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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Illogical Fears Generate Illogical Policies: Notes from the Center for Immigration Studies “Asylum Fraud” Panel

    This article is by Josh Rigney, the Legal Services Program Manager at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC). Josh has worked with survivors of torture seeking asylum since May 2012. He holds a Master’s in International Relations and a Juris Doctor from American University. He is a member of the Virginia State Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not represent the opinions of TASSC.
    Taking asylum policy advice from CIS is like taking urban planning advice from Godzilla.
    On May 10, I attended a panel discussion organized by the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”) and titled Asylum Fraud and National Security. Described on the CIS website as a discussion on the threat posed by “the vetting – or the lack thereof” of asylum applicants in the U.S., the panel included three speakers who, at least on paper, appeared to have impressive expertise on immigration issues. Two of the speakers, Andrew Arthur and Mark Metcalf, formally served as immigration judges in Pennsylvania and Florida, respectively. The final panelist, Todd Bensman, is a long-time journalist with degrees in journalism and homeland security studies.

    CIS’s tagline is “Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant,” and it bills itself as “an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization.” However, CIS is reliably biased, and produces shoddy “research” prone to support any policy that will decrease all immigration to the United States, regardless of the heartless nature of the policy. For example, a recent Washington Post article quoted Executive Director Mark Krikorian speaking in favor of limiting immigration by breeding fear of U.S. immigration policies amongst potential immigrants. Krikorian stated that only if Trump follows through on the fear inspired by his pronouncements on immigration will CIS’s preferred immigration levels be realized.


    As an immigration attorney who works with survivors of torture seeking asylum, turning the asylum process into a national security witch hunt would obviously impact those whom I serve. But that is not the only reason the panel’s viewpoints should matter to the broader asylum-seeker community and its supporters. As a recent New York Times article stressed, CIS – designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – and other anti-immigrant hard-liners now have the ear of the White House and congressional policy makers on immigration.


    The panelists stressed several points during the event. First, immigrants are a threat to the safety of the United States. Second, while refugees pose a danger, asylum seekers are an even greater threat to U.S. national security. Third, fraud is rampant among asylum seekers. Therefore, the panelists agreed that U.S. policymakers must make it harder for everyone to receive asylum, whether or not a particular individual has a legitimate claim.


    Immigrants are Dangerous


    To convince the small crowd at the event that all immigrants – asylum-seeking or otherwise – pose a threat to the safety of the United States, each panelist took turns describing his favorite scary immigrant story. Andrew Arthur spoke about Ramzi Yousef, one of the perpetrators of the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993. Bensman spoke of Pakistanis with potential terrorist ties crossing the southern border with the help of a smuggler named Rakhi Gauchan. He stressed that Gauchan believed one of the Pakistanis was a terrorist, and Bensman stated that this person later received asylum.


    Of course, relying on scattered anecdotes to draw broad conclusions about all asylum seekers does not make for sound policy. For example, Bensman did not mention whether he actually knew the Pakistani was a terrorist. Indeed, according to his own master’s thesis, American investigators never determined whether Gauchan’s terrorism suspicions were accurate.


    As with any policy issue, harping on the inevitable few bad apples does not support throwing all of them out. Overall statistical trends must be analyzed, particularly when the goal is to punish an entire group of people, and particularly one as large as asylum seekers. In the first three months of 2017 alone, 40,899 people filed asylum claims with the Asylum Office. The handful of cases the panelists cited in their comments cannot justify making the asylum process more difficult for all of these people.


    What Do the Numbers Tell Us?


    A study published by the Cato Institute, an organization founded by one of the Republican mega-donor Koch brothers, determined that the chance that you will be killed by a foreign-born terrorist who is in the U.S. because of a grant of asylum is 1 in 2.7 billion. Between 1975 and 2015, over 700,000 people were granted asylum in the United States. Of those, just 4 have been “convicted of planning or committing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil…”


    So what statistics did the expert panel use to support their assertion that all asylum seekers are dangerous? In the only notable mention of actual numbers, Mark Metcalf provided data released by EOIR on the number of immigrants with pending court cases who failed to show up in court for their hearings. However, at no point did he provide any breakdown of the numbers for asylum seekers; nor did he explain how failing to show up for a court hearing is equivalent to committing asylum fraud or posing a threat to U.S. national security.


