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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Asylum and the Limits of Mercy in a Nation of Laws

    The case of Ded Rranxburgaj, a rejected Albanian asylum seeker living in Detroit, has been getting attention lately. Mr. Rranxburgaj arrived in the United States in about 2001 and applied for asylum. An Immigration Judge rejected his claim in 2006, and the BIA denied his appeal in 2009. Instead of deporting him, the government allowed him to remain in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons: He was the primary caretaker for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. Mr. Rranxburgaj's wife is wheelchair bound, and she recently suffered a stroke. Doctors say that she is too sick to travel.

    Rev. Zundel: When life gives you ICE, make ice cream.

    There seems little doubt that Mr. Rranxburgaj is a "decent, family man" who does not pose a danger to the United States. According to his wife, he is a "very good husband" who helps her "take a shower... change clothes [and] cook." Besides his wife, he has two sons in the United States--a DACA recipient and a U.S. citizen.

    Mr. Rranxburgaj was living here peacefully since his case ended in 2009, but events took a turn for the worse last year when ICE decided to implement his removal order. According to an ICE spokesman: "In October 2017, ICE allowed Mr. Rranxburgaj to remain free from custody while making preparations for his departure pursuant to the judge’s order, which he had satisfactorily done." "He was again instructed to report to ICE [to be deported this week], but did not report as instructed."

    Instead, Mr. Rranxburgaj took refuge in the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit. Since ICE generally does not arrest people from churches, Mr. Rranxburgaj apparently hopes to avoid removal by remaining there, at least until something can be done about his deportation order. His lawyer has requested a stay of removal from ICE, but there is no decision yet, and ICE does not appear willing to play nice. An agency spokesman says that Mr. Rranxburgaj is considered a "fugitive."

    Meanwhile, the church is standing with Mr. Rranxburgaj and his family. The Pastor, Rev. Dr. Jill Zundel, said that the decision was in line with the teachings of Jesus, who had "compassion for those who seek new hope in a new land." Rev. Zundel, who--if I can say this about a member of the clergy--seems like a real bad ***, has a tattoo on her arm that reads, "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty."

    There are different ways to look at Mr. Rranxburgaj's case. On the one hand, he is a man who has been in the United States for 17 years, his immediate family members are all here, he takes care of his sick wife, and he does not pose a danger to our country. So he should be allowed to stay. On the other hand, he is a man whose asylum case and appeal were rejected, and who is violating the law by remaining in our country. Allowing him to remain here will only encourage others to follow his lead. Therefore, he must go.

    In short, Mr. Rranxburgaj's story lays bare the conflict between enforcing the immigration law and showing mercy in a sympathetic case.

    This situation reminds me of another--much older--conflict between law and mercy (or, more accurately, between law and justice, but I think the concepts of mercy and justice are closely related). After he was unjustly sentenced to death, Socrates sat in his cell waiting to be executed. His friend Crito arrived to help him escape. In the ensuing dialogue (creatively named The Crito), Socrates argues that he cannot violate a law, even an unjust law. He says that he entered into a social contract with "The Law" by choosing to live in Athens, and he gained benefits accordingly. To violate the rules now would undermine the social contract and ultimately destroy the city. Rather than breaking the law to escape, Socrates believed he should try to persuade the authorities to let him go. Failing that, he must accept death, since he could not justly attack The Law (by escaping) on account of having been unjustly convicted. In other words, Socrates disagrees with Rev. Zundel's tattoo.

    So where does this leave us?

    I must admit that my sympathies lie with Mr. Rranxburgaj and his family. They are not doing anyone any harm. What is the benefit of ripping the family apart, especially considering the wife's vulnerable position? Thomas Aquinas writes that "Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty."
    In Mr. Rranxburgaj's case, fealty to the abstract concept of "The Law" seems cruel in the face of family separation and the wife's illness.

    On the macro level, Mr. Rranxburgaj's case begs the question whether there is room for mercy (justice?) in the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws. Well, why shouldn't there be? Every person convicted of a crime is not subject to the maximum penalty. Indeed, due to mitigating factors and prosecutorial discretion, very few criminals actually receive the maximum sentence. The same is true for government enforcement in the civil arena: Not everyone who breaks the speed limit receives a ticket. If there is room for mercy and justice in the implementation of the criminal and civil law, why can't the immigration laws be interpreted in a similar manner?

    Unfortunately, that is not the view of the Trump Administration, which seems hell-bent on enforcement. To be fair, restricting immigration was an important plank of Mr. Trump's campaign, and so it makes sense that he would crack down on illegal immigration. However, in Mr. Rranxburgaj's case, and in many other instances, the Administration's policies defy common sense. In the rush to implement The Law, the Administration has lost sight of justice. And of humanity.

