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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Expediting a Case in Immigration Court

    For the last few years, the "hot topic" in asylum has been the backlog--the very long delays caused by too many applicants and too few adjudicators. I recently wrote about the backlog at the Asylum Office and what can be done to expedite a case. One commenter suggested that I write a post about expediting cases in Immigration Court, and since I aim to please, here it is.
    Courts are still wrapping up the last of Justice Marshall's immigration cases.
    The first thing to note is that the backlog in Immigration Court is huge. According to recent data, there are over 542,000 cases pending in court (not all of these cases are asylum). The average wait time for a case in Immigration Court is 677 days. The slowest court is Colorado, where wait times average 994 days. That's a long time, especially if you are separated from family members while your case is pending. For what it's worth, I have previously written about some ideas for reducing the wait time in Immigration Court (you will be shocked to learn that EOIR has not yet contacted me to implement these ideas!).


    Second, advancing a case is not easy. The Immigration Court Practice Manual, page 101, specifically notes that, "Motions to advance are disfavored." The motion should "completely articulate the reasons for the request and the adverse consequences if the hearing date is not advanced." Health problems or separation from family may good reasons to advance. I discuss these and other possible reasons here (the post relates to affirmative asylum cases, but the same logic applies).


    Third, expediting a case in Immigration Court is not as straightforward as expediting a case at the Asylum Office. There are different approaches that you can take, depending on the posture of your case. For advancing a case (and for the case itself), it is very helpful to have the assistance of an attorney. Indeed, according to TRAC Immigration, 91% of unrepresented asylum applicants in Immigration Court have their cases denied (whether they get other relief, like Withholding of Removal, I do not know). If you can afford a lawyer (or find one for free), it will be to your benefit in expediting and winning your asylum case in court.


    OK, before we get to the various approaches for advancing a court case, let's start with a bit of background. A case commences in Immigration Court when the Notice to Appear--or NTA--is filed with the court. The NTA lists the reasons why the U.S. government believes it can deport (or, in the more bowdlerized parlance of our time, "remove") someone from the United States. After the court receives the NTA, it schedules the alien for an initial hearing, called a Master Calendar Hearing ("MCH"). At the MCH, the alien--hopefully with the help of an attorney--tells the Immigration Judge ("IJ") whether the allegations in the NTA are admitted or denied, and whether the alien agrees that he can be deported. In most asylum cases, the alien admits that he is deportable, and then informs the Judge that his defense to deportation is his claim for asylum. The IJ then schedules the alien for a Merits Hearing (also called an Individual Hearing), where the alien can present his application for asylum, and either receive asylum (or some other relief) or be ordered deported from the United States. Depending where in this process your case is, the procedures to expedite vary.


    If you have the NTA, but the MCH is not yet scheduled
    : In some cases, the alien receives an NTA, but then waits many months before the MCH is scheduled. In this case, the delay usually lies with DHS (Department of Homeland Security), which issues the NTAs and files them with the Court, rather than with the Court itself. The Immigration Court has an automated number that you can call to check whether your case is scheduled for a hearing date. The phone number is 1-800-898-7180. Follow the prompts and enter your nine-digit Alien number (also called an "A number"). The system will tell you whether your case is scheduled and the date of the next hearing.


    If the system indicates that your "A-number was not found," this probably means that the NTA has not yet been submitted to the Court. Contact the local DHS/ICE Office of the Chief Counsel and talk to the attorney on duty. Perhaps that person can help get the NTA filed with the Court, so the case can begin.


    If your A-number is in the system, but there is no MCH scheduled, contact the Immigration Court directly to ask the clerk for an update. If the Court has the case, it may be possible to file a motion (a formal request) to schedule the case. However, if an IJ is not yet assigned to the case, such a request may disappear into the void once it is filed. Most lawyers (including me) would generally not file a motion until a Judge is assigned, as it is probably a waste of time, but maybe it is possible to try this, if your lawyer is willing.


    While you are waiting for the Court to docket your case (i.e., give you a court date), you can gather evidence and complete your affidavit. That way, once the case is on the schedule, you will be ready to file your documents and ask to expedite.


    If the MCH is scheduled
    : Sometimes, MCHs are scheduled months--or even years--in the future. If your case is assigned to an IJ and you have a MCH date, there are a couple options for expediting.