    One of the panelists, in a nod to those in the crowd who felt the U.S. is too generous to immigrants, mentioned that the U.S. “accepts more refugees than the rest of the world combined.” For the record, the U.S., a country of more than 325 million people, resettled 66,500 out of the 107,100 total refugees resettled by all countries in 2015. Canada, a country with a population of approximately 36 million people, resettled 20,000 refugees. Furthermore, Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), and Lebanon (1.1 million) all host over a million refugees each. For asylum seekers, the United States received only slightly more applications (172,700) than Sweden (156,400), a country of only 10 million people. Meanwhile, Germany (population of 81 million) received 441,900 asylum applications.


    The point is that while the U.S. does offer refuge to a significant number of people fleeing persecution every year, that does not justify the draconian policy recommendations supported by the panelists.


    Asylum Seekers vs. Refugees


    I can actually agree with some of the panel’s comments comparing the relative threat posed by refugees against the threat posed by asylum seekers. Arthur stressed that the primary difference between refugees and asylum seekers is that refugees are fully vetted prior to ever setting foot in the United States. In contrast, asylum seekers make it to U.S. territory, then seek protection while waiting for their asylum claim to be granted or rejected. Depending on the court or asylum office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s claim, that process can take many years (one survivor from my organization recently received asylum after a ten-year struggle). During this time, asylum seekers remain in the United States without undergoing security checks like those that refugees must pass before entering.


    Of course, none of this really matters unless you accept the idea that immigrants are truly a threat – which takes us back to the previous point. Yes, in theory, asylum seekers have the potential to pose a greater security threat than refugees – but that threat is already extremely low to begin with. In actuality, objective evidence that asylum seekers as a group are a threat to U.S. national security is weak at best.


    For example, the panelists claimed again and again that fraud is rampant in the asylum system – relying, again, on a handful of selected stories. As evidence of potential security threats, they correctly pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice do not conduct regular system-wide fraud risk assessments. But without such assessments, how did the panelists conclude that fraud is rampant?


    “Pro-immigrant”


    At times, at least one panelist expressed sympathy for the plight of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers with legitimate claims. For example, Arthur correctly stated that each fraudulent asylum application filed by someone without a claim will cause further delay in the process for another asylum seeker with a legitimate claim. He also paid lip service to the reality that the United States is a nation built by immigrants. Overall, however, the panelists expressed support for several policies that would have a disastrous impact on all asylum applicants seeking safety in the U.S.


    Arthur promoted the use of detention for asylum seekers, stating that the longer a person is detained, the less likely that person is to obtain asylum fraudulently. He failed to mention the devastating psychological repercussions detention will have for the thousands of torture and trauma survivors—many of whom are already suffering from PTSD—who would inevitably be thrown into such facilities.


    Arthur also declared that any person that transits through another country on the way to the United States lacks true fear, but instead seeks economic opportunity. In response, Mark Krikorian, in the role of moderator, asked if the U.S. should categorically deny asylum to anyone that transited through another country. Arthur suggested that could be achieved through legislation to change the eligibility requirements for asylum.


    Bensman suggested that only when we can guarantee the identity of people through unimpeachable ID documents should we allow them to seek asylum. But in reality, the lack of such documentation often stems from the chaos that forced asylum seekers to seek safety in the first place. In other words, his suggestion would bar those in greatest need of protection from accessing the asylum system at all.


    Finally, all the panelists suggested that DHS and DOJ commit significant resources to assess the fraud risk in the asylum system.


    Ignoring the Elephant in the Room


    Notably absent from these policy recommendations was the hiring of additional Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers. Assuming, for the moment, that asylum seekers waiting in the asylum backlog are a threat to U.S. national security, I can’t help but wonder why the panelists never suggested the only solution that would make it easier for immigration officials to spot fraudulent asylum claims.


    Mark Metcalf tacitly recognized this concept when he highlighted that good cross-examination, either by a prosecutor or an Immigration Judge, can expose fake asylum claims. The same principle holds for intelligent questioning by Asylum Officers in asylum interviews. With the current backlog of nearly 600,000 cases at the Immigration Courts, and another 250,000 claims before the Asylum Offices, each official responsible for testing the credibility of these claims is heavily overburdened. Relieving that burden by hiring more Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers will help these officials spot the fraudulent asylum claims that do cross their paths.