    When our government replaces mercy with cruelty, it is not only "illegals" who will suffer. We all will. And so it is heartening to see brave people like Rev. Zundel and her congregation standing up for justice, even when it sometimes means disobeying the law.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. DHS Is Your Friend on Facebook, Whether You "Like" It or Not

    Following the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where the husband-and-wife perpetrators had purportedly become radicalized via the internet, Congress requested that the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") take steps to better investigate the social media accounts of immigrant applicants (the husband was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani decent; his wife was a lawful permanent resident from Pakistan). In response, DHS established a task force and several pilot programs to expand social media screening of people seeking immigration benefits and U.S. visas. DHS also approved creation of a Social Media Center of Excellence, which would conduct social media background checks for the various DHS departments. The Center of Excellence would "set standards for social media use in relevant DHS operations while ensuring privacy and civil rights and civil liberties protections."
    The director of the Center of Excellence, Bill S. Preston, Esquire.
    Last month, the DHS Office of Inspector General released a (clumsily) redacted report detailing the efficacy of DHS's efforts and making suggestions. Due to the incomplete redaction job, it seems likely that the pilot program focused on refugees and perhaps asylum seekers, but the plan is to expand the program to cover all types of immigration benefits.

    The goal of the pilot program was to help develop policies and processes for the standardized use of social media department-wide. "USCIS had previously used social media in a limited capacity, but had no experience using it as a large-scale screening tool." The pilot program relied on manual and automated searches of social media accounts to "determine whether useful information for adjudicating refugee applications could be obtained." It seems that the ability of DHS to investigate social media accounts was limited by technology: At the time the pilot program was launched in 2016, "neither the private sector nor the U.S. Government possessed the capabilities for large-scale social media screening."


    In one portion of the pilot program, applicants were asked to "voluntarily" give their social media user names. USCIS then "assessed identified accounts to determine whether the refugees were linked to derogatory social media information that could impact their eligibility for immigration benefits or admissibility into the United States."

    DHS has also been looking into social media, email, and other computer files of people entering or leaving the United States, including U.S. citizens, and this inquiry is far from voluntary. There have been numerous recent reports of DHS Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") agents demanding passwords for cell phones and computers. The number of people subject to such searches increased significantly at the end of the Obama Administration, and seems to be further increasing under President Trump. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the large majority of people targeted for these searches are Muslim.

    All this means that DHS may be looking at your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. to determine whether you pose a threat and (possibly) to assess your credibility. They might also gain access to your email and other information stored on your computer or your cell phone. This data could then be used to evaluate your eligibility for immigration benefits, including asylum.


    On the one hand, it seems reasonable that DHS would want to look into social media and other on-line material. After all, it is well-known that terrorists rely on the internet to spread their messages, and as DHS notes, "As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP." Also, most immigration benefits are discretionary, meaning that even if you qualify for them, the U.S. government can deny them in the exercise of discretion. Therefore, if DHS "requests" certain information as part of the application process, and the applicant fails to provide it, DHS can deny the benefit as a matter of discretion.


    On the other hand, the inter-connectivity of the on-line world could yield evidence of relationships that do not actually exists. For example, one study estimates that Facebook users (all 1.6 billion of them) are connected to each other by 3.57 degrees of separation. That means there are--on average--only 3.57 people between you and Osama bin Laden (assuming he still maintains his Facebook page). But of course, it is worse than that, since there are many terrorist suspects on Facebook, not just one (Osama bin Laden). So if you are from a terrorist-producing country, it's likely that suspected terrorists are separated from you by less than 3.57 degrees of separation. Presumably, DHS would take these metrics into account when reviewing on-line data, but you can see the problem--your on-line profile may indicate you have a relationship with someone with whom you have no relationship at all.

    So what can you do to protect yourself?

    First, don't be paranoid. It's nothing new for DHS or other government agencies to search your on-line profile. Since everything posted on-line is, at least in a sense, public, you should be discrete about what you post, and you should be aware that anyone--including the U.S. government--could be reading it.


    What's more problematic is when CBP seizes electronic devices at the border and then reviews emails and other confidential information. This is extremely intrusive and an invasion of privacy. There is also an argument that it violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful searches, but generally, people coming and gong from the U.S. have less protection than people in the interior (though I imagine that as CBP steps up the practice, we will see lawsuits that further define Fourth Amendment rights at the border). Knowing that you could be subject to such a search at least enables you to prepare yourself. Don't travel with devices if you don't want them searched. Be careful what you store on your devices and in the cloud.


    Also, if you think you have problematic on-line relationships or derogatory on-line information, be prepared to explain yourself and present evidence if the issue comes up.


    On-line information can affect an asylum or immigration case in more subtle ways. For example, if you state in your application that you attended a protest on a particular date, make sure you got the date correct--DHS may be able to find out the date of the protest, and if your account of events does not match the on-line information, it could affect your credibility. The same is true for more personal information. For instance, if your asylum application indicates you attended high school from 1984 to 1987, that should match any available information on the internet. Mostly, this simply requires that you take care to accurately complete your immigration forms, so that there are no inconsistencies with data available on-line.


    Again, it's not really news that DHS is reviewing social media and other on-line information. It does appear that such practices will become more common, but as long as applicants are aware of what is happening, they can prepare for it.

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

    Updated 03-15-2017 at 10:46 AM by JDzubow

    Tags: cbp, dhs, ice Add / Edit Tags
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