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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. The Refugee Ball Post-Game Report: Why It Matters

    The Refugee Ball took place on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. It was wonderful to see hundreds of people from all different backgrounds and countries come together to celebrate America's humanitarian immigration system.
    Economist, talk show host, women's rights advocate, and amazing singer, Amal Nourelhuda (originally from Sudan), performs at the Refugee Ball.

    There were musicians from Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tibet. There was a Persian rapper. Our emcee was a journalist/asylum seeker from Ethiopia. We had Lebanese, Tibetan, and Ethiopian food, and Syrian cookies. There was artwork by a young Honduran asylum seeker and an Iranian refugee. Speakers included the former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals (who now has his own blog), an asylee from Azerbaijan, and the president and CEO of HIAS, a non-profit organization that assists refugees. We also had a special guest appearance by Congressman Jamie Raskin. All-in-all, not a bad way to spend an evening.


    One message of the Refugee Ball is that asylum seekers and refugees contribute in valuable ways to our society. They bring their skills and talents to America, and we are stronger because of their presence here. Also, by offering asylum to those who work with us and those who share our values, we demonstrate to our allies that we are on their side; that we have got their back. This makes it more likely that people around the world will cooperate with us and work to advance the values that our nation aspires to: Democracy, freedom of speech, women's rights, LGBT rights, freedom of religion, equality, peace. When we have the cooperation of our allies, our country is safer and more secure, and our asylum system helps engender that cooperation.


    And of course, granting protection to those in need of assistance is the right thing to do. I know that if my family members had to flee the United States, I would want more than anything for them to receive a friendly reception in their country of refuge. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


    Another message of the Ball is that advocates for asylum seekers and refugees remain committed to assisting people who have come to our country for protection. And although the incoming Administration may create a more difficult environment for our clients, our commitment to those seeking our country's protection will not wane.


    For me, though, the most important message of the Ball was that of the courage and perseverance displayed by the refugees and asylum seekers who I saw there. Many of the people who participated in the event were themselves victims of terrible torture and persecution. But there they were at the Ball--singing and dancing, giving speeches, making art and food for us to enjoy. Each of them provides an example of how the human spirit can survive extreme adversity and go on to create beauty, and of how life can triumph over death. I can't help but be inspired by their examples.


    So while we really do not know what to expect in the days and months ahead, we can draw strength from each other, and from the examples set by the refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who have endured great hardships, but who still have hope that America will live up to the high ideals that we have set for ourselves.


    To those who participated in, supported, and attended the Refugee Ball, Thank you. Thank you for contributing your time, talent, energy, and money to supporting the cause of refugees and asylum seekers. Thank you for inspiring me, and for reminding me of why I work as an asylum attorney. I feel optimistic knowing that we are united in our goal of welcoming the stranger, and that we are all in this together to support each other.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. An Alternative Inaugural Ball for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Their Supporters

    The inauguration of a new president is almost upon us. It's traditional to celebrate the democratic transition of power with lavish parties. They take place all over Washington, DC. Some are formal affairs attended by the President and other VIPs; others are much simpler and unpretentious.

    This year, I know that many refugees, asylum seekers, and their advocates are nervous about the new Administration and what it might mean for them and their families. During the campaign, there was a lot of negative talk about immigrants and refugees. It's not surprising then, that many of us are not feeling in a celebratory mood.


    But it seems to me that we need to come together to remind ourselves of why accepting refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants into our society is so important. We--advocates, clients, family members--draw strength from one another. For that reason, a group of us has organized a "Refugee Ball" for refugees, asylum seekers, their families, advocates, and supporters.


    The purpose of the Ball is not to celebrate the new President; nor is it to denigrate him. Rather, we want to support each other and help demonstrate the value of refugees, asylees, and immigrants to the wider community. We also want to celebrate the core humanitarian values that underpin our refugee and asylum programs--values like compassion, generosity, friendship, diversity, inclusiveness, and due process of law.


