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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. How to Expedite an Asylum Interview--or--Ask and Ye Might Just Receive

    These days, the estimated wait time for an affirmative asylum case is somewhere between eternity and forever. It can best be expressed numerically as ∞. Or maybe as ∞ + 1. In other words, affirmative asylum cases take a long damn time. (OK, to be fair, you can get some idea about the actual wait time here).
    Asylum seekcars waiting for their interview.
    For some people, this wait is more of a problem than for others. For example, if your spouse and children are outside the United States waiting for you, and especially if they are living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, the wait can be intolerable. A growing number of people are abandoning their cases simply because they cannot stand the separation. Others are moving to Canada, which apparently has a faster system than we have in the States. The problem is not simply that the wait is long—and the wait is long. The problem is that we cannot know how long the wait will be. Maybe the interview will come in six months; maybe in three years. Maybe the decision will come shortly after the interview; maybe it will take months or years. This unpredictability contributes to the difficulty of waiting for a resolution to the case.


    For others people—single people without children or families that are all together here in the U.S.—the wait may be stressful, but it’s far more bearable. For my clients in this position, I advise them to live as if they will win their cases. What else can they do? To live under the constant stress of potential deportation is unhealthy. And the fact is, most of my clients have strong cases, and the likelihood that they will succeed it pretty high. So it is best to live as normally as possible. Find a job, start a business, buy a house or a car, go to school, make friends, get on with life. In the end, if such people need to leave the United States, they will have time to wind down their affairs and sell their belongings. For now, though, if I may quote the late, great Chuck Berry, Live like you wanna live, baby.


    But what if you want to try to expedite your case? How can you maximize the chances that the Asylum Office will move your case to the front of the line?


    First, before you file to expedite, you need to complete your case. The affidavit must be finished and all the evidence must be organized and properly translated (if necessary). If you expedite a case and the case is not complete, it could result in real problems. For example, I once had a client put himself on a short list without telling me. Then one day, an Asylum Officer called me and said that they wanted to schedule his interview for the following week. The problem was, the evidence was not submitted (or even gathered) and the affidavit was not done. The client insisted on going forward, and so (while I helped with interview preparation), I withdrew from the case. I did not want to remain affiliated with a case that was not properly put together, and I did not want to represent a person who took action on his case without informing me. In general, there is no value in expediting a case only to lose because you are not prepared for the interview, so make sure your case is complete before you try to expedite.


    Second, you need a good reason to expedite. Remember, you are asking to jump your case ahead of hundreds--maybe thousands--of people who are also waiting for their asylum interview. Why should the Asylum Office allow you to do that? One common reason is that the applicant has a health problem (physical or mental). If that is your reason, get a letter from the doctor. Also, provide some explanation for how an early resolution of the asylum case might help improve your health situation (for example, maybe you have a health problem that is exacerbated by the stress of a pending case).


    Another common reason to expedite (and in my opinion, the most legitimate reason to expedite) is separation from family members, especially if those family members are living under difficult or dangerous circumstances. If an asylum applicant wins her case, she can file petitions to bring her spouse and her minor, unmarried children to the United States. Many people come to the U.S. to seek asylum not for themselves, but because they fear for the safety of their family. Since it is so difficult to get a U.S. visa, it's common to see asylum seekers who leave their family members behind, in the hope that they can win asylum and bring their family members later. So when the wait for an interview (never mind a decision) is measured in years, that's a real hardship. For our asylum-seeker clients with pending applications, we have seen cases where their children were attacked in the home country, where family members went into hiding, where children could not attend school or get medical treatment, where families were stuck in third countries, etc., etc., etc. Such problems can form the basis for an expedite request.


    To expedite for such a reason, get evidence of the problem. That evidence could be a doctor's note for a medical problem or an injury, or a police report if a family member was attacked or threatened. It could be a letter from a teacher that the child cannot attend school. It could be letters from the family members themselves explaining the hardship, or letters from other people who know about the problems (for advice on writing a good letter, see this article). Also, sometimes family members receive threat letters or their property is vandalized. Submit copies of such letters or photos of property damage. It is very important to submit letters and evidence in support of the expedite request. Also, remember to include evidence of the family relationship--marriage certificate or birth certificates of children--to show how the person is related to the principal asylum applicant.


