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It's Autumn, which means that it's time again for the Diversity Visa Lottery. The Lottery was created by Congress to increase immigration from countries that have traditionally sent us few immigrants. Every year, 50,000 people "win" the lottery and are then (probably) able to immigrate to the U.S.
The only problem with winning the DV Lottery is that it's hard to fit the green card in your wallet.
Given the current state of affairs in the asylum world (delay, delay, delay), some people with asylum cases pending are wondering whether they can use the Lottery as an alternative to asylum. The answer: It depends.
First, not all countries are eligible for the Lottery. Countries that have sent us large numbers of immigrants in the past are not included in the Lottery. If you are from one of the following countries, you are not eligible for the DV Lottery:
Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
For China, please note that persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.
Even if you were born in one of the above-listed countries, you might be eligible for the Lottery if your spouse's country does not appear on the list, if your parents were not born in one of the countries on the list, or if your parents were not lawful residents of a listed country at the time you were born. You can lean more about these somewhat annoying requirements here.
Besides country-of-origin restrictions, the other requirement for eligibility is that applicants must have a high-school degree or the equivalent, or have "two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform."
If you meet these two requirements, you can apply for the DV Lottery. This is free and actually pretty easy. Video instructions are here and you can apply here. You must apply before November 3, 2015. Winners are selected starting in May 2016.
There are also a number (probably a large number) of websites that will "help" you apply for the Lottery, for a fee. In the best case, this is a waste of money (it is just as easy to apply yourself). In the worst case, it is a complete fraud. You can learn more about these fraudsters and report scams to the U.S. government here.
Unlike most applications, I recommend that people do not use a lawyer for the Lottery and do not use a service. It is best to do it yourself.
However, if you win the Lottery, it is very wise to hire a lawyer to guide you through the green card process. Winning the Lottery does not guarantee that you will get a green card, and whether you can successfully take advantage of winning the Lottery depends on many factors and can be complicated--especially for people with asylum cases pending.
So let's say you have an asylum case pending, should you try the Lottery? The easy answer here is "yes," there is no harm in trying the Lottery. If you happen to win, then things get complicated (the odds of winning are hard to come by, but appear to be less than 1%).
If you win the Lottery while your asylum cased is pending, you can potentially obtain your lawful permanent residency (your green card) and close out your asylum case. Your spouse and minor children can also get their green cards as your dependents. The problem is that not all asylum applicants will be eligible to "adjust status" and become residents of the United States, and this is where it gets tricky.
A DV Lottery winner who filed for asylum while she was still "in status," meaning she was lawfully present in the U.S. at the time of filing, and who is still lawfully present here, can "adjust status." "Adjusting status" means changing from a non-immigrant status to a lawful permanent resident without leaving the U.S.
Most asylum applicants will not be "in status" for long enough to take advantage of the Lottery. For example, if you came here on a B visa and filed for asylum, the B visa was probably valid for only six months, which means that you will be out of status after the six month period ends. The fact that you filed for asylum does not change the expiration date of your visa (the expiration date of your stay is not written on the visa itself; you can look it up on-line here). Since the Lottery process takes much more than six months, you will be out of status by the time your green card is available, which means you cannot "adjust status." Instead, you would have to leave the United States and get the green card overseas.
Certain asylum applicants--those with long term visas, like F-1 students or H1B workers, who do not violate the conditions of their visas--might be able to remain in status long enough to adjust status and become lawful permanent residents without leaving the United States.
So if you are an asylum seeker who is out of status, can you leave the U.S. and collect your residency overseas? Maybe.
The key here is something called "unlawful presence." Once your lawful stay in the U.S. expires, each day here is considered one day of unlawful presence. If you accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence and then leave the U.S., you are barred from returning here for three years. If you accrue one year or more of unlawful presence and you leave, you cannot return for 10 years. This is known as the 3/10 year bar. A person who has an asylum case pending does not accrue unlawful presence. So for example, if you came on a B visa that was valid for six months, you overstayed your visa, and you filed for asylum four months after the visa expired (10 months after you arrived in the United States), you will have four months of unlawful presence. Once you file for asylum, you stop accruing unlawful presence, so even if your case takes two more years, you will still only have four months of unlawful presence, and you will not be subject to the 3/10 year bar if you leave (though you might be subject to other bars).