    With that in mind, it is my pleasure to invite you to attend the Refugee Ball, which will take place on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, located at 600 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.


    Refugee, asylee, and immigrant vendors will provide food, music, and art. Also, immigration lawyers--including me--will be on hand to provide free consultations and “Know Your Rights” presentations. Events will start at 5:00 PM with the legal consults. Other activities will begin at 6:00 PM.


    The Ball is free and open to the public, but please let us know if you plan to attend by responding on our Facebook page (click here for the link). We will update the Facebook page with more information as we get closer to the date.

    Also, if you would like to support the Ball financially, please consider making a contribution (click here for the link), and spreading the word about this event. All proceeds will go towards the cost of the Ball, and any leftovers will be donated to local and international non-profits that support refugees.

    Thank you, and I hope to see you there.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. Evaluating the Threat Posed by Refugees

    Last month, a Somali refugee and college student drove his car into a crowd at his university, jumped out, and started stabbing people. He was quickly shot dead by a campus police officer. The assailant, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, apparently left Somalia, lived for a time in Pakistan, and was resettled as a refugee in the United States in 2014. After the incident, Donald Trump tweeted that Mr. Artan "should not have been in our country."
    TV shows based on misunderstandings are hilarious; government policies, not so much.
    Incidents like this--where a refugee or asylee commits a (probable) terrorist act--are exceedingly rare. As far as I know, the only other successful attack involving "refugees" was the Boston Marathon bombing, perpetrated by two brothers who came to the U.S. as derivatives of their parents' asylum case. Since 2001, the U.S. has admitted approximately 785,000 refugees and roughly 400,000 asylum seekers. So if all these numbers are accurate (a big "if", as discussed below), then the odds that any given refugee or asylee is a terrorist is 1 in 395,000 or 0.0000844%.

    In looking at the question of refugees/asylees and terrorism, the main problem is that the numbers listed above are not accurate. First, there is no consistent way to count people entering and leaving the United States. The refugee numbers are probably more accurate (though it's unclear to me whether all aliens admitted for humanitarian reasons are included in the count), but asylum numbers are all over the map. Part of the problem is that different agencies (DHS and DOJ) deal with asylum applicants, and they seem to count people differently--sometimes derivative asylees are counted; other times, only the principal is counted. How do the agencies count people whose cases are pending? What about people granted other forms of relief (like Withholding of Removal or Torture Convention relief)? How are family members who "follow to join" the principal applicant counted? I have no idea about any of this, and there is no easily available data source to help. Not surprisingly, the dearth of data has opened the door to conspiracy theorists and anti-immigration advocates who claim we have an "open borders" immigration policy. But the absence of data also creates problems for fair-minded policy makers. How can we make appropriate decisions when we do not have a decent understanding of what is going on?


    A second problem is that we do not have reliable information about how many non-citizens are involved in terrorist activities. Last summer, Senators Jeff Sessions (Donald Trump's current nominee for Attorney General) and Ted Cruz sent a letter to the Obama Administration claiming that at least 380 of 580 people convicted of terrorism charges in the U.S. between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2014 are foreign born. According to the Senators, "Of the 380 foreign-born, at least 24 were initially admitted to the United States as refugees, and at least 33 had overstayed their visas." The letter further claims that since early 2014, 131 individuals have been "implicated" in terrorist activities. Of those, "at least 16 were initially admitted to the United States as refugees, and at least 17... are the natural-born citizen children of immigrants." Using these numbers and the (admittedly questionable) refugee and asylee numbers listed above, the odds that any given refugee or asylee is involved in terrorist activities is still pretty low: One refugee/asyee out of every 28,902 will be involved in terrorist activities (or about 0.0035% of refugees/asylees).