    There are other reasons to request an expedited interview: Until an asylum case is granted, applicants may not be able to get certain jobs, they cannot qualify for in-state tuition, they face the general stress of not knowing whether they can stay. While these issues can be quite difficult to deal with, I think that they do not compare to the hardships suffered by people separated from family members. Indeed, if I were in charge of the Asylum Division, I would allow expedited interviews only in cases of family separation.


    Once your case is complete and you have gathered evidence in support of the expedite request, you need to submit the request and evidence to the Asylum Office. Different offices have different procedures for expediting. You can contact your Asylum Office to ask about the procedure. Contact information for the various Asylum Offices can be found here.


    One last point about expediting asylum cases: The system for expediting cases is not well-developed, meaning that sometimes, a strong request will be denied or a weak request will be granted. There definitely seems to be an element of luck involved in the expedite request process. But of course, unless you try to expedite, you can't get your case expedited. If an initial request is denied, you can gather more evidence and try again (and again). At least in my experience, most--but not all--cases where there was a good reason to expedite were, in fact, expedited.


    Besides expediting asylum cases, it is also possible to put your case on the "short list," which may result in an earlier interview date. You can learn more about that and a few other ideas here.


    It is still unclear how changes in the new Administration might affect the speed of asylum cases, but I doubt that the asylum backlog is going away any time soon. In that case, for many people, the only options are to learn to live with the delay or--if there is a good reason--to ask for an expedited interview and then to hope for the best.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. Answering the Impossible Question

    Possibly the most common question I hear at initial consultations with asylum seekers is, "What are the chances that I will win my case?" It's a reasonable question. People want to know the likelihood of success before they start any endeavor. The problem is, it's impossible to answer this question. Why is that?
    The other Impossible Question: "Does this dress make me look fat?"
    One reason is mathematical. Probabilities are tricky to calculate and even more tricky to understand. Also, it is very hard to apply probabilities in a meaningful way to a single event. What does it mean, for example, when the weather report shows a 30% chance of rain? If you run 100 computer simulations of the weather, it will rain 30 times. But in the real world, it will either rain or it won't. The problem is that we do not have complete information to start with, and that there are too many variables to predict precisely how the weather will evolve over time. Without sufficient information, we have to approximate, and we are left with a range of possible outcomes and probabilities. As Niels Bohr observed, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."

    Another difficulty is that predicting case outcomes involves human beings, and we are a notoriously capricious species. At the outset of a case, the lawyer may not know whether the client can get needed evidence, or whether she can remember her testimony, or how a witness will behave. Also, the lawyer may not know who the fact finder will be (with Immigration Court cases, we usually know in advance; for Asylum Office cases, we never know until the day of the interview). Also, what if the fact finder is in a particularly good or bad mood on the day of the case? Or what if she is hungry during the case (one Israeli study famously correlated favorable parole decisions to whether the judge had recently eaten lunch!)? These "human factors" can greatly affect the decision, and few of them can be known in advance, which again makes predicting difficult.


    That's not to say we know nothing about the likelihood of success. For Immigration Court cases, there is data available about the grant rates of individual Judges. Also, there is some data available about Asylum Office grant rates. Of course, all of this is very general and does not necessarily bear much relationship to the likely outcome in a given individual's case, but I suppose it's better than nothing.


    As a lawyer, once you get a sense for asylum cases, you can at least give the client some idea about the outcome. I can tell a strong case from a weak case, for example. If the client has a lot of credible evidence, has suffered past persecution on account of a protected ground, and faces some likelihood of future harm, the client has a strong case. The most I will say to such a prospective client is that, "If the adjudicator believes that you are telling the truth, you should win your case." I might also say that since the corroborating evidence is strong, it is likely that the adjudicator will believe the claim.


    I do think there is a basic human desire behind the question about the chances for success, and that is the desire for certainty. Asylum cases now take years, and it is very difficult to live your life for so long under the threat of deportation. When the clients ask about the likelihood of success, I know part of what they want is reassurance. Even if the case is weak, they want to feel like they have a chance. They want to feel that what they are building in the U.S. while they wait for a decision will not all be lost. How, then, do we balance the need for certainty with providing an honest evaluation of the case?


    For my clients, I try to give them both honesty and hope. In the beginning, I give the client my honest assessment of the case and the likelihood of success. Knowing my assessment (whether it is good or bad), if the client decides to go forward, my focus shifts to creating the strongest case possible with the facts and evidence available, and to helping reassure the clients so they feel some hope. I try to encourage the client to do what is within their power to make the case better: Gather evidence, talk to witnesses, find experts, etc. At least this helps empower the client a bit, and it gives them some agency over their case outcome.