Assuming you are not subject to the 3/10 year bar, it may be possible to leave the U.S. and obtain your residency overseas based on the DV Lottery. However, for asylum seekers, this might mean returning to the country of feared persecution, which can be dangerous and might also raise suspicion at the U.S. consulate that your asylum case was not legitimate (if you can return to your country for the Lottery, maybe you never really feared persecution there). For asylum seekers (and others), it may be possible to leave the U.S. and pick up the green card in a third country, which would be the safer option.
If you are an asylum seeker who is subject to the 3/10 year bar and you leave to collect your residency, you will then need special permission to return (this is called a waiver). Such permission will be difficult--if not impossible--to obtain for most asylum seekers, and so people subject to the bar will most likely be unable to obtain their residency based on the DV Lottery.
Finally, asylum seekers who entered the United States without inspection are ineligible to adjust status and thus cannot take advantage of the DV Lottery (there may be a very narrow exception to this rule for people who meet certain conditions, including having been present in the U.S. since December 2000).
The bottom line here is that if you win the Lottery, you need to consult with a competent attorney. For asylum seekers, the ability to adjust status--or possibly leave the U.S. and return with residency--is crucial. It is very difficult to navigate these waters without the advice of someone who knows what he is doing. It makes sense to apply for the Lottery on your own, but if you win, it's time to hire a lawyer.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
The U.S. government recently announced that we will be raising the refugee cap and accepting thousands of additional refugees from Syria. We’re hearing the usual angry voices decrying the “invaders” and the “jihadists,” but that is not what I want to discuss today (I’ve already written about Muslim refugees here). Instead, I want to cover two topics: First, I want to discuss the process of how refugees get selected and screened to come to the U.S., and second, I want to discuss whether the additional resources necessary to process these new refugee cases will impact people seeking asylum in the United States.
For refugees, waiting is a way of life.
So how does the U.S. government decide who gets resettled in our country? What is done to prevent terrorists and criminals (not to mention phony refugees who are simply economic migrants) from taking advantage of our generosity?
First, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”) is an interagency effort led by three government agencies: the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. The process also involves the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), the International Organization for Migration, and a number of nongovernmental organizations that assist during various stages of the process.
A refugee case begins either through a referral or a direct application. Most cases (about 75%) are referred by UNHCR. Another 25% of cases come through direct applications under various programs. For example, there are programs for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and for religious minorities from Iran and the former Soviet Union. There is also a program for certain Cubans. The newest program is for Central American minors who have a lawfully-present parent in the United States. In addition, a few cases are referred to the program by U.S. embassies and certain NGOs.
Each applicant must complete a series of mandatory steps before she can be resettled in the U.S. These include an in-person DHS interview, a security background check, and a medical exam. The process is labor-intensive and generally takes 18 to 24 months from referral to arrival in the United States. It’s not cheap either. Last year, the USRAP cost the U.S. government over $1.1 billion.
After the refugee is selected, she must be interviewed. The interviews are conducted by DHS officers, and take place at more than 70 locations worldwide. Before the interviews, the applicants are assisted by different NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee and the International Organization for Migration, which collect biographic and other information that is forwarded to DHS for adjudication.
Next, all refugees undergo multiple security checks before they can be approved for resettlement in the United States. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the U.S. The screenings are conducted by several agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, DHS, and the Department of Defense. Details of the security checks are classified, and so we do not know a whole lot about the process.
Finally, refugees undergo a health screening, TB testing, and three days of cultural orientation (where, presumably, they learn about McDonald’s, Taylor Swift, and hot pockets).
Travel to the U.S. is arranged by the International Organization for Migration. The U.S. government pays IOM for the cost of air travel, but before departing for the United States, refugees sign a promissory note agreeing to repay the cost of their travel (whether they actually repay the loan, I have no idea).