    This solution can lessen the actual problem of immense backlogs and long waits for people seeking asylum. As an added bonus, it would simultaneously address the speculative and over-exaggerated threats that the panelists identified, without denying a path to safety for tens of thousands of people fleeing persecution.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, cis Add / Edit Tags
  2. Exposing the Grandma Menace

    On April 26, the Department of Homeland Security launched its new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. According to DHS, VOICE will “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a statement, “All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored. They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place.” I suppose the same might be said of crimes committed by children born of unplanned pregnancies, but I digress.
    Don't mess with these ladies, especially if they haven't had their nap.

    The fact is, most credible reports show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than U.S. citizens. But never mind that. Today, I am concerned with another group whose below-average crime rate masks its otherwise sinister nature. You guessed it, I'm talking about America's grandmothers.


    To shed light on this menace, I've decided to create a new website called VOGUE - Victims Of Grandmothers' Unscrupulous Ethics. The website will track crimes committed by mommoms, babas, memoms, geemas, and savtas throughout our great country. And I'm not just talking about the Little Old Lady from Pasadena, though her reckless driving certainly terrified everyone on Colorado Boulevard. Rather, I want the public to know that America's bubbies are a real threat to our society. So in the spirit of disproving statistics with anecdotes, I present to you the Top 5 nana-related crimes of recent memory. Be afraid. Be very afraid:


    (1) In 2010, a 64-year old Long Island woman was arrested for stealing boxes of jello, replacing the contents with sand and salt, and then returning the boxes for a full refund (of $1.40 each!). According to authorities, Christine Clement disposed of the evidence by cooking up and eating the contents of the boxes she had emptied. Ms. Clement's husband of 40 years served as her get-away driver.


    (2) Griselda Blanco was a drug lord (drug lady?) from Colombia who relocated to Miami where she dominated the violent cocaine-trafficking scene in the 1970s and 1980s. She was supposedly responsible for over 200 murders, including the murder of at least one of her husbands. Ms. Blanco was finally deported to Colombia where she was assassinated at a butcher shop in 2012. Catherine Zeta-Jones is slated to play her in an upcoming movie called The Godmother (fittingly, Ms. Blanco's youngest son is named Michael Corleone Blanco).


    (3) Velma ****ield, also known as "Death Row Granny," used arsenic as her weapon of choice. She confessed to killing four people, including her mother and a boyfriend. It seems likely she also killed at least one of her two husbands. In 1984, she became the first woman executed by lethal injection and the first woman in the United States executed since 1962.


    (4) Another killer who preferred poison was Nannie Doss, known as the "Giggling Granny." All together, she killed four husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and a mother-in-law. The first murders took place in the late 1920's and the last occurred in 1953, when she killed her fifth husband by poisoning his sweet-potato pie (given my own feelings about sweet potatos, I am unlikely to die this way).


    (5) Career criminal Doris Payne has been a jewel thief for more than six decades. Her most famous theft involved a $500,000.00, 10-carat diamond ring, which she stole from a jewelry store in Monte Carlo in the 1970's. More recently, in 2015, she allegedly stole another diamond ring valued at $33,000.00 from a store in North Carolina (at age 84!). Her modus operandi is to pretend to be a well-to-do person looking to buy jewelry. She has the clerk take out various pieces, and then somehow causes the clerk to lose track of a piece or two, which she carries away.


    So as you can see, America's grannies are a notorious bunch. Whether they're clandestinely replacing our jello with sand, murdering rival drug lords and annoying husbands, or walking away with large diamonds, they clearly represent a danger to us all. But hopefully, VOGUE will help. By shining a light on a few bad (Granny Smith) apples, we'll soon have you convinced that the whole barrel is spoiled. At least that's what they tell me at DHS.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, dhs, voice Add / Edit Tags
  3. In Trump's America, Are Asylum Seekers at Risk of Arrest?

    A recent case from Florida has raised concern in the asylum-seeker community. On April 26, Marco Coello, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, went to his interview at the Miami Asylum Office. Instead of meeting with an officer to discuss his case, he was detained by Homeland Security officers.
    If you see these guys at your asylum interview, it's probably a bad sign.
    Fortunately, for Mr. Coello, he was released the next day, after various people--including Senator Marco Rubio--intervened on his behalf. An ICE spokesman said that he was detained "because he has a misdemeanor criminal conviction and had stayed in the U.S. longer than his visa allowed."


    I contacted Mr. Coello's attorney, Elizabeth Blandon, and learned that his conviction was for trespassing (he was originally charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana). I also learned that the Asylum Office issued a letter on the day of his arrest stating that the case had been sent to the Immigration Court. In fact, Mr. Coello's case is not with the court, and the issue of jurisdiction (i.e., who will hear his case--an Asylum Officer or an Immigration Judge) is yet to be worked out. Until that happens, his case remains in limbo.