    The Senators were only able to come up with their figures based on publicly-available sources (like news articles), since DHS did not release immigration information about the 580 individuals convicted of terrorist-related activities, or the 131 people "implicated" in such activities. Whether DHS's failure to release this information is prosaic (perhaps confidentiality or technical issues pose a challenge) or nefarious, we do not know, since apparently, the agency has not responded to the Senators' requests. The fact is, Senators Sessions and Cruz are correct: We need more data about the people who are entering our country, and we need to know whether refugees and asylees (and others) are committing crimes or becoming involved with terrorism. Not only will this better allow us to make appropriate policy decisions, but it will also help prevent the type of fake news that is currently filling—and exploiting—the information gap.


    But of course, the situation is more complex than any statistics alone might show. Some people who become involved in terrorism are mentally ill individuals exploited by terrorists (or--sometimes--by over-zealous law-enforcement officers). In other cases, people providing support to a "terrorist" group overseas do not know that the group is involved in harmful activities, or they do not understand that the U.S government views the group as dangerous. Also, as I have discussed previously, the “material support” provisions of our anti-terrorism legislation are extremely broad, and so people who seem far removed from terrorit activities can get caught up by our overly-broad laws.


    Nevertheless, we need to know more about foreign-born individuals--including asylum seekers and refugees--who are implicated in terrorist-related activities, and the basic starting point for any such analysis is the statistical data about who is coming here, how they are getting here, and whether they are accused or convicted of crimes or terrorist-related activities.


    Assuming we do get some accurate data, the question then becomes, How do we evaluate such information? How do we balance concrete examples of non-citizens engaged in criminal or terrorist activities, on the one hand, with the benefits of our refugee program, on the other?


    And by the way, despite what some anti-refugee advocates might argue, our refugee and asylum programs provide concrete benefits: They establish us as a world leader in the humanitarian realm, they demonstrate our fealty to those who have stood with us and who support our values (and thus encourage others to continue standing with us), they provide our country with diverse and energetic new residents who are grateful for our generosity and who contribute to our society. These programs also represent an expression of who we are as a people. As I have frequently argued, for us to abandon these programs--and the humanitarian ideals that they represent--due to our fear of terrorism is a victory for the terrorists.


    But we also need to balance our humanitarian policies and our national security. We need to better understand the issues--so that the public can be more well-informed and so policy makers have the information they need to make good decisions. I hope the new Administration will shine some light on these issues, so that any changes to our refugee and asylum policies are based on accurate information, and not on conjecture or fear.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com
  4. President Trump and the Future of Our Refugee and Asylum Programs

    The People have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. He will enter office with a Republican House and Senate, though not a filibuster-proof majority, but certainly enough to enact much of his legislative/policy agenda. So what can asylum seekers, asylees, and refugees expect?
    Sometimes white is a very dark color.
    Of course, with Mr. Trump, it's often hard to know his plan. Will he keep his campaign promises to ban Muslims? Return Syrian refugees? Build a wall? Narrow the category of people eligible for asylum (as implied by the Republican Party platform)? Can these policies even be implemented in practice? It's far too soon to know which direction Mr. Trump will go with all this, but here are some initial thoughts, not so much about what he will do, but about what he has the power to do.


    Banning Muslim Immigrants
    : The U.S. government has the power to block most anyone from coming to the United States. In previous eras, we have excluded Chinese, Southern Europeans, Jews, and all sorts of other "undesirables." More recently, after 9-11, we enacted Special Registration for people from certain majority-Muslim nations, though this was not a ban on Muslims, just a restriction on those already here.


    Also, if you have ever applied for a U.S. visa, you know that the consulates exercise almost unlimited discretion to deny visas to people deemed ineligible. For people overseas seeking a visa, it would be easy for President Trump to deny visas to applicants from majority-Muslim countries, or to those who are Muslim. This could be done even without Congressional action.


    The policy implications for such a move would be unpredictable. How would the "banned" countries react? What would this mean for our diplomatic relations with those countries and our ability to cooperate with them against the war on Islamic extremists? There are also economic implications for trade, business investment, and universities that enroll (and make money from) foreign students. I imagine the competing constituencies would weigh in on the efficacy of a Muslim ban, and so it is difficult to know how this would work in practice. But President Trump will basically have the power to block Muslims who are overseas from coming to the United States.