Nine domestic agencies in about 180 communities throughout the United States work to resettle the refugees. Every week, representatives from the agencies review biographic and other information to determine where to resettle each refugee. The agencies welcome refugees at the airport and begin the process of helping them settle into their new communities. The agencies also provide reception and placement services in the first 30 to 90 days after arrival. This includes finding safe and affordable housing and providing services to promote self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment. The Office of Refugee Resettlement continues to offer support to the refugees for up to five years after arrival.
So that’s the basic process that each refugee—including the additional Syrian refugees—will go through to get to the United States. It is not a fast process because of the vetting, but it is designed to minimize the risk of terrorists and criminals infiltrating the resettlement system.
One concern for asylum seekers is whether increasing the number of people admitted under the refugee program will impact the asylum system.
The asylum office is funded by USCIS customer fees. If you have ever applied for an immigration benefit, you know that filing fees can be expensive. A small portion of the fee covers the cost of operating our asylum system. So if resources are shifted around to resettle additional refugees, the asylum offices should not be affected. They have a different, independent source of funding. That's the good news.
The possible bad news is this: All the new refugees must undergo security background checks. This process is quite opaque, and therefore we know little about it. Whether the resources used for refugee background checks will impact the background checks for asylum seekers, we don’t know. It seems that refugees and asylum seekers are subject to many of the same security checks. If so, additional background checks for refugees might further slow the background check process for asylum seekers.
Thus, while the additional refugees probably will not slow down the asylum interview schedule, they might cause more delay for asylum seekers' background checks. Whether and how much of an impact there might be, we will know soon enough.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
A recent Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") decision upheld an Immigration Judge's adverse credibility finding where the respondent's affidavit was "substantially similar, and in some regards identical, to an asylum application previously filed by respondent's brother in a different proceeding." Matter of R-K-K-, 26 I&N Dec. 658 (BIA 2015).
The BIA should think of more creative ways to prevent cheating.
In this case, the first brother came to the U.S., filed for asylum, and was granted. In his asylum application, brother # 1 stated that he was arrested two times--in 2004 and 2006--and he described what happened during those arrests. Later, the second brother (respondent or R-K-K-) came to America and filed for asylum. He also claimed to have been arrested two times--in April and May 2010. R-K-K- described his arrests in terms remarkably similar to his brother's case, including the time of day when he was arrested, the abuse endured, conversations with abusers, and psychological harm. R-K-K- even included in his affidavit the same spelling and grammar mistakes as his brother.
After informing R-K-K- of the problem, the Immigration Judge ("IJ") gave him time to gather evidence and explain himself. R-K-K- claimed that the similarities were the result of the brothers' "common backgrounds and experience," and because they were assisted by the same transcriber. The IJ asked R-K-K- to locate the transcriber, but R-K-K- was unable to do so.
The IJ did not accept R-K-K-'s explanation. He found R-K-K- not credible and denied the application for asylum. R-K-K- appealed.
The BIA affirmed the IJ's decision and issued a published decision in order to set forth a "procedural framework under which an Immigration Judge should address... inter-proceeding similarities." The short answer here is that (1) the IJ must give the respondent notice that her case has been found substantially similar to another case; (2) allow her an opportunity to explain what happened; and (3) determine the respondent's credibility based on the totality of the circumstances. The shorter answer is, Who cares?
I do not know how often "inter-proceeding similarities" are an issue, but I imagine it happens now and again. When I was a Judicial Law Clerk at the end of the last century, I worked on a Somali case that was essentially identical to an unrelated person's case. The affidavits and events were word-for-word the same. Only a few names had been changed to personalize the story a bit. So I suppose there is nothing wrong with establishing a framework for analyzing the problem.
But to me, it seems that the Board in R-K-K- is missing the larger issue. Yes, it appears that R-K-K- committed a fraud, and yes, under the applicable legal standard, he should probably be deported. And fine, it's nice to have a framework to assess credibility when this issue comes up. But what about the missing "transcriber"? Where is the person who prepared this fraudulent case? He is nowhere to be found. And the BIA does not seem to care.
