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If you are an attorney or an immigrant with a case before the Immigration Court, you've probably noticed that the computer system has been down for almost two weeks. The phone system for checking case status is not working, and there are all sorts of problems at the courts and the BIA. Apparently, the cause of these difficulties is that some servers in Fairfax, Virginia are broken and cannot easily be repaired. No one seems to know why this happened, and EOIR (the Executive Office for Immigration Review) is not telling us much. The EOIR website says only that they are experiencing a "hardware failure."
EOIR computer techs are working day and night to solve the problem.
As a public service, I have decided to step in and fill this information gap with unfounded speculation. I figure that if I take the time to write something down, people might as well believe it. So to all those waiting for the system to start up again, take comfort. I present to you the top 10 reasons that the EOIR computers are not working:
10. Juan Osuna forgot to pay the electric bill.
9. The Y2K bug finally kicked in.
8. The computer shut itself down after it played 35 million games of tic-tac-toe and learned that it is impossible to "win" a removal case.
7. It is getting more and more difficult to find new vacuum tubes and punch cards.
6. Once the computer calculated that the average time to the next hearing exceeds the life expectancy of the average respondent, it decided there was no point and turned itself off.
5. Everyone who signed up for Obamacare has accidentally been deported.
4. Someone asked the computer to figure out how the Asylum Clock works, and it blew up.
3. Joe Arpaio arrested the computer for helping "illegals" remain in the U.S.
2. If you build a 500 gigabyte computer, someone will file a 501 gigabyte case.
1. Everyone who knows how to fix a computer has already been deported.
There you have it. Some of these explanations may even prove to bear a relationship to reality. If so, remember that you heard it here first.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
The sister of my asylum-seeker client recently got an unpleasant surprise from the U.S. Embassy in her country. The sister is a prominent journalist who had come to the Embassy several times (at the Embassy's request) to brief U.S. diplomats on the situation in her country. She and her family members held B-1/B-2 visitor visas to the United States. A few weeks ago, the consular section called and demanded that the sister appear for a visa "re-interview." When she asked for a one-day delay due to a previously-scheduled medical appointment for her child, she was refused.
The sister dutifully arrived at the U.S. Embassy, where she was kept waiting for two hours. Finally, the consular officer met with her and informed her that her visitor visa was being revoked because her sister (my client) was seeking asylum in the United States. The sister, of course, objected, noting that she had the visa for some time but had not used it. Also, she explained that she had been meeting with Embassy officials to discuss the situation in her country, at some risk to herself. All this was of no avail, and the sister's visa was revoked. To add insult to injury (and without any evidence), the consular officer accused the sister of wanting to move to the United States so her husband could get a better job and make more money.
A U.S. consular officer proves that it's not just the NSA that can damage our diplomatic relations.
On her way out, the sister ran into a local Embassy employee who she had befriended during her two hour wait. When the employee learned what happened, he told the sister that the Embassy had been revoking visas for people whose family members were seeking asylum in the United States.
Before her sister went to the re-interview, my client called me to tell me what was happening. I suggested that her sister speak to her contacts at the Embassy. Her contacts are (presumably) in the diplomatic or public affairs sections of the Embassy, not the consular section, and they told her that there was nothing they could do.
So it seems that a person who had been a useful contact for our country, and who is an up-and-coming journalist, was insulted, embarrassed, and had her visa revoked, all because her sister has a pending asylum case in the United States. For most relatives of asylum seekers, that would be the end of the story. But in this case, since the sister is somewhat high-profile, the matter worked its way up the chain to higher ranking diplomats, who were apparently quite upset at the doings of their brethren in the consular section. There is now an effort underway to re-issue the visa, but the outcome is far from clear, as officers in the diplomatic and public affairs sections do not have authority over the consular section (and heaven forbid that one section would work in concert with another).
As best as we can tell, when my client filed her asylum application, the consular section was not alerted. But when she applied for her work permit (after the application had been pending for 150 days due to the asylum backlog), the application for an employment document triggered notice to the consulate, which was (somehow) aware of her sister. The visa was then revoked.
This is not the first time that one of my clients' family members had trouble as a result of an asylum application. I wrote previously about two clients--spouses of asylum seekers--who had their visa applications denied because of their spouses' asylum applications. In those cases, I was more concerned with the breaches of confidentiality (the consular section informed the spouses that their visas were being revoked because of their spouses' asylum claims; the problem is that in some cases, people seek asylum because of persecution by a family member, so informing the relatives of the asylum applications was a breach of confidentiality).
For me, the take-away from all this for asylum applicants and their family members is that family members may be denied non-immigrant visas or have their visas revoked once the consulate learns about the asylum application. But maybe the more interesting question is, how should the consulates deal with family members of asylum seekers?
