at ORR, Mr. Lloyd was employed by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization, where he focused on assisting Christian refugees and other religious minorities persecuted by ISIS. As an organization, the KoC has expressed pro-immigrant views. For example, in 2006 (before Mr. Lloyd's time), the KoC called upon “the President and the U.S. Congress to agree upon immigration legislation that not only gains control over the process of immigration, but also rejects any effort to criminalize those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants, and provides these immigrants an avenue by which they can emerge from the shadows of society and seek legal residency and citizenship in the U.S.” The organization has also been politically active, particularly in campaigns across the U.S. against gay marriage.


    In addition to his day jobs, Mr. Lloyd has been an active volunteer in the pro-life movement. He is on the Board of Directors of the Front Royal Pregnancy Center, an organization that provides "counseling" related to unwanted pregnancies. He is also a founder of Witness Works, which aims to build a "culture of life." In addition, he contributes to various pro-life publications, including Human Life International ("Contraception: The root of the Culture of Death") and Veritatis Splendor, where he writes, "The Supreme Court, when it claimed to recognize for women the 'right' to abortion on demand, simultaneously stripped the fathers of these children of their right to be parents, and other associated rights" and "LifeSiteNews provides this nice criticism exposing the logical bankruptcy of [Maryland] Governor O'Malley's support for so-called ‘gay marriage.’" In another article, Mr. Lloyd references the “radical secularists” who opposed the display of a cross on government land. He also has a piece in the National Catholic Register, where he bemoans the high failure rate of contraception and opposes taxpayer-funding for birth control. Mr. Lloyd writes, "I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I [the taxpayer] am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does. You will put the baby up for adoption if you don’t want him or her."


    So what we have in Mr. Lloyd is a man who has devoted himself to the pro-life cause, who seems to oppose "so-called" gay marriage and "radical secularists," and who has worked to help Christian and other minority-religion refugees (as opposed to Muslim refugees) in the Middle East. Whether any of this is relevant to his new position as Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, I do not know. But I can't help but feel concerned that Mr. Lloyd's narrow focus on "Christian issues" leaves some doubt about his commitment to the wide and diverse group of refugees and resettlement agencies he is now expected to serve.


    More troubling than Mr. Lloyd's experience, though, is his lack of experience. It seems he graduated from law school in 2007, and then worked for most of his career on pro-life issues. He formed the Legal Works Apostolate law firm in 2010 and then sometime thereafter he worked for the Knights of Columbus on Christian refugee issues (as best as I can tell, Mr. Lloyd was working on contraception issues with the KoC by early 2012). Indeed, Mr. Lloyd's sparse government profile provides no dates, so it is unclear how much experience he actually has. And with regards to his time at KoC, we're told only that he "served as an attorney in the Public Policy office." It's not even clear that his primary duties at KoC involved refugees.


    All this begs the question, how is Mr. Lloyd qualified to direct the Office of Refugee Resettlement? What experience has he actually had with refugees? Or with running a large organization that has an annual budget in excess of $1.5 billion (though presumably the budget will be cut significantly under President Trump)?


    Also, in a properly-functioning democracy, one would hope that appointed government experts would have the knowledge and the courage to speak truth to power. Does Mr. Lloyd have the breadth and depth of experience necessary to advocate for refugees? Will he stand up to Trump Administration officials who falsely characterize refugees as terrorists and criminals? Will he be able (and willing) to stand up for Muslim refugees, and dispute the many false stories vilifying them? And what about LGBT refugees? Given his history opposing gay rights, will he treat LGBT refugees with the respect and compassion that they need and deserve?


    Perhaps I am too skeptical of Mr. Lloyd. He clearly has demonstrated compassion for certain vulnerable populations, and that compassion may very well extend beyond his prior areas of interest. His challenge will be to expand that circle of compassion to include people who he has not previously served. Christian teaching commands "love your enemy." And Proverbs states, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." And of course, the Torah reminds us again and again to welcome the stranger. If Mr. Lloyd takes these admonitions seriously, he may well prove my skepticism wrong. I certainly hope so.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

    Updated 04-06-2017 at 02:28 PM by JDzubow

  4. How to Expedite an Asylum Interview--or--Ask and Ye Might Just Receive

    These days, the estimated wait time for an affirmative asylum case is somewhere between eternity and forever. It can best be expressed numerically as ∞. Or maybe as ∞ + 1. In other words, affirmative asylum cases take a long damn time. (OK, to be fair, you can get some idea about the actual wait time here).
    Asylum seekcars waiting for their interview.
    For some people, this wait is more of a problem than for others. For example, if your spouse and children are outside the United States waiting for you, and especially if they are living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, the wait can be intolerable. A growing number of people are abandoning their cases simply because they cannot stand the separation. Others are moving to Canada, which apparently has a faster system than we have in the States. The problem is not simply that the wait is long—and the wait is long. The problem is that we cannot know how long the wait will be. Maybe the interview will come in six months; maybe in three years. Maybe the decision will come shortly after the interview; maybe it will take months or years. This unpredictability contributes to the difficulty of waiting for a resolution to the case.