    Different lawyers do things differently, and there are probably many "right" ways to balance realism and hope. There are also wrong ways. Any lawyer who "guarantees" you will win an asylum case is a lawyer you should avoid. No lawyer can guarantee a win because we do not make the decisions--the government does. Also, lawyers who make dubious promises ("I am good friends with your Judge, so I can get you a quicker hearing date") are probably lying to get your business. Be careful, and remember that offers that seem too good to be true probably are. For all its flaws, the American immigration system is largely free from corruption. Lawyers don't have special relationships with adjudicators that can change outcomes or speed adjudication. When a lawyer oversells hope at the expense of realism, you are safer to seek a different attorney; one who is more interested in telling the truth than in selling you his services.


    So when a prospective client asks me the chances for success, I'll try to give the best evaluation I can, so that the person can make an informed choice about whether to file an asylum case. Once the case is started, I will try to address weakness and gather evidence to maximize the chances for a win. I will also try to encourage the client, so that she has some hope during the long wait.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. 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
  4. The Terrorist Tactics of the Anti-Terrorism Executive Order

    Earlier this week, President Trump issued a new Executive Order ("EO") to replace one of his prior orders, which was largely blocked by the federal courts. The new EO, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, temporarily bans certain nationals of six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and reduces the total number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle in FY 2017. Whether the new ban can withstand court scrutiny, and how it will ultimately effect who can come to our country, remains to be seen.
    "My favorite four-letter word."
    For those foreigners already in the United States, the new ban has little legal effect. The immigration status of permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers remains essentially untouched. One possible exception is for family members of asylees and refugees who are hoping to come to the U.S. on a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (form I-730). Such relatives from the six "banned" nations--Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen--may be ineligible for a visa for a 90-day period. However, even this is unclear, as the EO provides a number of exceptions for nationals of banned countries, and such relatives may be entitled to an exception (depending on how you read the EO).

    So for non-citizens in the U.S., including those from banned countries, the EO has almost no effect on their legal status here. That's not to say that the EO has no effect--it certainly does. But that effect relates to the message the EO sends and the psychological damage it inflicts on Muslims and on non-citizens. Indeed, for this population, the effects of the anti-terrorism EO are similar to the effects of an actual terrorist attack in certain key ways.


    Like a terrorist attack, the number of people directly impacted by the EO is much smaller than the number of people terrorized by it. The new EO is very narrowly tailored, so much so that it almost does not make sense. For example, the Administration claims that vetting for the six banned countries is insufficient. Yet the order allows nationals of those countries who already have visas to come to the United States. If there is a problem with the vetting, shouldn't all the "improperly" vetted visas be revoked? Presumably, the Administration wants to avoid another humiliating defeat in court, but the limited scope of the EO seems to undercut the very rationale for its existence.


    On the other hand, if the purpose of the EO is not really to block people from coming here, but rather to frighten people who are already here (Muslim Americans and non-citizens), the limited legal effect is less of a concern. As long as the order stands up in court--and even if it doesn't--Mr. Trump has sent a strong message to the intended audience (really, there are two intended audiences: Mr. Trump's supporters who want to see him fighting against "the others" and "the others" themselves, who feel targeted and excluded by the Administration's policies). In this sense, the EO mirrors a classic terrorist tactic--limited impact (because you have insufficient resources to have a wider impact) with maximum effect (everyone in the targeted population is frightened).


    And make no mistake, the EOs and the accompanying rhetoric are affecting their intended targets. Reports indicate that non-citizens and their children are under great stress due to President Trump's words and policies. This stress can have harmful and life-long effects, especially on children. Muslims, including American citizens, have been subject to a barrage of bigoted statements from the President and his surrogates, and they are also suffering from similar types of stress. Some refugees are fleeing the United States, which they now view as unsafe, for Canada. So while the legal effect of the EOs may be small, the harm is very real, and very damaging.


