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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. The Attorney General's Not-as-Bad-as-We-Feared Decision on Asylum

    We knew this was coming. On March 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to revisit a Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") case called Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2018), which granted asylum to a victim of domestic violence from El Salvador. Now, the Attorney General has reversed A-B- and issued a wide-ranging opinion that seeks to limit asylum for victims of domestic violence and other criminal activity.


    Attorney General Jeff Sessions explains why asylum seekers are bad.


    There is a lot to say about the AG's decision, but here I want to focus on two issues: (1) Who is affected by the decision, and (2) Why the decision may not have the broad impact that the AG seems to have intended.

    Matter of A-B- most immediately impacts victims of domestic violence. Since 1999, the law related to asylum for DV victims has been evolving. Different lawyers and government agencies have worked to crack open the door for such applicants. The end result of their efforts was Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), which created a convoluted path for victims of DV to obtain asylum. I think it was fairly apparent that A-R-C-G- was a house of cards, waiting for a hostile Administration to knock it down. And in Matter of A-B-, Mr. Sessions has done just that--he has overturned nearly two decades of evolving precedent, and overruled A-R-C-G-.

    How, exactly, Mr. Sessions has attempted to block DV asylum seekers is important. To win asylum, an applicant must not only show that she faces harm; she must demonstrate that the harm she faces is on account of a protected ground, such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group ("PSG"). So if a persecutor wants to kill you in order to steal your money, that is usually not a basis for asylum. But if the persecutor wants to harm you because he does not like your political opinion, or race, or religion, or PSG, that can form the basis for an asylum claim. A-R-C-G- said that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” can constitute a PSG, making such people potentially eligible for asylum (assuming they met a host of other requirements).

    In A-B-, the Attorney General is saying that this PSG formulation was erroneous, and so victims of DV can no longer use it as a basis for asylum. Such victims can still attempt to win asylum based on other protected grounds (maybe they are a member of an acceptable PSG, for example, or maybe the persecutor seeks to harm them due to their religion or for some other "protected" reason). But the fact is, many of these (mostly) women will no longer qualify for asylum, and will be sent home to face whatever "vile abuse" (Jeff Sessions's words) that is awaiting them.

    The impact of A-B- is clearly meant to reach beyond the realm of DV asylum, but how it will be interpreted outside the immediate circumstances of the case is unclear (at least to me). For example, in the decision, Mr. Sessions writes, "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum." Indeed, the decision makes multiple references to "gang violence," but as far as I can tell, gang violence is not an issue in the case. This is strange, since normally, courts decide issues that are before them; not abstract issues that are obliquely related to the subject of the case.

    So if they are presented with an asylum claim involving "gang violence," how will Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers apply Matter of A-B-? It's difficult to know. The AG's vague pronouncements about "gang violence" are not easily translated into legal guidance for adjudicators. Of course, adjudicators who want to deny a case can find additional support for such a decision here, but those who want to grant a case are not blocked from doing so.

    There's also the more general issue of "persecution based on violent conduct of a private [as opposed to government] actor," which could include harm against LGBT individuals, FGM, threats from terrorists groups, etc. The AG states that in such cases, an asylum applicant "must show more than difficulty controlling private behavior... The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or at least demonstrated a complete helplessness to protect the victims." In other words, says the AG, "Applicants must show not just that the crime has gone unpunished, but that the government is unwilling or unable to prevent it." Maybe I'm missing something here, but this is the exact same legal standard we've had since the asylum statute was enacted. As I read Matter of A-B-, I don't expect big changes for people seeking asylum based on sexual orientation or FGM, or those fleeing terrorists, even though these cases typically involve persecution by non-state actors.

    In fact, though Matter of A-B- will block many DV victims from obtaining asylum, I am not sure that its effects will be broadly felt. Much of the decision is hyperbole without substance: "Generally," asylum claims based on persecution by non-state actors will fail. Generalizations like this aren't guidance for adjudicators; they are propaganda. And then there are helpful chestnuts like this:

    Neither immigration judges nor the Board may avoid the rigorous analysis required in determining asylum claims, especially where victims of private violence claim persecution based on membership in a particular social group.... Furthermore, the Board, immigration judges, and all asylum officers must consider, consistent with the regulations, whether internal relocation in the alien’s home country presents a reasonable alternative before granting asylum.