    For others people—single people without children or families that are all together here in the U.S.—the wait may be stressful, but it’s far more bearable. For my clients in this position, I advise them to live as if they will win their cases. What else can they do? To live under the constant stress of potential deportation is unhealthy. And the fact is, most of my clients have strong cases, and the likelihood that they will succeed it pretty high. So it is best to live as normally as possible. Find a job, start a business, buy a house or a car, go to school, make friends, get on with life. In the end, if such people need to leave the United States, they will have time to wind down their affairs and sell their belongings. For now, though, if I may quote the late, great Chuck Berry, Live like you wanna live, baby.


    But what if you want to try to expedite your case? How can you maximize the chances that the Asylum Office will move your case to the front of the line?


    First, before you file to expedite, you need to complete your case. The affidavit must be finished and all the evidence must be organized and properly translated (if necessary). If you expedite a case and the case is not complete, it could result in real problems. For example, I once had a client put himself on a short list without telling me. Then one day, an Asylum Officer called me and said that they wanted to schedule his interview for the following week. The problem was, the evidence was not submitted (or even gathered) and the affidavit was not done. The client insisted on going forward, and so (while I helped with interview preparation), I withdrew from the case. I did not want to remain affiliated with a case that was not properly put together, and I did not want to represent a person who took action on his case without informing me. In general, there is no value in expediting a case only to lose because you are not prepared for the interview, so make sure your case is complete before you try to expedite.


    Second, you need a good reason to expedite. Remember, you are asking to jump your case ahead of hundreds--maybe thousands--of people who are also waiting for their asylum interview. Why should the Asylum Office allow you to do that? One common reason is that the applicant has a health problem (physical or mental). If that is your reason, get a letter from the doctor. Also, provide some explanation for how an early resolution of the asylum case might help improve your health situation (for example, maybe you have a health problem that is exacerbated by the stress of a pending case).


    Another common reason to expedite (and in my opinion, the most legitimate reason to expedite) is separation from family members, especially if those family members are living under difficult or dangerous circumstances. If an asylum applicant wins her case, she can file petitions to bring her spouse and her minor, unmarried children to the United States. Many people come to the U.S. to seek asylum not for themselves, but because they fear for the safety of their family. Since it is so difficult to get a U.S. visa, it's common to see asylum seekers who leave their family members behind, in the hope that they can win asylum and bring their family members later. So when the wait for an interview (never mind a decision) is measured in years, that's a real hardship. For our asylum-seeker clients with pending applications, we have seen cases where their children were attacked in the home country, where family members went into hiding, where children could not attend school or get medical treatment, where families were stuck in third countries, etc., etc., etc. Such problems can form the basis for an expedite request.


    To expedite for such a reason, get evidence of the problem. That evidence could be a doctor's note for a medical problem or an injury, or a police report if a family member was attacked or threatened. It could be a letter from a teacher that the child cannot attend school. It could be letters from the family members themselves explaining the hardship, or letters from other people who know about the problems (for advice on writing a good letter, see this article). Also, sometimes family members receive threat letters or their property is vandalized. Submit copies of such letters or photos of property damage. It is very important to submit letters and evidence in support of the expedite request. Also, remember to include evidence of the family relationship--marriage certificate or birth certificates of children--to show how the person is related to the principal asylum applicant.


    There are other reasons to request an expedited interview: Until an asylum case is granted, applicants may not be able to get certain jobs, they cannot qualify for in-state tuition, they face the general stress of not knowing whether they can stay. While these issues can be quite difficult to deal with, I think that they do not compare to the hardships suffered by people separated from family members. Indeed, if I were in charge of the Asylum Division, I would allow expedited interviews only in cases of family separation.


    Once your case is complete and you have gathered evidence in support of the expedite request, you need to submit the request and evidence to the Asylum Office. Different offices have different procedures for expediting. You can contact your Asylum Office to ask about the procedure. Contact information for the various Asylum Offices can be found here.


    One last point about expediting asylum cases: The system for expediting cases is not well-developed, meaning that sometimes, a strong request will be denied or a weak request will be granted. There definitely seems to be an element of luck involved in the expedite request process. But of course, unless you try to expedite, you can't get your case expedited. If an initial request is denied, you can gather more evidence and try again (and again). At least in my experience, most--but not all--cases where there was a good reason to expedite were, in fact, expedited.