Frankly, the BIA's decision here makes me angry. Everyone in this business knows that asylum fraud is a problem. We also know that there are (hopefully) a small number of attorneys and notarios (or transcribers) who are responsible for much of this fraud. These people damage the asylum system and make life more difficult for legitimate asylum seekers.
Some--perhaps most--of the fraudsters' clients are active participants in the fraud. But at least in my experience cleaning up their messes, many of these "clients" are naïve victims of unscrupulous attorneys who find it all too easy to manipulate frightened people who do not speak English, who are predisposed to mistrust authority (because they were harmed by the authorities in the home country), who do not understand "the system," and who have no support network in the United States.
So is R-K-K- a victim or a villain? We don't know, and given the BIA's "framework" for analyzing similar cases, I guess we never will.
How could this decision have been better? It seems a crime was committed here, so why not involve law enforcement? When a possible fraud has been detected, the Board could require the IJ to inform the applicant about the possible fraud, advise him that if he cannot overcome the finding of fraud, he faces criminal and immigration penalties, and give him an opportunity to switch attorneys and/or work with law enforcement to expose and prosecute the guilty party. He should also be made aware of the benefits of cooperation. The alien can refuse to go along, of course, in which case he will face the consequences. But if he does cooperate, he should be rewarded, particularly if it turns out that he was more of a victim than a co-conspirator.
There is precedent for this type of coercion in immigration proceedings. In Matter of Lozada, the BIA basically held that if an alien has been denied relief due to the ineffective assistance of her attorney, she can reopen her case, but to do so, she generally must file a bar complaint against the ineffective attorney. This requirement forces attorneys to police their own by possibly having their colleagues disbarred. I don't like it, but I'll file a complaint when it's justified. And--so the reasoning goes--if the offending attorney is barred from practice, his future clients/victims will be protected.
The problem addressed by R-K-K- is worse than the one described in Lozada. In Lozada, we are talking about ineffective assistance of counsel--this ranges from a benign screw-up (which can--and does--happen even to the best attorneys) to dereliction of duty. In R-K-K-, on the other hand, the Board is addressing outright fraud: The attorney or notario (or applicant) has appropriated someone else's case as her own in the hope of outwitting the fact-finder. This is malicious and dangerous behavior that requires punishment. The regime created by R-K-K- allows the little fish to fry and the big fish to keep swimming. It addresses a symptom of the fraud without reaching the source. I hope that the BIA will one day revisit this issue and that it will take a stronger stance against asylum fraud.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Updated 09-11-2015 at 11:11 AM by JDzubow
It's September, and for most of us, it's a time to remember a beautiful, clear morning in 2001 when the world turned upside down.
History is filled with people who think that their ignorance should trump your life.
Since then, we've witnessed wars and terrorist atrocities, which seem only to get worse with each passing day. I interact daily with asylum-seeker clients whose lives have been disrupted by such events, and whose friends and loved ones have died (or more accurately, been murdered). The recent destruction of an ancient temple in Palmyra, Syria and the murder of the 81-year old chief archeologist there strikes home for me, as I visited those magnificent ruins when I was a young man.
Members of Al Qaida, ISIS, and the Taliban deliberately kill innocent and defenseless people. They rape children. They destroy history. There really are no words strong enough to condemn their actions.
But one word that I have often heard used to describe terrorists is "cowardly." I for one, do not think the terrorists are cowards in the normal sense of the word. Maybe killing innocent people is a cowardly act, but voluntarily going to fight in Syria or Iraq, or flying a plane into a building are not the actions of cowards. They are evil and misguided, but--at least to me--not cowardly.
There is another, perhaps more profound, application of the label "coward" when it comes to such terrorists, however. It is the moral cowardice of harming another person without making the effort to understand that person's humanity. It takes courage--sometimes great courage--to understand people we view as different from ourselves. When the 9-11 hijackers flew their planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon, they were cowards in the sense that they had failed to consider the individual human beings who were their victims. This type of cowardice allows people to do terrible things. America has harmed "us;" therefore we are justified to harm "them." But this fails to account for the fact that there is no "them"--there are only people, living their lives day to day.