    Refugees
    : This past year, we accepted about 85,000 refugees. Traditionally, the plurality of refugees we accept are Christian, but in FY 2016--for the first time since FY 2006--the plurality (44%) of refugees resettled in the United States were Muslim (the Pew Research Center provides some good data on this subject). This shift reflected President Obama's response (tepid, in my opinion) to the Syrian refugee crisis. In determining how many refugees to bring to the U.S., the President consults with Congress and comes up with a number. So Mr. Trump could reduce or eliminate the number of refugees coming to the U.S., or he could shift the focus away from Muslim refugees.


    Again, there are policy implications for such a move. The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. What does it mean for the character of our nation to ignore the suffering of these individuals? How will our retrenchment affect the efforts of other countries to assist refugees? How will it affect our ability to wield moral authority and to continue our role as the leader of the Free World? Or have we as a nation decided to abdicate that role?


    Asylees and Muslim Refugees Who Are Already in the United States
    : And what about those Syrian refugees (and other refugees and asylees) who are already here and have already been granted refugee status or asylum in the United States? Deporting people who are here, with lawful status, is much more difficult than excluding people from coming here in the first place. Such people have a Constitutional right to due process of law, meaning that they cannot be deported from the U.S. without a legal procedure. Currently, that procedure involves presenting one's case to an Immigration Judge, who then determines whether the person is eligible to remain in the United States. People who have already qualified for protection under U.S. law (which is based on our ratification of various international treaties) cannot simply be removed from the country. The procedure to remove them is long, and--given that they have already qualified for protection--under current law, they cannot be deported.


    For these reasons, although Mr. Trump has vowed to send Syrian refugees back, I suspect that this will not be easily accomplished. First, it would mean a change in the law, and this requires the cooperation of Congress. As mentioned, while the Republicans have a majority of seats in Congress, there is still a powerful Democratic minority that could potentially block such a change. Also, it is likely that a significant minority of Republicans would oppose changing our humanitarian laws.


    And even if the law related to asylum were changed, there are several other laws that people currently in the U.S. might use to avoid removal. For example, those who fear harm as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture might assert a defense based on that treaty. Those who have been here for longer periods of time might be eligible for other forms of relief, like Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status based on a family relationship. In short, people who are living in the U.S. and who have refugee or asylum status have several layers of protection that will likely insulate them from any effort to have them removed. And any effort to make the sweeping changes needed to force such people to leave will require unified Congressional action, something that we are unlikely to see.


    Of course, if such changes could somehow be made, there are policy implications here as well. What will it mean to send back Syrian refugees (mostly women and children) to that war torn region? How will it affect our moral standing in the world? What would it mean for international law in general if we abrogate our treaty obligations? And what would be the "ripple effect" of such a policy?


    People with Asylum Cases Pending
    : People who are in the United States with asylum cases pending also have the benefit of due process protections. They cannot be deported unless and until an Immigration Judge determines that they do not qualify to remain in the United States. Under current law, even people from majority-Muslim countries benefit from these protections--which are "rights"--under domestic and international law. To change this regime, Congressional action would be necessary. Again, it is unclear whether President Trump will have the supported needed to enact such sweeping changes in this area of law.


    The bigger immediate concern for people with pending asylum cases is how the Trump Administration will allocate resources towards the asylum system. I suspect that resources will be increased for Immigration Courts (which can deport people, but which can also grant relief and allow people to stay here). I am not so optimistic about the Affirmative Asylum System--these are the Asylum Offices that review asylum cases filed by people who are in the U.S. and who fear persecution in their home country. The Affirmative Asylum System is already beleaguered by long delays, and if the new Administration diverts resources from that system, it will only slow the process further. One option for a Trump Administration might be to eliminate the Asylum Offices and send everyone to Immigration Court. How this would play out in terms of delay or efficacy, I do not know.