    Besides expediting asylum cases, it is also possible to put your case on the "short list," which may result in an earlier interview date. You can learn more about that and a few other ideas here.


    It is still unclear how changes in the new Administration might affect the speed of asylum cases, but I doubt that the asylum backlog is going away any time soon. In that case, for many people, the only options are to learn to live with the delay or--if there is a good reason--to ask for an expedited interview and then to hope for the best.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. Answering the Impossible Question

    Possibly the most common question I hear at initial consultations with asylum seekers is, "What are the chances that I will win my case?" It's a reasonable question. People want to know the likelihood of success before they start any endeavor. The problem is, it's impossible to answer this question. Why is that?
    The other Impossible Question: "Does this dress make me look fat?"
    One reason is mathematical. Probabilities are tricky to calculate and even more tricky to understand. Also, it is very hard to apply probabilities in a meaningful way to a single event. What does it mean, for example, when the weather report shows a 30% chance of rain? If you run 100 computer simulations of the weather, it will rain 30 times. But in the real world, it will either rain or it won't. The problem is that we do not have complete information to start with, and that there are too many variables to predict precisely how the weather will evolve over time. Without sufficient information, we have to approximate, and we are left with a range of possible outcomes and probabilities. As Niels Bohr observed, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."

    Another difficulty is that predicting case outcomes involves human beings, and we are a notoriously capricious species. At the outset of a case, the lawyer may not know whether the client can get needed evidence, or whether she can remember her testimony, or how a witness will behave. Also, the lawyer may not know who the fact finder will be (with Immigration Court cases, we usually know in advance; for Asylum Office cases, we never know until the day of the interview). Also, what if the fact finder is in a particularly good or bad mood on the day of the case? Or what if she is hungry during the case (one Israeli study famously correlated favorable parole decisions to whether the judge had recently eaten lunch!)? These "human factors" can greatly affect the decision, and few of them can be known in advance, which again makes predicting difficult.


    That's not to say we know nothing about the likelihood of success. For Immigration Court cases, there is data available about the grant rates of individual Judges. Also, there is some data available about Asylum Office grant rates. Of course, all of this is very general and does not necessarily bear much relationship to the likely outcome in a given individual's case, but I suppose it's better than nothing.


    As a lawyer, once you get a sense for asylum cases, you can at least give the client some idea about the outcome. I can tell a strong case from a weak case, for example. If the client has a lot of credible evidence, has suffered past persecution on account of a protected ground, and faces some likelihood of future harm, the client has a strong case. The most I will say to such a prospective client is that, "If the adjudicator believes that you are telling the truth, you should win your case." I might also say that since the corroborating evidence is strong, it is likely that the adjudicator will believe the claim.


    I do think there is a basic human desire behind the question about the chances for success, and that is the desire for certainty. Asylum cases now take years, and it is very difficult to live your life for so long under the threat of deportation. When the clients ask about the likelihood of success, I know part of what they want is reassurance. Even if the case is weak, they want to feel like they have a chance. They want to feel that what they are building in the U.S. while they wait for a decision will not all be lost. How, then, do we balance the need for certainty with providing an honest evaluation of the case?


    For my clients, I try to give them both honesty and hope. In the beginning, I give the client my honest assessment of the case and the likelihood of success. Knowing my assessment (whether it is good or bad), if the client decides to go forward, my focus shifts to creating the strongest case possible with the facts and evidence available, and to helping reassure the clients so they feel some hope. I try to encourage the client to do what is within their power to make the case better: Gather evidence, talk to witnesses, find experts, etc. At least this helps empower the client a bit, and it gives them some agency over their case outcome.


    Different lawyers do things differently, and there are probably many "right" ways to balance realism and hope. There are also wrong ways. Any lawyer who "guarantees" you will win an asylum case is a lawyer you should avoid. No lawyer can guarantee a win because we do not make the decisions--the government does. Also, lawyers who make dubious promises ("I am good friends with your Judge, so I can get you a quicker hearing date") are probably lying to get your business. Be careful, and remember that offers that seem too good to be true probably are. For all its flaws, the American immigration system is largely free from corruption. Lawyers don't have special relationships with adjudicators that can change outcomes or speed adjudication. When a lawyer oversells hope at the expense of realism, you are safer to seek a different attorney; one who is more interested in telling the truth than in selling you his services.


    So when a prospective client asks me the chances for success, I'll try to give the best evaluation I can, so that the person can make an informed choice about whether to file an asylum case. Once the case is started, I will try to address weakness and gather evidence to maximize the chances for a win. I will also try to encourage the client, so that she has some hope during the long wait.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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