    First, you can file a motion to advance the date of the MCH. If the MCH is sooner, the final (Merits) hearing will be sooner as well. Whether the IJ will grant the motion and give you an earlier appointment is anyone's guess. Some IJs (and their clerks) are good about this; others, not so much.


    Second, you can request to do the MCH in writing (in lieu of attending the hearing in-person). Check the Immigration Court Practice Manual, pages 70 to 72, for information about filing written pleadings. If the Judge allows this, you can avoid attending the MCH and go directly to the Merits Hearing. Just be sure that your affidavit and all supporting documents are submitted, so you are ready to go if and when the IJ schedules you for a final hearing.


    Many attorney, including me, do not like filing motions to advance the MCH or motions for a written MCH. The reason is because they often do not work, and so what happens is this: You prepare and file the motion, call the Court several times, and ultimately have to attend the MCH anyway. When lawyers spend time doing extra work, it is fair for them to charge the client additional money. So don't be surprised if your lawyer tells you that filing a motion will cost extra.


    At the MCH
    : Typically, when you go to the MCH, the IJ gives you the first date available on her calendar for a Merits Hearing. But there are a few things you can do to try to get the earliest possible date.


    One thing is to complete the entire case (the affidavit and all supporting documents) and give them to the IJ at the MCH. That way, if there happens to be an early opening, you can take the date (and sometimes, IJs do have early dates--for example, if another case has been cancelled). Many lawyers (again, including me) don't love this because it requires us to do all the work in advance, and it often does not help. Don't be surprised if the lawyer wants to charge extra for getting the work done early (many lawyers--and other humans--prefer to put off until tomorrow what we do not need to do today).


    Second, you (or your lawyer) can try to talk to the DHS attorney prior to the MCH to see whether any issues in the case can be narrowed (usually, it is not possible to talk to DHS about the substance of the case prior to the MCH, as they have not yet reviewed the file). If that happens, maybe you will need less time to present the case, and you can tell the IJ that you expect a relatively short Merits Hearing. It may be easier for the IJ to find a one-hour opening on his calendar than a three hour opening (normally IJs reserve a three-hour time slot for asylum cases), and so you may end up with an earlier date. Even if you cannot talk with the DHS attorney, you can tell the IJ that you expect to complete the case in an hour and try to convince him to give you an earlier date, if he has one.


    Third, if you have a compelling reason for seeking an earlier Merits Hearing, tell the IJ. If you have evidence demonstrating the need for an earlier date, give it to the IJ. Maybe the Judge will not have an earlier date available immediately, but at least he can keep the situation in mind and accommodate you if an earlier date opens up.


    Finally, if you simply arrive early at the MCH and get in line, you may end up with an earlier Merits Hearing date than if you show up late to the MCH since IJs usually give out their earlier dates first.


    After the MCH, but before the Merits Hearing
    : Waiting times between the MCH and the Merits Hearing are very variable, depending on the Immigration Judge's schedule. Assuming that the IJ has given you the first available Merits Hearing date (which is normal - see the previous section), there is not much point in requesting an earlier date immediately after the MCH. Maybe if you wait a few months and if luck is on your side, a spot will open up and your request will be granted. Or--if the Judge has an effective clerk--you can file a motion to advance, and the clerk will save it until a spot opens up for you.


    Another possibility is to talk to the DHS attorney to see whether issues can be narrowed, which might make it more likely that the case can be advance (see the previous section).


    Some words of caution
    : Keep in mind that the Immigration Court system is a mess. Judges come and go. Priorities shift, which sometimes causes cases to be moved. It is quite common for court dates to change. Even if you do nothing, a far-off date may be rescheduled to an earlier day, or an upcoming hearing might be delayed. If you successfully advance your court date, it is possible that the Court will later rescheduled your case to a more distant date (this happened to us once). It is difficult to remain patient (and sane) through it all, but maybe being aware of this reality will somehow help.


    Also, remember to make sure that your biometrics (fingerprints) are up to date. If not, you may arrive at the Merits Hearing only to have it delayed because the background checks were not complete.


