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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. DACA Reform and Its Hostages (i.e., Asylum Seekers)

    President Trump recently sent a letter to Congress laying out his "Administration's principles for reforming our Nation's immigration system." In effect, this is what the President wants in exchange for agreeing to legalize DACA recipients (also known as Dreamers). Whether this is an opening bid or a final offer remains to be seen, but many Democrats and some Republicans seem to view the proposal as a non-starter.


    Haggling over brown people? Where have I seen that before?

    While the President's letter covers a wide range of topics--from the border wall to hiring more ICE agents to eliminating the DV lottery--I want to focus here on the possible effects on our asylum system. Specifically, Section 1-C of the letter, Asylum Reform, lists the Administration's ideas for "correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that [asylum] backlog." Would that these ideas were so benign.

    Below, I have listed the text of the President's letter in bold, and added my comments (and complaints) in italics. Without further ado, here is the President's proposal with commentary:

    The massive asylum backlog has allowed illegal immigrants to enter and stay in the United States by exploiting asylum loopholes.
    It seems what the President means by "asylum loopholes" is the asylum process itself. But asylum is not a "loophole." It is the law, which says that if a person is physically present in the U.S. and he fears persecution in his home country, he can apply for asylum and stay here until his case is adjudicated. An executive order from the President cannot nullify this, but Congress and the President together can change the asylum law. I have not seen any movement in that direction, at least not yet.

    There are more than 270,000 pending cases in the asylum backlog before USCIS, and approximately 250,000 asylum cases before EOIR. Therefore, the Administration proposes correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that backlog.
    I don't get to say this too often, but I agree with Trump! The backlog is way too large, and we need to reduce it. The Administration wants to hire 370 new Immigration Judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys. I've written before about some constructive and low-cost ideas for reducing the backlog. If anyone in the Administration is interested, you can see my thoughts here.

    i. Significantly tighten standards and eliminate loopholes in our asylum system.
    It's not clear which standards would be tightened and which loopholes eliminated. There are plenty of changes that could be made. Some might be productive (such as cracking down on notario and attorney fraud); others would likely result in eligible aliens being denied asylum and returned to face persecution (raising the evidentiary bar, for example). One area of concern for the Administration is asylum seekers at the border who arrive here and are then paroled into the U.S. Whether we could block such people without violating our treaty obligations (and our moral values) is an open question. Of course, Congress has the power to override treaties, but the unintended consequences of such a move might do (additional) damage to our standing in the world.

    ii. Elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews.
    Presumably, this will go beyond what the Trump Administration has already done to make it more difficult for asylum seekers arriving at the border or an airport. Again, how much can be done without abrogating our treaty obligations is unclear, but certainly Congress and the President can make it more difficult for people arriving here and requesting asylum upon arrival.

    iii. Impose and enforce penalties for the filing of frivolous, baseless, or fraudulent asylum applications, and expand the use of expedited removal as appropriate.
    Why these two proposals did not warrant their own Roman numerals, I do not know. As for the first, there are already severe immigration consequences for filing a frivolous asylum application (including a bar to all benefits under the INA), but I suppose the penalties could always be made worse. Also, the Trump Administration has already set forth a policy on expedited removal, so perhaps the new proposal would incorporate those ideas (which basically expands the temporal and geographic boundaries of expedited removal).

    iv. Close loopholes in the law to bar terrorist aliens from entering the country and receiving any immigration benefits.
    As you might imagine, the immigration law currently has no provisions what-so-ever to block terrorists from coming here. Amazing that no one noticed this before. Lucky for us, some keen-eyed Trump Administration official caught the problem, and so now we can finally make some rules blocking terrorists. Whew!

    v. Clarify and enhance the legal definition of “aggravated felony” to ensure that criminal aliens do not receive certain immigration benefits.
    An alien convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for most immigration benefits, including asylum. I agree that the definition of aggravated felony could use some work--some offenses that might seem serious (like assault and battery against a police officer) are generally not aggravated felonies under the Immigration Act; other crimes that seem minor (such as shoplifting) might be an aggravated felony. It's clearly not equitable. My fear is that the Trump Administration will blindly expand the definition of aggravated felony so that any crime--no matter how minor--will bar asylum seekers from the U.S. and will needlessly divide more families through deportation.