    Mr. Trump's EOs are similar to terrorism in another important way: They help create a vicious cycle. Terrorists rarely have the power to conquer territory. Instead, the purpose of their attacks is to draw a response. Unless the response is careful and precise (a rarity), it can cause further alienation and anger, thus driving more people into the terrorists' camp--a vicious cycle. In the case of the EOs, they help justify the narrative that groups like ISIS have been peddling (that the United States is at war with Islam). They also frighten and alienate people living in our country, particularly Muslims and non-citizens. Since alienated and frightened people are more likely to embrace extremism, the EOs are a type of self-fulfilling prophesy: EOs push people towards extremism, extremism justifies more EOs. It's a vicious cycle analogous to the one created by terrorism.


    Finally, the EOs do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger campaign to demonize foreigners and Muslims. The whole effort of the Trump Administration towards such people is irresponsible and dangerous. It puts our country at greater risk by encouraging extremism and discouraging cooperation. But unfortunately, this Administration has proved again and again that it will not allow facts to get in the way of ideology, or sound policy advice to contradict prejudice. The new Executive Order is just the latest example of the misguided course our country is now taking. We are all less safe because of it.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. A New Type of EAD Denial

    This article is by Ruth Dickey, a brilliant and dashing associate at Dzubow & Picher, PLLC.

    During the latter part of the Obama Administration, it became common for DHS/ICE attorneys (the prosecutors) in Immigration Court to offer "prosecutorial discretion" or PD. If the applicant accepted PD and the Immigration Judge agreed, the case would be administratively closed. Basically, it would be taken off the court's calendar and placed into a permanently pending status. Applicants with weak cases might take PD rather than risk losing their cases with the Judge and getting ordered deported.

    Perhaps USCIS has a case of the Gremlins. First, they sabotaged B-17's and P-52's; now, they're messing with I-765's.
    Under President Obama, PD was typically offered to people who were not enforcement priorities for ICE – that is, the person had positive factors, like long-term ties to the United States and did not have any disqualifying criminal issues. During the Obama Administration, ICE published a list of factors that prosecutors would consider when a person asked for PD. According to recent data, since 2013, almost 67,000 court cases have been administratively closed based on PD. This represents about 10% of all case closings in Immigration Court.

    If your asylum case was administratively closed by an Immigration Judge, and if you had your employment authorization document ("EAD") based on a pending asylum case, you remain eligible to renew the EAD for as long as the case is in administrative closure (theoretically, forever). This is because the case is technically still pending, and thus still "alive" for purposes of renewing the EAD.


    Since Donald Trump came into office, DHS has largely done away with PD, and so we can expect to see far fewer cases administratively closed in the future. However, our office has several asylum clients whose cases were already administratively closed. They have ongoing needs, such as the need for an EAD.


    One of my clients in this situation is an Unaccompanied Alien Child or UAC. UACs are people who crossed the border as minors without a parent or guardian. Such people are given additional procedural protections. For example, UACs have the right to present their asylum claims to an Asylum Office, which is a less intimidating environment than an Immigration Court. In my case, an Immigration Judge administratively closed my client's case so she could file her case with the Asylum Office. Before the case was closed, I "lodged" her asylum application with the Court to start her “asylum clock,” which then allows her to file for an EAD (after a 150-day waiting period).


    When the time came, our office prepared the EAD application (form I-765) and mailed it. Last week, we received a response denying the EAD. In its denial, USCIS referred to the applicable regulation, 8 CFR 208.7(a)(1), claiming that it said:

    An applicant whose asylum application has been denied or closed by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day [clock] period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

    But this is not what the regulation says. USCIS inserted the phrase "or closed" into the language of the actual regulation. The full sentence in the regulation actually reads:

    An applicant whose asylum application has been denied by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

    Someone at USCIS added the words “or closed” to their quotation of the regulation, and then denied our client's case because it had been administratively closed. The actual language of the regulation states that only denied--not closed--cases are ineligible for an EAD. The idea that USCIS would add language to the regulation in order to improperly deny someone--a UAC no less--their work permit is shocking and distressing.


    I have already escalated the issue to the USCIS Ombudsman, an office within USCIS that can assist with delayed or difficult cases, because the denial is so problematic. I am waiting to hear back from them, but the Ombudsman’s review process can drag out for months, and my client will not have a work permit in the meantime. This is extremely frustrating for her, especially because she is young and vulnerable (she has that UAC designation for a reason).


    If your case has been administratively closed and your EAD application has been denied, please let us know. If there are others experiencing this problem, we can present the issue to USCIS and hopefully seek a resolution of this unfair and harmful practice.

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