    In other words, adjudicators are supposed to follow the law. No duh.

    I don't know why the AG used Matter of A-B- to make a broad statement against people fleeing violence from non-state actors (as opposed to limiting his ruling to the facts of the case). But the decision's platitudes and generalizations are not conducive to the type of legal precedent that can guide decision makers.

    Perhaps Mr. Sessions hopes that his anti-asylum rhetoric and exhortations to "follow the law" will set the tone for adjudicators at the Immigration Courts and Asylum Offices. Maybe he believes that his disdain for immigrants can somehow be transmitted through the bureaucracy to the men and women deciding cases. But in my experience, IJs and Asylum Officers are not lemmings who exist to do the AG's bidding. They are adjudicators empowered to interpret the law.

    After Matter of A-B-, some applicants will have a tougher time obtaining asylum; others will be unaffected. In a strange sense, this decision gives me hope. If this is the best Mr. Sessions can do, it is not enough to end asylum as we know it. Thanks to Mr. Sessions, many domestic violence victims will be returned to face harm, but our country will continue to offer protection to many others. For that, I am thankful.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, bia, sessions Add / Edit Tags
  2. Attorney General Seeks to Limit Asylum... Or Something

    The Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, has been busy "certifying" cases to himself in order to (apparently) reduce protections for certain asylum seekers. I want to talk about two cases in particular, but first, let's talk about the process that Mr. Sessions is following.


    "Oh Magoo, you've done it again!"

    The decisions in question involve cases that were before the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA" or "Board"), the administrative appellate body that interprets the nation's immigration laws. The BIA has been called (sometimes derisively) the "Supreme Court of immigration law." The BIA is not actually a court in the normal sense of the word (and, by the way, neither are the Immigration Courts). Instead, it is an office within the U.S. Department of Justice. The leader of the Department of Justice is the Attorney General ("AG"). So in essence, the BIA derives its power from the AG, who is the ultimate "decider" when it comes to BIA cases.

    What has been happening recently is that Mr. Sessions has been "certifying" cases from the BIA to himself. Basically, this means that he is taking the cases from the BIA and changing the Board's decisions. In a sense, this is nothing new--previous AGs have done the same thing on occasion. But the concern here is two-fold: Substantively, the AG seems to be moving towards limiting the scope of asylum protections in some types of cases, and procedurally, the AG's actions do not comport with due process of law, at least as that concept is understood in non-totalitarian countries.

    The first case I want to discuss is Matter of E-F-H-L-, 27 I&N Dec. 226 (AG 2018). In that case, the AG vacated a 2014 BIA decision (also called Matter of E-F-H-L-) and returned the matter to the Immigration Judge (the letters in the case name refer to the alien's initials). The 2014 case stands for the proposition that an asylum applicant is entitled to a hearing on the merits of her application, including an opportunity to provide oral testimony and other evidence, "without first having to establish prima facie eligibility for the requested relief." In other words, the case is widely viewed as re-affirming the right to a hearing, even if the asylum claim, as articulated by the applicant, is legally insufficient.

    In civil litigation, there is something called "failure to state a claim." Judges routinely dismiss lawsuits if they determine that a litigant's claim--even if taken as true--does not entitled the litigant to relief. In our adversarial system, this makes sense. Why waste a court's time (or the jury's time) adjudicating the facts of a case if those facts do not entitle the claimant to any relief? And why not do the same thing for asylum applicants?

    The main objection is that many asylum applicants are unrepresented, and do not know how to articulate their claims effectively. Only in the course of testimony might an applicant's claim become apparent (and that is especially true in a case like E-F-H-L-, where there is a complicated "particular social group" analysis). Most Immigration Court hearings are fairly truncated affairs to begin with, and so further curtailing an applicant's ability to present his case makes it even more likely that overworked judges will take the easy route and dismiss an asylum claim before the applicant is able to fully develop his case. The result, of course, will be that legitimate asylum seekers are denied protection.