Perhaps the terrorist can justify their actions to themselves: No one in the U.S. is innocent; they are all complicit in their country's systematic attack on Islam; God demands the destruction of the non-believer. And while the terrorists planned and prepared for their attack, I'd wager that none inquired into the lives they hoped to destroy. Did they spend time with the loving husband and father of a new baby girl? Did they visit and get to know two young daughters of a Georgetown professor who were on their way to Australia? Did they bother to meet the hard-working firefighter and father of eight who had devoted his life to serving his community? Of course they didn't. To meet and come to know your "enemy" destroys the very notion of us-versus-them. While it's easy to project your hate and anger and fear onto "the other," it is a whole lot more difficult to depersonalize and extinguish an actual human being when you have come to know her (you can learn about those who died on 9-11 at Legacy.com).
For me, this is the greatest form of cowardice of our time. Though we live in a world that is more integrated than ever, we still manage to deny the humanity of our fellow human beings. Moral cowardice.
Which brings me to Donald Trump. I am not saying that Mr. Trump is a terrorist, but he has something in common with terrorists. You guessed it: Moral cowardice.
Mr. Trump--and the bevvy of Republican contenders racing to keep up with him--want to detain, deport, and deter many potential immigrants, including "illegals," refugees, asylum seekers, and H1B workers. Of course it's a whole lot easier to deport people you've labeled illegals, "rapists" and "killers." It's harder when you have to contend with actual human beings and their stories.
Take the case of R-H-, a young man from Honduras. A gang member tried to date his sister, and when the parents refused, the gang murdered his mother, father, and sister. R-H- escaped and came illegally to the U.S., where he was detained. R-H- did not have a lawyer, and the Immigration Judge denied his asylum application and ordered him deported. He appealed pro se. I participate in the BIA Pro Bono Project--where we screen unrepresented cases and refer them to pro bono attorneys--and I read his case and recommended it for referral. Ultimately, R-H- was granted asylum (and finally released from detention).
Now maybe you believe that all "illegals" like R-H- should be deported. But before you reach that conclusion, you have a moral (and intellectual) obligation to understand exactly what you are advocating. R-H- was the victim of horrific gang violence. If he were deported, he likely would have been murdered. It's a reasonable (though in my opinion, wrong) policy position to state that people like R-H- should be deported--our country has limited resources, we have to help "our own" before we help others, etc. But to create a straw man--an "illegal"--without knowing anything about the real person, and then to call for his deportation, is moral cowardice. Before you say, "Deport them all," you better know who it is that you are deporting and exactly what that means.
The funny (or ironic) thing is, even the most anti-immigration people often have compassion for the immigrants they know. My friend was a fundraiser for Pat Buchanan, who is certainly no friend of immigrants. But when my friend's friend landed in removal proceedings (for assaulting a cop, no less), my friend referred him to me for help. After we won the case, my friend sent me a wonderful note: "You did the most important thing a person can do--you made me look good for recommending you." I love that, but the point is, even my friend who supports Pat Buchanan recognized the humanity in the immigrant he knew and wanted him to remain in the U.S. To look at an abstract group of "illegals" is one thing. To know the individual is quite another.
Indeed, when Mr. Trump met with Dream Act activists two years ago, he told them, "You convinced me." In the face of hearing their stories, even The Donald wanted to help.
To some degree, all of us are guilty of dehumanizing "the other." It's impossible not to. But when we advocate for positions that harm others without understanding--or even trying to understand--the potential harm, we fail as moral beings. Hopefully, our nation expects better than that from itself and from its presidential candidates.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
In November 2012, we received a "recommended approval" from the Asylum Office for one of my Afghan clients--we'll call him Dave, though as you might guess, that is not his real name.
Grant or grant not. There is no try.