    vi. Expand the ability to return asylum seekers to safe third countries.
    The idea of sending asylum seekers back to the last "safe" country they passed through is not new. For various reasons, I doubt it is the magic bullet that some immigration resrictionists think it is. For one thing, it is difficult to know whether a particular country is safe, and so I suspect that such a provision might just shift the battle from the fear of persecution in the home country to whether the third country is "safe." Also, whether the "safe" countries will agree to accept non-citizens we send their way seems doubtful.

    vii. Ensure only appropriate use of parole authority for aliens with credible fear or asylum claims, to deter meritless claims and ensure the swift removal of those whose claims are denied.
    This provision probably involves closing "loopholes" at the border. Here, some data might be useful. Is there any evidence that paroled aliens commit crimes? How often do such people fail to appear for court hearings? What is the cost of detaining such individuals? Making rational and effective policies requires answering such questions before taking action.

    viii. Prevent aliens who have been granted asylum or who entered as refugees from obtaining lawful permanent resident status if they are convicted of an aggravated felony.
    There is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit crimes (INA § 209(c)), including in some cases, aggravated felonies. However, BIA case law largely already prevents aggravated felons from taking advantage of the waiver. My main problem with eliminating the waiver is that it will result in people being deported to countries where they face harm, even for relatively minor crimes (many minor crimes are considered aggravated felonies already, and the Trump Administration plans to broaden the definition of aggravated felony even further).

    ix. Require review of the asylee or refugee status of an alien who returns to their home country absent a material change in circumstances or country conditions.
    Asylees who return home are already subject to having their status terminated. So like many of the provisions listed here, this one seems like piling on. Also, there are legitimate reasons why some asylees need to return home--to see sick family members, for example. Also, in some cases, asylees do not fear their home government; they fear terrorist groups in their country. Such people can return home for a brief period, but if they remain in their country for the long term, they face great danger. The current law recognizes this, and makes some exceptions for asylees who return home. This seems more fair than a blanket prohibition.

    None of these provisions have yet been implemented or incorporated into law, and we will have to see how negotiations proceed. The Administration can argue that it is fair to bargain with the fate of DACA recipients in order to "reform" our immigration system (which certainly does need reforming). And perhaps that is the reality of politics. But I can't help think there is a better way, and that it is not necessary to pit one minority group against another, and to hold so many innocent people hostage to a political agenda.

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

    Updated 10-17-2017 at 12:48 PM by JDzubow

    Tags: asylum, daca Add / Edit Tags
  2. Asylum for DACA Recipients and Dreamers

    In 2012, President Obama's Administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals--or DACA--program, which deferred removal and granted work permits to certain aliens who came to the United States prior to their 16th birthdays, who have no serious criminal issues, and who meet certain educational or military-service requirements. As usual, the statistics from the government are hard to understand, but it seems that about 730,000 individuals have benefited from the DACA program.
    Deporting her is a sure way to make America great again. As long as we don't get sick...
    But now that Mr. Obama is "out" and Donald Trump is "in", many DACA recipients fear that they will lose their tenuous status, and possibly face deportation. This concern is understandable. Mr. Trump has promised to "immediately terminate" the program, and since DACA beneficiaries have submitted their biographic information to USCIS, the government can more easily track them down and try to deport them. Also threatened with deportation are "Dreamers" - aliens who would benefit from the DREAM Act, which would have provided relief to a broader range of non-citizens than DACA, had it become law.

    So are there any defenses to deportation for DACA beneficiaries and Dreamers? What can these people do now to start protecting themselves?


    Assuming the new President ends the DACA program (which can be done by executive action, without Congressional involvement), DACA recipients would have a number of defenses to deportation (though this could change if the President and Congress modify the immigration laws). My primary focus here is asylum, but before we get to that, there are other possible defenses that DACA beneficiaries might consider: Claims to U.S. citizenship, improperly issued/served Notices to Appear, Cancellation of Removal, Adjustment of Status based on a family relationship or a job, residency applications based on being a victim of a crime or human trafficking. In short, there are many possibilities, and if you currently have DACA, it is worth thinking about whether any of them apply to you. This might entail researching the issues yourself or--if you can afford it--talking with a lawyer (if you cannot afford a lawyer, there might be free services available to you).


    For many DACA recipients and Dreamers, I imagine that asylum will be the only viable option. To win asylum, an applicant must demonstrate that she faces a well-founded fear of persecution on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. This means that in order to win your case, you will need to show that someone wants to harm you for one of these reasons. If you fear return because your country is generally crime-ridden or war-torn, that is probably not enough to win an asylum case. You need to show a specific threat based on a protected ground (I've written in more detail about this issue here).