The easy answer (and the one I prefer) is that consulates should not be informed about the asylum applications in the first place, and if they are informed, they should take no action against family members (and they certainly should not violate confidentiality). Asylum is a humanitarian form of relief and people (or their family members) should not be penalized for pursuing legitimate claims.
The counter-argument, I suppose, is that consulates are required to determine whether applicants for non-immigrant visas are actually intending immigrants, and the behavior of relatives may be relevant to that determination. One problem with this argument, at least in the cases I've mentioned, is that there was always pretty good evidence that the family members were not intending immigrants. The visas were denied or revoked anyway, seemingly solely because a relative had filed for asylum. Another problem with this argument is that all my clients' asylum cases were legitimate (two were granted and one is pending). I can more easily understand the consulates revoking or denying a family member's visas where their relative has filed a fraudulent claim. But that is not the situation in any of the cases I've discussed.
As things now stand, asylum seekers in the U.S. face a sort-of Sophie's choice: Save myself and the family members in the U.S. with me, but sacrifice my relatives who are trying to get visas. I don't see how this comports with the spirit of our international obligations, or with any notion of morality. It seems naive to imagine that this policy of excluding family members of asylum seekers will be discontinued anytime soon, but maybe if the consular sections continue to act contrary to the diplomatic sections, as happened to my client's sister, there will be some pressure to behave a bit better. For the sake of diplomacy and human rights, I hope so.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
The Center for Immigration Studies ("CIS") is a restrictionist immigration group with which I rarely agree (though they did recently call me a babe, which I certainly appreciate). In a new report, Asylum in the United States: How a finely tuned system of checks and balances has been effectively dismantled, CIS Fellow Dan Cadman argues that it has become easier to obtain asylum in the U.S., and as a result, more aliens--including dangerous aliens and aliens with false asylum claims--are coming to the United States and using the asylum system to gain entry into our country.
If I were a president, CIS thinks I would be Babe-raham Lincoln.
The CIS report makes a number of findings and recommendations, and if you are interested in this subject, it's worth a read (and if you are not interested in this subject, why the hell are you reading my blog?). Today, I want to talk about the report's main recommendations. We'll go through them one by one:
(1) Congress must take steps to legislatively curb the propensity of courts to grant protections to aliens who are members of, have participated in, or have materially supported heinous criminal organizations or insurgencies... if those organizations systematically victimize others. This can be done by amending current language that limits the persecutor bar only to those who persecute under the five designated grounds, or by adding supplementary language to establish victimization of others with the purpose of furthering unlawful objectives as a bar to asylum or refuge.
Who can argue with blocking persecutors and criminals from entering the United States? (Anyway, we have enough of our own already--I'm talking to you Dick Cheney). And CIS is correct that the persecutor bar only blocks people who persecuted others based on one of the five protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, particular social group or political opinion). This is almost as bizarre as granting asylum only to people who face persecution based on one of the five protected grounds.
Overall, I don't really have a problem with this recommendation, except for the fact that it is totally unnecessary. The persecutor bar is not the only bar to asylum. Anyone who committed (or who the U.S. has reason to believe committed) a serious non-political crime is barred. Ditto for anyone where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is a danger to the security of the United States. These are mandatory bars for asylum and withholding of removal. So while there is nothing wrong with CIS's proposal, it's hard to imagine how it would actually change anything--all the people it seeks to block are already barred under other provisions of the statute.
(2) Congress must roll back the recently-issued “Notice of Determination” promulgated by the administration with relation to terrorism and material support waivers.
I've already discussed this issue pretty extensively here. In short, the only people who benefit from this change are those who provided support to terrorists where that support was coerced or unknowing. In other words, people who are innocent, and who, in many cases, are actually victims of those terrorists.
(3) DHS (and, failing its action, Congress) must immediately institute a mandatory program of routine audits of a percentage of both credible fear findings, and formal asylum grants — perhaps an across-the-board 10 percent of all cases — as a method of detecting fraud and ensuring appropriate findings of credibility, and approval of asylum cases.
This is an intriguing idea about how to stop fraud, but I don't think it would be particularly effective. I've always felt that the most cost-effective way to fight fraud is to go after the attorneys and notarios who commit fraud. Randomly auditing cases probably won't deter fraudulent applicants--they already face scrutiny from decision-makers, so what's one more level of review going to do?
Perhaps one way to refine CIS's idea would be to select certain applicants for a more extensive interview or court process (rather than a separate audit). This might involve consular investigations or contacting overseas witnesses, more extensive questioning of the applicant, verifying the applicant's employment and education, etc. Applicants could be selected randomly or--better yet--selected based on an initial evaluation of the likelihood of fraud. While I still think it makes more sense to attack the source of the problem (the attorneys and notarios who facilitate fraud), subjecting suspicious (or random) cases to increased scrutiny might deter some people from making false claims.