    Finally, do not give up. Immigration Judges are human. If they see a compelling reason to expedite a case, most of them will try to help. Explain your situation to the Judge, or let your lawyer explain, and maybe you will end up with an earlier date.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. Help Celebrate the Launch of a New NGO to Assist Asylum Seekers

    The community of asylum seekers (people waiting for their asylum cases) has grown exponentially over the past few years. Across the U.S., something like 540,000 people--including many asylum seekers--are waiting for their Immigration Court cases, and over 150,000 otehrs are waiting for their cases to be decided by the Asylum Office. Because this "backlog" is relatively new, there is a dearth of services available for such asylum applicants. A new non-profit aims to help fill that gap.
    There are more people in the backlog than in Cleveland, Ohio (and which group is worse off, I am not sure).
    The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project ("ASAP") is a community-based nonprofit providing comprehensive services to support the estimated 50,000 individuals pursing asylum in the Washington, DC-Metro region. The group launched in 2016 and received its 501(c)(3) non-profit status earlier this week (so donations are tax deductible). Its mission is to provide services that support the safety, stability, and economic security of asylum seekers and their families. ASAP's programs include:

    Employment
    : ASAP’s employment program combines individualized career planning, 30-hours of job readiness training, and job placement services to address common employment barriers encountered by asylum seekers. The goal is to equip asylum seekers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to secure and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.


    Community
    : ASAP’s community program facilitates opportunities for asylum seekers to connect with each other, ASAP volunteers, and the larger community. The group also maintains a list of asylees willing and able to provide support and guidance to newly arrived asylum seekers.


    Legal
    : ASAP offers asylum law trainings, legal information sessions, and “Know Your Rights” workshops on demand to clients, attorneys, law students, and community partners. ASAP can also provide targeted referrals to pro bono and low bono immigration legal service providers.


    Outreach
    : ASAP conducts educational awareness events co-facilitated by asylum seekers and asylees. The organization has given talks and presentations to audiences ranging from elementary school-aged children to adults. By engaging audiences of all ages, ASAP works to plant the seeds of social change.


    Social Services
    (Coming 2018): ASAP works with clients to create a comprehensive assessment of their life in the U.S. in order to identify client needs, recognize strengths, and prioritize goals. ASAP works with a coalition of community partners to provide information, resources, and referrals to ensure client safety and stability.


    To celebrate this new organization and to congratulate ASAP's first class of asylum seekers who will have completed an intensive one-week job readiness training, the group is holding an event called Together We Rise: A Family-Friendly Celebration on April 29, 2017 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM in Bethesda, Maryland. You can sign up for this free event, or make donations, here. The celebration will include food and friends, and activities for the younger guests, such as face-painting, fishing for ducks in a "pond," and henna art.


    To learn more about the party and ASAP, visit the group's Facebook page here, or email them at asylumprojectdc@gmail.com. Also, if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, please contact ASAP
    at asylumprojectdc@gmail.com.

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

    Updated 04-14-2017 at 09:11 AM by JDzubow

  3. Pro-Life Attorney Named Director of Office of Refugee Resettlement

    E. Scott Lloyd has been named Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the office at the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with assisting refugees resettle in the United States. Mr. Lloyd's background includes government service, work in the private sector, and a strong devotion to conservative Christian causes.
    Scott Lloyd, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
    Mr. Lloyd got his start helping his law school professor represent the parents of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state. The case pitted Ms. Schiavo's husband and legal guardian against Ms. Schiavo's parents:

    Schiavo's husband argued that Schiavo would not have wanted prolonged artificial life support without the prospect of recovery, and elected to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo's parents argued in favor of continuing artificial nutrition and hydration and challenged Schiavo's medical diagnosis. The highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges presented by her parents caused a seven-year delay before Schiavo's feeding tube was ultimately removed [in 2005, leading to her death].

    Mr. Lloyd built on this experience by assisting Americans United for Life (the self-described "legal architect of the pro-life movement") to develop a policy on end-of-life issues. He also helped a Congressional Subcommittee prepare for a hearing and issue a report on the "chemical abortion drug" RU-486.


    In 2010, Mr. Lloyd co-founded a law firm called Legal Works Apostolate, "a full-service law firm providing effective representation and counsel, informed by the particular concerns of families and institutions that must navigate the 'thickets of the law' while remaining faithful to Church teaching." All of the firm's attorneys and staff "undertake or persist only in work that is consistent with our deep and abiding concern for the right to life and the sacramental nature of marriage."