    So it is concerning that Mr. Sessions has vacated E-F-H-L-. But what comes next is not yet clear. The case has been returned to the Immigration Court for further decision-making, and as I read the case, it seems unlikely that the Judge or the BIA would need to rule on E-F-H-L-'s right to a full hearing. According to the AG's decision, E-F-H-L- married a U.S. citizen and withdrew his asylum claim. If that is true, there is little reason to think we will hear anything more about this particular case.

    The problem, though, is that the AG presumably vacated E-F-H-L- for a reason. I expect the reason is that he wants to create a new standard (in a different alien's case) for adjudicating asylum claims. What this standard will be, we do not yet know, but given Mr. Sessions's jaundiced view of asylum seekers, I'm not feeling optimistic. Whatever he does, Mr. Sessions is limited by the statute and by the courts, and so hopefully, it will not be as bad as we fear.

    The second case I want to discuss is Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2018). Mr. Sessions has certified that BIA case to himself and requested new briefs (legal arguments) from the parties and from amici (interested organizations). The question Mr. Sessions wants briefed is this:

    Whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable “particular social group” for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.

    We don't know, but presumably the goal here is to block asylum seekers who fear harm from "private criminal activity." This might, for example, block people fleeing harm from gangs in Central America, or victims of domestic violence. It potentially affects other types of asylum claims as well.

    The main problem is that Mr. Sessions has asked for briefing on a question that is vague. He has not given us the facts of the case, thus making it difficult to write an effective brief, since cases are fact specific. He even tried to hide the name of the attorney representing A-B-; perhaps in an effort to block advocates from learning more about the case.

    This is not how due process works, and I imagine that whatever decision the AG issues in A-B- will be vulnerable to review by the federal appellate courts, which tend to look askance at such blatant (and amateurish) violations of due process.

    That the Attorney General of the United States would engage in such obvious procedural misfeasance is very concerning. Since we don't know what the AG is really asking for, his request for amici briefs is completely disingenuous. Indeed, even if you favor limiting the scope of asylum, you should be concerned when our country's top law enforcement officer demonstrates such contempt for the rule of law.

    Where the AG is heading with all this, we shall see. The widespread belief among advocates is that in anticipation of DACA and TPS ending, Mr. Sessions is planning to roll back protections for certain asylum seekers, specifically people facing harm from gangs and also victims of domestic violence. But he could also be targeting LGBT asylum seekers who fear community (as opposed to government) persecution, victims of female genital mutilation, and victims of terrorist groups, among others.

    Finally, it’s difficult not to see the irony here. For years, advocates for asylum seekers have been litigating to expand protections for a wider range of persecuted individuals, particular women, who often face harm not contemplated by the people (mostly white men) who came up with the definition of “refugee” after World War II. However, by pursuing litigation—rather than legislation—we have left ourselves vulnerable to a restrictionist Administration that now seeks to contract that definition.

    Don’t get me wrong—I certainly don’t blame advocates for our current woes; we tried and failed legislatively at least once. But I do hope that if the pendulum swings back, and the public mood becomes more favorable, we will try again to create a refugee law that is more in-tune with the types of harm individuals face today. Until then, we are stuck litigating our clients’ cases in an uncertain environment, against an Attorney General who has little interest in playing by the rules.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, sessions Add / Edit Tags
  3. The Attorney General's Jaundiced--and Inaccurate--View of Asylum

    In a speech last week to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the office that administers the nation's immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals), Attorney General and living Confederate Civil War monument, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, set out his views on the asylum system, asylum seekers, and immigration attorneys.
    Jeff Sessions speaks to an audience at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.


    Sad to say, Mr. Sessions described the asylum system in largely negative terms, and said not a word about the benefits that our country derives from offering asylum.

    While he views our asylum policy as "generous," and designed to "protect those who, through no fault of their own, cannot co-exist in their home country no matter where they go because of persecution based on fundamental things like their religion or nationality," Mr. Sessions feels that our generosity is being "abused" and that "smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress."