(4) The prosecution of asylum (or refugee) fraud and misrepresentations [should be made] a priority.
Again, I think it would be more cost-effective to prosecute the lawyers and notarios who create fraudulent cases, but I have no problem with prosecuting asylum applicants who commit fraud. The problem is, such cases are difficult to prosecute given the high burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) and the difficulty of obtaining evidence against the alien who faked his case. Such evidence is especially difficult (and expensive) to obtain when it comes from overseas.
(5) Congress should amend the INA to provide that refugees and asylees will only be entitled to apply for conditional residence after a year in status, and not eligible to apply for adjustment to full lawful permanent resident status until after three years.... Although the three years of conditional residence does not eliminate fraud, it acts as a levee against an overwhelming volume of fraud while at the same time permitting government officials additional opportunities to further examine the bona fides of cases before immediately granting resident alien status.
I guess I really don't see the point of this suggestion. As things now stand, an alien who gets asylum can apply for a green card after one year. At that time, USCIS often re-considers the alien's asylum case. For example, many Ethiopians who received asylum based on membership in a certain political opposition party have had their green cards held up (sometimes for years) due to the party affiliation (and the party's possible relationship to an armed guerrilla group). Sometimes their asylum cases are reopened. Once an asylee gets her residency, she can apply for citizenship after four more years. At that time, USCIS often examines the bona fides of the asylum application again. Indeed, even after an alien obtains citizenship, a fraudulent application can haunt him. I recently met an Afghan man whose citizenship was revoked due to fraud. He is currently in removal proceedings. The point is, USCIS has plenty of opportunities to re-examine an asylum claim. I don't see how one more opportunity will make much difference.
(6) Each application for adjustment of status filed by an asylee or refugee should, prior to adjudication, include careful consideration of whether there are changed conditions that merit denial of adjustment and termination of asylee or refugee status.
This seems pretty similar to # 5, above. Perhaps it also refers to changed country conditions that now make it safe for the alien to return home. I suppose USCIS could use any of the opportunities discussed above (application for green card or citizenship) to re-evaluate country conditions. But country conditions rarely change too much, and so I doubt this would result in many asylees being sent home.
(7) Congress should amend the INA to provide that return to the ostensible country of persecution, however briefly, by a refugee or asylee at any time prior to adjustment to full lawful permanent residence shall be deemed prima facie evidence that the individual is not entitled to such status, and require him to be placed into removal proceedings.
This idea was much discussed after the Boston Marathon bombing. The alleged bombers were derivative asylees, and they visited the home country prior to the bombing. In fact, as the law now stands, asylees who return home can lose their status. Indeed, even after an asylee becomes a lawful permanent resident, she can lose her status if she returns home (I wrote about this here). Return to the home country does not automatically cause an alien to lose status, as there are sometimes legitimate reasons for going back, but anyone who returns as an asylee or an LPR risks being placed into removal proceedings. Because this law already exists, CIS's suggestion here seems redundant.
So there you have it. For completeness sake, I note that I did not discuss the report's recommendation to reject an asylum reform bill that is pending in the Senate. It seems that bill ain't going anywhere, and so there is not much point in talking about it, especially since I've already rambled on long enough. Adieu.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat assigned to his country's mission in Nazi-occupied Hungary. He arrived at his station in 1944, when tens of thousands of Jews were being deported to death camps.
Sometimes, to do the right thing, you have to break the rules. And follow the Raouls.
Using his cover as a diplomat, Mr. Wallenberg saved thousands of Jews from deportation. He gave them Swedish identity documents (of questionable legality), which protected them from deportation. He also rented various properties that became part of the Swedish mission, and which were thus protected by diplomatic immunity. The buildings ultimately housed (and protected) almost 10,000 people. Mr. Wallenberg used all the means at his disposal--legal and illegal--to save lives. All told, he is credited with saving over 100,000 men, women, and children.
I was reminded of Raoul Wallenberg when I heard the story of how my newest client came to the United States.
The client is a young man from Syria. A pro-government militia arrested him and his friends. They were accused of involvement in anti-regime activities and taken to prison. My client was lucky enough to recognize one of the guards, who intervened and had him released. My client's friends were not so lucky. They were ultimately released, but not before suffering severe torture.
My client made his way to another country and applied for a U.S. visitor visa. As my client related the story, it was clear that the consular officer thought the client might seek asylum in the United States, and he questioned the client about whether he faced any threats in Syria. Although he obviously had suspicions, the officer issued the visa, and now the client is seeking asylum.