    Frankly, it is unclear to me why ICE detained Mr. Coello. His conviction was for a minor violation, which is probably not even a deportable offense. One possibility is that ICE targeted him due to the mistaken belief that he had more than one misdemeanor conviction (trespassing and marijuana possession). Another, more conspiracy-minded, possibility is that ICE arrested Mr. Coello because he was a well-known activist from Venezuela. As the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated, the number of asylum cases from that country has soared. Currently, Venezuelans are filing more affirmative asylum applications than people from any other country. Maybe ICE wanted to send a message in an effort to intimidate potential Venezuelan applicants and stem the tide of cases from that troubled country. Normally, I tend to shy away from such conspiracy theories, but in this case, where the applicant is well-known in his community, I am not so sure.


    Mr. Coello's case is not the only instance of an asylum seeker being detained since President Trump took office, and rumors have been swirling about the new hard-line approach of his Administration. We have heard reports about an HIV-positive Russian asylum seeker, who was detained after visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands and then returning to the mainland (the problem here is probably that a person must go through customs to enter the U.S. from the USVI, and he did not get Advance Parole before leaving and trying to return). He was held for a month before being released. There have also been examples of ICE officials arresting asylum seekers who have been charged with crimes when they appear in criminal court. (And of course, there are the thousands of asylum seekers who arrive via the Mexican border without a visa and who are detained when they request asylum--but this began en masse long before President Trump's time).


    It's not just asylum seekers who are being detained. Aliens applying for other USCIS benefits have also been arrested. For example, there were five cases where immigrants were notified to appear for USCIS interviews, and were then detained when they arrived at the USCIS office. Apparently, all five had prior deportation orders from Immigration Judges. There's also the case of a woman who was arrested at a courthouse after filing a protective order against her ex-boyfriend. According to one news source, the woman had an extensive criminal history and had illegally re-entered the United States after being deported.


    In addition to all this, there is the now-famous (at least in immigration circles) case from February of a domestic flight from San Francisco to New York where ICE agents checked IDs for everyone disembarking the plane (ICE claims that the searches were "consensual"). Supposedly, ICE was searching for an alien with a criminal record. Turns out, he wasn't even on the flight.


    So what does all this mean? Do asylum seekers risk arrest when they appear for their interview? Or when they show up for a court hearing? Or when they travel domestically? The short answer, at least for now, is no, no, and no.


    First, except for the person returning from the USVI, the common denominator in the above cases is that all the aliens had a criminal conviction and/or a deportation order. If you do not have a criminal record or a removal order, there is no reason to believe that ICE will detain you if you appear for an appointment, court date or domestic flight. Indeed, except for the examples above involving criminal convictions and deportation orders, I have not heard about any asylum applicants being detained.


    If you do have a criminal conviction (or even an arrest) or a removal order, then there is some risk, but it's unclear exactly how to assess that risk. How likely is it that a person with a criminal record or removal order will be detained if they appear for an interview? Does the likelihood of detention increase with the severity of the criminal conduct? I do not know, and I am not confident that the few examples discussed above help us evaluate the chance of trouble. But given that there is some risk, it seems worthwhile for anyone with a criminal conviction or a removal order to consult with an attorney before going to an appointment with USCIS.


    If I had a conviction or a deportation order, and I was scheduled for an asylum or other USCIS interview, I would want to know a few things from my lawyer. First, I would want to know the likelihood of obtaining the benefit that I have applied for. If my case is very weak and unlikely to succeed, maybe I would be less willing to appear for an interview where I risked detention. Also, I would want to know how seriously the government views my criminal conduct. If the conviction is very minor, I would expect that the likelihood of ICE detention is low (but maybe not, as Mr. Coello's trespassing conviction illustrates). If the conviction is serious--and many convictions subject an alien to mandatory detention--I would want to know that too. In fact, I would want to know all this before I even apply for asylum or other immigration benefit. Why start the process when it is unlikely I will be able to successfully complete it, especially if applying for the benefit exposes me to possible arrest?


    Every person must make his or her own decision, weighing the risk and reward of applying for an immigration benefit. But if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, or if you already have a deportation order, it would be wise to talk to a lawyer before you file an application or attend an interview with USCIS.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist at www.Asylumist.com.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 08:11 AM by JDzubow

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