    Immediately prior to his job at ORR, Mr. Lloyd was employed by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization, where he focused on assisting Christian refugees and other religious minorities persecuted by ISIS. As an organization, the KoC has expressed pro-immigrant views. For example, in 2006 (before Mr. Lloyd's time), the KoC called upon “the President and the U.S. Congress to agree upon immigration legislation that not only gains control over the process of immigration, but also rejects any effort to criminalize those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants, and provides these immigrants an avenue by which they can emerge from the shadows of society and seek legal residency and citizenship in the U.S.” The organization has also been politically active, particularly in campaigns across the U.S. against gay marriage.


    In addition to his day jobs, Mr. Lloyd has been an active volunteer in the pro-life movement. He is on the Board of Directors of the Front Royal Pregnancy Center, an organization that provides "counseling" related to unwanted pregnancies. He is also a founder of Witness Works, which aims to build a "culture of life." In addition, he contributes to various pro-life publications, including Human Life International ("Contraception: The root of the Culture of Death") and Veritatis Splendor, where he writes, "The Supreme Court, when it claimed to recognize for women the 'right' to abortion on demand, simultaneously stripped the fathers of these children of their right to be parents, and other associated rights" and "LifeSiteNews provides this nice criticism exposing the logical bankruptcy of [Maryland] Governor O'Malley's support for so-called ‘gay marriage.’" In another article, Mr. Lloyd references the “radical secularists” who opposed the display of a cross on government land. He also has a piece in the National Catholic Register, where he bemoans the high failure rate of contraception and opposes taxpayer-funding for birth control. Mr. Lloyd writes, "I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I [the taxpayer] am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does. You will put the baby up for adoption if you don’t want him or her."


    So what we have in Mr. Lloyd is a man who has devoted himself to the pro-life cause, who seems to oppose "so-called" gay marriage and "radical secularists," and who has worked to help Christian and other minority-religion refugees (as opposed to Muslim refugees) in the Middle East. Whether any of this is relevant to his new position as Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, I do not know. But I can't help but feel concerned that Mr. Lloyd's narrow focus on "Christian issues" leaves some doubt about his commitment to the wide and diverse group of refugees and resettlement agencies he is now expected to serve.


    More troubling than Mr. Lloyd's experience, though, is his lack of experience. It seems he graduated from law school in 2007, and then worked for most of his career on pro-life issues. He formed the Legal Works Apostolate law firm in 2010 and then sometime thereafter he worked for the Knights of Columbus on Christian refugee issues (as best as I can tell, Mr. Lloyd was working on contraception issues with the KoC by early 2012). Indeed, Mr. Lloyd's sparse government profile provides no dates, so it is unclear how much experience he actually has. And with regards to his time at KoC, we're told only that he "served as an attorney in the Public Policy office." It's not even clear that his primary duties at KoC involved refugees.


    All this begs the question, how is Mr. Lloyd qualified to direct the Office of Refugee Resettlement? What experience has he actually had with refugees? Or with running a large organization that has an annual budget in excess of $1.5 billion (though presumably the budget will be cut significantly under President Trump)?


    Also, in a properly-functioning democracy, one would hope that appointed government experts would have the knowledge and the courage to speak truth to power. Does Mr. Lloyd have the breadth and depth of experience necessary to advocate for refugees? Will he stand up to Trump Administration officials who falsely characterize refugees as terrorists and criminals? Will he be able (and willing) to stand up for Muslim refugees, and dispute the many false stories vilifying them? And what about LGBT refugees? Given his history opposing gay rights, will he treat LGBT refugees with the respect and compassion that they need and deserve?


    Perhaps I am too skeptical of Mr. Lloyd. He clearly has demonstrated compassion for certain vulnerable populations, and that compassion may very well extend beyond his prior areas of interest. His challenge will be to expand that circle of compassion to include people who he has not previously served. Christian teaching commands "love your enemy." And Proverbs states, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink." And of course, the Torah reminds us again and again to welcome the stranger. If Mr. Lloyd takes these admonitions seriously, he may well prove my skepticism wrong. I certainly hope so.

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

    Updated 04-06-2017 at 03:28 PM by JDzubow

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