    Mr. Sessions also lambasts "dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process."

    Indeed, Mr. Sessions believes that our asylum system is "subject to rampant abuse and fraud." Because the system is "overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims."

    First, it's quite sad that our nation's chief law enforcement officer would have such a jaundiced view of asylum. The idea that asylum is merely a generous benefit we offer to refugees, and that we receive nothing in return, is simply false. I've written about this point before, but it bears repeating. Asylum was created during the Cold War as a tool against the Soviet Union. We offered refuge to people fleeing Communism, and each person who defected to the West served as a testament to our system's superiority over our adversary.

    Now that the Cold War has ended, asylum still serves our strategic interests. It demonstrates our commitment to those who support and work for the values we believe in. It is tangible evidence that America stands with our friends. It gives our allies confidence that we will not let them down when times become tough. It shows that our foundational principles--free speech, religious liberty, equality, rule of law--are not empty words, but are ideals we actually stand behind.

    And of course, there are the asylees themselves, who contribute to our country with their energy, enthusiasm, and patriotism, often born of their experience living in places that are not safe, and that are not free.

    None of this came up during Mr. Sessions's talk. Perhaps he does not know how our nation has benefited from the asylum system. Or maybe he doesn't care. Or--what I suspect--he views asylum seekers as a threat to our security and a challenge to our country's (Christian and Caucasian) culture.

    The shame of it is that Mr. Sessions is demonstrably wrong on several points, and so possibly he reached his conclusions about asylum based on incorrect information.

    The most obvious error is his claims that "dirty immigration lawyers... are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process." Aliens who are "unlawfully present" in the U.S. are not subject to the credible fear process. That process is generally reserved for aliens arriving at the border who ask for asylum. Such applicants undergo a credible fear interview, which is an initial evaluation of eligibility for asylum. While this may be a technical point, Mr. Sessions raised the issue in a talk to EOIR, and so his audience presumably understands how the system works. That Mr. Sessions would make such a basic mistake in a speech to people who know better, demonstrates his ignorance of the subject matter (or at least the ignorance of his speech writers), and casts doubt on his over-all understanding of the asylum system.

    Mr. Sessions also says that our asylum system is "overloaded with fake claims." But how does he know this? And what exactly is a fake claim? In recent years, something like 40 to 50% of asylum cases have been granted. Are all those adjudicators being fooled? And what about denied cases? Are they all worthy of denial? There is, of course, anecdotal evidence of fraud—and in his talk, Mr. Sessions cites a few examples of “dirty” attorneys and applicants. But a few anecdotes does not compel a conclusion that the entire system is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud." I can point to anecdotes as well. I’ve seen cases granted that I suspected were false, but I’ve also seen cases denied that were pretty clearly grant-worthy. While I do think we need to remain vigilant for fraud, I have not seen evidence to support the type of wide-spread fraud referenced by the Attorney General.

    Finally, Mr. Sessions opines that "smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress." So court rulings undermine the intent of Congress? Any attorney who makes such a statement casts doubt on that lawyer’s competence and devotion to the rule of law, but when the Attorney General says it, we have real cause for concern. Thousands of federal court rulings—including from the U.S. Supreme Court—have interpreted our nation’s immigration laws (and all our other laws too). That is what courts do, and that is how the intent of Congress is interpreted and implemented in real-world situations. Attorneys who rely on court decisions are not “exploit[ing] loopholes in the law,” we are following the law.

    These are all pretty basic points, and it strikes me that when it comes to asylum, Mr. Sessions doesn’t get it. He seems not to understand the role of Congress, the courts, and lawyers in the asylum process. And he certainly doesn't understand the benefits our country receives from the asylum system.

    I’ve often said that President Trump’s maliciousness is tempered by his incompetence. With Attorney General Sessions, it is the opposite: His maliciousness is exacerbated by his incompetence. And I fear that asylum seekers--and our country’s devotion to the rule of law--will suffer because of it.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: eoir, sessions Add / Edit Tags
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