We were pleased with the news. Dave had worked for the United Nations and as a contractor for USAID- and NATO-funded agencies in Afghanistan. The Taliban became aware of his work and threatened him. They contacted him by phone. They said he was an infidel and an American spy. They told him, "We are watching you. We know everything about you and your family. We know where you are." A bearded stranger approached his children after school and tried to lure them away from their classmates. The threats escalated and so Dave decided to seek asylum in the U.S.
Dave had a United States visa, but his wife and children did not, so he came alone, in the hope that this would end the threats and that his family members could follow him later.
In those days--before the asylum backlog--cases moved more quickly. We filed the case in September 2012. Dave was interviewed the next month and received his recommended approval in November. So far, so good (but as Megadeth might say, "so what?").
But what does it mean, this "recommended approval?" A person receives a recommended approval if the Asylum Office has determined that she is eligible for asylum, but for some reason the decision cannot yet be issued. The Asylum Office generally won't give the reason why they cannot issue the decision, but in most cases, it seems to be because the security background check is not complete.
So what is the "security background check," you ask. Every asylum applicant has their biometric and biographic data checked against several government data bases to determine if they might be terrorists or criminals. While these checks never seem to cause delay in Immigration Court cases (defensive asylum cases), they can take a long time for Asylum Office cases (affirmative asylum cases). Why is that? I don't know. I asked once at a USCIS meeting, and they said it was because there are different checks at the Court and at the Asylum Office. I've never found anyone who could explain why the two agencies (DOJ and DHS) use different background checks, and because security issues are hush-hush, I doubt I'll ever get a good answer on this point.
So Dave's case was delayed while we waited for the final approval. In those pre-backlog days, the one benefit of a recommended approval was that the applicant could immediately apply for an EAD--an employment authorization document. In general, if an asylum applicant does not have a decision within 150 days of filing, he can apply for an EAD. With the current backlog, nobody gets a decision in 150 days and so everyone applies for the EAD. Prior to the backlog, many people received decisions in less than five months; others--like Dave--received a recommended approval in less than 150 days. Such people could immediately apply for the EAD. Dave applied for his EAD.
For asylum applicants with a recommended approval, the worst part about waiting is the uncertainty. When will the Asylum Office issue the final approval? Might something change so that the case is denied? For people separated from family members, the uncertainty and loneliness is extremely stressful.
As the months passed, our initial happiness with Dave's recommended approval began to fade. When would the final decision come? I periodically made inquiries to the Asylum Office. We never received a substantive reply.
Then Dave's wife got sick. He was worried about her, and worried about his children, but he decided to stay in the U.S. and hopefully get a decision soon. More time passed.
A year after we received the recommended approval, one of Dave's children became seriously ill. We notified the Asylum Office and again requested a decision. We got no response. But Dave continued to wait and hope that he would receive his final approval so he could bring his family to safety.
The days and weeks and months continued to pass. Finally, as we reached the two-year anniversary of Dave's recommended approval, he called me and told me that he had decided to return to Afghanistan. His children were suffering from health issues and he had not seen them (except via Skype) for more than two years. He was giving up on his asylum case and returning to his family, and to the danger.
So what can we learn from Dave's story? My feeling about the whole fiasco is that Dave would have been far better off if the Asylum Office had simply denied his case in November 2012 rather than issue a recommended approval. Under U.S. law, a person does not have a duty to rescue another who is in danger. However, if a person undertakes a rescue, he is obligated not to act negligently. The U.S. has created a system for asylum. People like Dave rely on that system. In this case, the system failed Dave, and--at least for him--the lure of asylum and of safety created by the asylum system cost him and his family dearly: Two-plus years with his wife and children lost, other options for safety missed, savings exhausted.
There is an ironic denouement to the story. A few months after Dave left the U.S. and 2.5 years after the recommended approval, the Asylum Office sent a notice to get fingerprinted: "Please process the fingerprints as quickly as possible," the note advised. Was this a cruel joke? I tried to have the fingerprints done at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, but they could not (or would not) do it. We have still not heard from the Asylum Office about Dave's case. I suppose it remains pending, but who knows? When last I emailed Dave (about the fingerprints), he replied, "I still have hope and... I am hopeful."
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.