Consular officers are supposed to deny visitor visas to applicants that they think have an immigration intent (an intent to seek asylum is considered an immigration intent). My suspicion here is that the consular officer correctly surmised that the client had immigration intent, but he issued the visa anyway. Was this, perhaps, a Wallenberg-esque move? Did the officer issue the visa precisely because he knew the endangered client could (and would likely) seek asylum in the U.S. and thus escape the danger in Syria?
Obviously, I have no idea what was in the consular officer's mind, but it is interesting to consider his situation. When a Syrian or an Iraqi or an Afghan applies for a visitor visa, there is a decent chance that the visa applicant will travel to the U.S. and seek asylum. The consular officer's job is to prevent that from happening; to anticipate who is an immigration risk and to deny a visa to that person. But what if denying the visa might result in the person's death?
It is easy to say that the consular officer should just do his job and deny the visa, but at the end of the day, the officer has to live with himself and his decision. For me at least, it would be difficult to meet a person who is likely fleeing for his life, and to then deny him a path to safety. Also, if it were me, I would feel that I could accomplish something positive and life-affirming by issuing the visa and helping the person come to the United States.
But of course, the visa system is designed to do more than just block intending immigrants from gaining entry into the U.S. It is also designed to block terrorists and criminals. This is not an issue that Raoul Wallenberg had to deal with. In Mr. Wallenberg's case, he was not giving out valid travel documents. He was just giving out passes that the German and Hungarian authorities generally respected. This prevented the Nazis from murdering the people who held the passes, but no one was traveling to Sweden (or anywhere else) on Mr. Wallenberg's passes. There was no danger that Nazi agents would use the passes to infiltrate other countries or cause other harm.
In the case of a (hypothetically) modern-day Raoul Wallenberg who gives out visas to people fleeing persecution, the danger of helping a terrorist or criminal would have to be balanced with the desire to save lives. I don't envy the consular officers who--whether they like it or not--have to make life or death decisions where their desire to help must be tempered by their duty to protect the United States and follow the law.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Last time, I discussed the asylum case backlog from 2013: Why it happened, what (little) can be done to help, and DHS's justification for processing new cases before old cases. Today, I want to make some suggestions about how DHS might better handle this situation.
DHS has created a new, less humorous version of the old NPR gameshow.
First and foremost, DHS should provide better information about what is happening. While I imagine that DHS does not always know what is happening (after all, the backlog is unprecedented), it could be providing better information to the backlogged applicants. Some info that would be helpful: (1) An estimate of when the backlogged cases will be heard. Maybe DHS has no idea, but at least tell us something. Apparently, many new officers and support staff have been hired. Will some of these people be dedicated to backlogged cases (I've heard that at the San Francisco office one or two officers will be assigned to backlogged cases). Is there any sort of plan to deal with the backlog? Leaving applicants completely in the dark is the worst possible way to handle the situation; (2) If a particular Asylum Office has an "expedite list," it would be helpful to know the applicant's place in line and how many people are on the list. Is she the third person or the 200th person? This would at least give some idea of the wait time, especially if DHS updated each person's place in line as they move forward; and (3) It would be very helpful if the Asylum Offices explained why the backlog exists, what they are doing about it (hiring new officers), and what the applicants can do (apply for work permits, criteria to have a case expedited). While people like me can try to tell applicants what we know (and hopefully our information is more right than wrong), it is far better to hear it from the source. Each Asylum Offices has its own website, so it should be easy enough to publish this information.
Another thing the Asylum Offices could do to ease the pain of the backlog is to give priority to backlogged cases based on family reunification. As I noted last time, one justification for the backlog is that applicants can get their work permits while their cases are in limbo. Of course, the work permit is helpful (even crucial) for many applicants, but for people separated from spouses and children, reunification is the number one issue. This is especially true where the family members are in unsafe situations. I know that in a large bureaucracy, nothing is as simple as it seems, but why can't DHS prioritize expedite requests where the applicant has a spouse or child overseas?
A third possibility is to dedicate one or more Asylum Officers in each office to work on backlogged cases. As I mentioned, San Francisco will assign one or two Officers to deal with the backlog. What about the other offices? At least if we could see some progress--even a little--with the old cases, it would give hope to the people who are waiting.
Finally, once a backlogged case is decided, DHS should give priority to any I-730 (following to join) petition filed by a granted applicant. Family separation is a terrible hardship. At least DHS (and the Embassies) can make up for some of the delay already suffered by moving I-730s for these cases to the front of the line. These applicants and their families have already waited long enough.
In a perfect world, asylum cases would be processed in the order received. However, I understand DHS's concerns and the reasons for adjudicating new cases before old cases. By providing more information to backlogged applicants and by giving priority to people separated from their families, DHS can ease the pain caused by delay without implicating the policy concerns that brought us the backlog in the first place.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.