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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Your Affirmative Asylum Case Was Denied. Now What? (Part 2: Immigration Court and Beyond)

    This is part 2 of a posting about what happens if the Asylum Office denies your affirmative application. Read part 1 here.


    The view from the Judge's seat in Immigration Court.


    If the Asylum Office denies your asylum case and you are no longer “in status,” you will be referred to an Immigration Court. When you get the denial (which they politely call a Referral), it will contain a short letter with a (usually) boilerplate explanation about why the case was not granted. Along with the letter, you will receive a Notice to Appear (“NTA”), which explains why the U.S. government believes it can deport you. If you have dependent family members, each of them should also receive an NTA (assuming they are all out of status).

    The NTA contains allegations and charges. The allegations usually begin, “(1) You are not a citizen or national of the United States; (2) You are a citizen and national of [your country]; (3) You entered the United States on [date and place],” and then they state why you are removable. Often, the alien is removable because she remained in the United States longer than permitted. Other times, the alien entered the U.S. unlawfully (without inspection) or fraudulently (using a fake passport, for example). Some people are removable due to criminal convictions or other immigration violations. Read the NTA and make sure all of the allegations are correct.

    The NTA also contains one or more charges. The charges indicate the section of the law (the Immigration and Nationality Act or INA) that the government can use to deport you. One common charge is under INA § 237(a)(1)(B), where the person is removable for having “remained in the United States for a time longer then permitted.” Other charges could relate to an unlawful or fraudulent entry, or to a criminal conviction.

    Finally, the NTA will tell you where to go to Immigration Court. Usually, these days, the NTA does not tell you when to go to court. Instead, it says, “TBD,” which means “To Be Determined.” If your court date is TBD, you will receive a notice in the mail with the date of your first hearing. It is important to keep your address updated with the Immigration Court. Use form EOIR-33, and don’t forget to send an extra copy to the DHS Office of the Chief Counsel (the prosecutor).

    Also, you can call the Court phone system to check the status of your case and learn whether you have an upcoming hearing. The phone number is 800-898-7180. It is a computer; not a person. Once it answers, follow the instructions and enter your Alien number. After the computer spells your name and you confirm, you can push 1 for your next court date. I recommend you call once a week, just in case you don’t receive the written notice (if you miss your court date, the judge will likely order you deported).

    The wait time for the first court date depends on the court and the judge—it could take a few weeks or a few months (or sometimes longer).

    Once you are scheduled for court, you will be assigned a judge. The 800-number will tell you the name of your judge. You can learn more about your judge at TRAC Immigration (information is not available for newer judges).

    The first hearing is called a Master Calendar Hearing (“MCH”). Many people attend that hearing, and you have to wait your turn. When it is your turn, if you have a lawyer, the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) will take “pleadings.” This is when you (through your attorney) admit or deny the allegations and charges in the NTA. After that, the IJ will usually schedule you for an Individual Hearing (also called a Merits Hearing).

    If you do not have an attorney with you at the MCH, the IJ will usually give you a continuance to find an attorney. If that happens, you will be scheduled for another MCH. In generally, the IJs really want you to find a lawyer, as it makes their job easier and it significantly increases the likelihood that your case will be approved.

    For most referred asylum applicants, the NTA is correct and the person will admit the allegations, concede the charges of removability, and request asylum, Withholding of Removal, and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. However, in some cases, the NTA is not correct. Also, some applicants can seek other relief, such as Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status based on a familial relationship (or something else). One job of the attorney is to explore what types of relief you might be eligible for.

    Also, at the MCH, the IJ will ask you to designate a country of removal. In other words, the IJ wants to know where to send you if you lose your case. For most asylum applicants, we decline to designate a country of removal. The DHS attorney (the prosecutor) will usually designate the country of citizenship.

    If you admit the allegations, concede the charge(s), and indicate what relief you are seeking, the IJ will usually schedule you for an Individual Hearing, which is your trial. If you decline to accept the first Individual Hearing date the IJ offers you, or if you take a continuance to find a lawyer, it could prevent you from obtaining a work permit (if you don’t already have one—if you already have a work permit, you do not need to worry about this). If you think this could be a problem in your case, ask your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, ask the IJ.

    The wait time between the MCH and the Individual Hearing varies by court and by judge. It might be a few days or weeks (for a detained alien), or it could be several years. Supposedly, for asylum cases referred to Court under the new last-in, first-out system, IJs will be scheduling quick Individual Hearing dates. We’ll have to wait and see how that works out.

    The Individual Hearing is your trial. It is where you present evidence, and where you and your witnesses testify. At the end of the Individual Hearing, the IJ will usually make a decision—give you asylum, give you some other type of relief, or order you deported. Sometimes, a case requires more than one Individual Hearing. Other times, the IJ will send the decision by mail.

    If lose your Individual Hearing, you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). If you win your asylum case, DHS can appeal (thankfully, that is not so common). You do not appear in-person for the appeal. Instead, you (or hopefully, your lawyer) will submit a brief, and the BIA will read it and make a decision in your case. Either the BIA will dismiss the appeal, meaning the IJ’s decision was correct and will remain in force, or it can alter or reverse the IJ’s decision. In the latter instance, the case will normally be returned to the IJ to correct the error, and issue a new decision.

    An appeal with the BIA typically takes about six months or a year, but it depends on the case.

    If you lose at the BIA, you can file a Petition for Review with the appropriate federal appellate court, and if you lose there, you can try to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Very, very few cases make it that far. Also, if you lose at the BIA, whether or not you go to federal court, you are no longer eligible for a work permit based on a pending asylum case, and you can be deported (typically, ICE will not deport someone with a pending federal case, but they have the legal authority to do so unless the federal court issues an order “staying” removal). For the vast majority of aliens, if you lose at the federal appellate level, that is the end of the line.

    In my experience, it is a bit easier to win an asylum case in Immigration Court as compared to the Asylum Office. But it is much more difficult to win at the BIA, and even more difficult to win at the federal appellate level.

    So this is the basic process that most cases follow if they are denied at the Asylum Office. There are some exceptions and different paths (most notably Motions to Reopen and/or Reconsider), but the majority of applicants will follow this process. If your case is rejected by the Asylum Office, it becomes even more important to have a lawyer assist you. If you can't afford a lawyer, check this posting for some helpful resources. And remember, losing at the Asylum Office is frustrating and upsetting, but it is by no means the end of the road. Keep fighting, and hopefully, you will have a good result in the end.

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