    Most of the "protected grounds" are pretty obvious. If someone in your country wants to harm you because they do not like your religion or race or political opinion, that is easy to understand. But what is a "particular social group"? The law defining particular social group or PSG is complex, and different courts have reached different conclusions about what constitutes a PSG. For purposes of this blog post, it is easier to give some examples of PSGs, and then if you think you might fall into one of these categories (or something similar), you can talk to a lawyer to further develop your case. Some common PSGs include members of a family or tribal group, LGBT individuals, women victims of FGM (female genital mutilation) or women who fear FGM, and people who are HIV positive. Other groups of people that some courts--but not others--have found to constitute a PSG include members of a profession (doctors, journalists, etc.), former police officers, former gang members, former U.S. embassy workers, street children, people with certain disabilities, people who face domestic violence, union members, witnesses/informants, tattooed youth, perceived wealthy individuals returning from abroad, and "Americanized" people. These last two PSG groups might be of particular interest to DACA recipients and Dreamers.


    Creative lawyers (and asylum applicants) are coming up with new PSGs all the time, but if you can fit your case into a group that is already recognized as a PSG, that certainly increases the likelihood that your case will succeed.


    To win asylum, you also need to show that someone (either the government or someone who the government is unable or unwilling to control) wants to "persecute" you on account of one of the protected grounds. You will be shocked to know that the term "persecution" is not clearly defined by the law, and different courts have come up with different--and inconsistent--definitions. Persecution is usually physical harm, but it could be mental harm or even economic harm. An aggregation of different harmful events can constitute persecution.


    In addition to all this, an asylum applicant must show that he filed for asylum within one year of entering the U.S. or that he meets an exception to this rule. I expect that this will be a particular issue for DACA recipients and Dreamers, since they have been here for years. If you have not filed within a year of entry and you do not meet an exception, then you are not eligible for asylum. You may still qualify for other relief, which is similar to asylum but not as good: Withholding of Removal and Torture Convention relief.


    There are some exceptions to the one-year rule that may apply to DACA recipients and Dreamers. If a person is lawfully present in the U.S., that is considered an exception to the rule (technically, it is considered "exceptional circumstances" that excuses the missed deadline). For example, if a person is on a student visa for four years, and then she applies for asylum while still in lawful status, she meets an exception and is eligible for asylum. People with DACA could argue that DACA status constitutes an exception to the one-year rule. Whether or not this will work, I am not sure, but it is worth exploring. Another common exception is "legal disability," which includes being a minor. So if you file for asylum before you turn 18 years old, you will meet an exception to the one-year rule.


    Another exception to the one-year rule is "changed circumstances". Maybe it was safe for you in your country, but then something changed, and now it is unsafe. If that happens, you need to file within a "reasonable time" after the change--hopefully, within a month or two. If you wait too long after the change, you will not meet an exception to the one-year rule.


    For DACA recipients and Dreamers, asylum may be the last-ditch effort to remain in the U.S., and it may be difficult to win such a case. However, there are some advantages to seeking asylum. First, because it is written into the law (based on a treaty signed by the United States in 1968), Mr. Trump cannot eliminate asylum without the cooperation of Congress, and such a radical step seems unlikely. So asylum should remain an option for DACA beneficiaries and Dreamers. Second, 150 days after you file for asylum, you can file for a work permit. The Trump Administration could change this provision without Congressional action, but as the law now stands, asylum applicants can get work permits. Finally, the asylum process is slow. Normally, asylum delays are horrible for applicants (and for their attorneys), but if you are trying to delay your deportation until a new Administration comes along, asylum might do the trick. The process can take years, and if Mr. Trump follows through on his promises to deport even more people, the system may further slow down.


    Whether the new Administration will move to end DACA and deport Dreamers, we do not yet know. If the goal is really to deport as many "illegals" as possible, I believe that starting with DACA recipients is a strategic mistake: Such people are well-integrated into our society and starting with them will create fierce resistance. It would be easier to step up border enforcement, block refugees from entering, and broaden detention for criminal aliens. But my suspicion is that Mr. Trump is more concerned with the appearance of progress than with actual progress. If so, DACA recipients are an easy target--the government can harm them merely by taking away their status and work permits--and this will demonstrate visible progress to those who oppose immigrants. On the other hand, there are some positive signs coming from Congress. Either way, DACA beneficiaries cannot rely on hope, they should start planning now, so they are ready for whatever the new Administration has in store.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com
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