    The Wall and Restrictions on the Definition of Particular Social Group
    : Finally, Donald Trump has promised to build a wall to prevent people from entering the U.S. through Mexico. This seems to me more a fanciful campaign promise than a realistic or effective means of tightening the border. So I doubt he will build an actual wall. He could however, make it more difficult for people arriving at the Southern border to seek asylum by restricting the definition of those eligible for asylum. Specifically, many people who come to the border seek asylum because they fear persecution by gangs or domestic violence (in legal terms, they are seeking asylum because they fear persecution on account of their "particular social group"). Our current system allows such people to arrive at the border, "pass" a credible fear interview, enter the U.S., and then have their cases adjudicated by an Immigration Judge. If a Trump Administration restricted the definition of particular social group, and raised the bar for credible fear interviews, it could largely shut down the border without resorting to a wall, and probably without violating our treaty obligations.


    Again, of course, there are policy concerns here. If relations with Mexico sour, that country could do less to interdict migrants traveling north through it's territory. That could result in a larger refugee crisis at our border. Also, if our country closes the doors to refugees in our backyard, other countries may follow suit, and the result would be a more severe worldwide refugee crisis, and the likely deaths of many innocent people trying to escape harm.


    For now, all this is conjecture. Donald Trump will not assume office for another few months. During that time, he will (presumably) begin to articulate how he will translate his promises into actual policy. Given the campaign we just witnessed, it is difficult not to be pessimistic. However, to paraphrase John Donne, No policy is an island, entire of itself. To implement changes to the humanitarian laws will implicate many other important policy areas. Perhaps--we can hope--this will help mitigate the more radical plans raised prior to the election. Here's John Donne, once more, "Any man's death diminishes me / Because I am involved in mankind / And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls / It tolls for thee." Let's hope Mr. Trump recognizes the gravity of his proposed changes, and the effect they could have on innocent lives. Let's hope.

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

    Updated 11-09-2016 at 12:41 PM by JDzubow

  5. Doctors Without Borders Exhibit Gives Visitors a Personal View of the Global Refugee Crisis

    This piece is by Samantha Hsieh, a fellow at our law firm. Samantha recently graduated from The George Washington University Law School with honors. She is interested in practicing asylum law and removal defense. Samantha’s immigration experience includes interning at a law firm and at the Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal at an immigration firm.

    I recently attended the Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières ("MSF"), Forced From Home exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The exhibit, which is touring five East Coast cities this year, allows participants to learn about the experiences of refugees from around the world and raises awareness for their cause.

    Participants could choose between clothes, jewelry, children’s toys, a bicycle, a wheelchair, a guitar, footwear, money, fishing equipment, pets, medication, a phone, keys, water, a sewing machine, photos, scarves, a passport, food, and baby formula

    Upon entry, visitors are given an identity as a refugee, internally displaced person, or asylum seeker from Honduras, South Sudan, Burundi, Syria, or Afghanistan. According to MSF, there are currently 65 million people in the world fleeing from conflict or persecution. Our tour guide, Jane, explained the work of MSF, which employs around 35,000 people and provides free medical care in over 60 countries. Jane is a nurse who has worked in dozens of refugee camps.


    One of our first tasks was to select five items from 20 to bring on our journey. I chose a cell phone, medication, passport, water, and stove. Refugees fleeing on foot are limited to items that they can easily carry. Oftentimes, decisions about which items to bring must be made in a hurry. I noticed that the only other participants who had also chosen cell phones were two children whose eyes were glued to their iPads the entire time. We were forced to give up our items one by one in order to pay for different parts of the journey.


    Jane led our group onto a small inflatable raft in order to simulate crossing the Mediterranean Sea. We sat in the raft with the men on the perimeter and the women and children in the center on the floor.

    These rafts were supposed to hold seven people, but as many as 60 refugees and their belongings would squeeze into one raft. Smugglers load refugees onto the rafts and then leave them to their journey, often without enough fuel. Refugees are sometimes given cheap counterfeit life vests, filled with ineffective packaging material. Rafts that stay on course take about eight days to reach Europe. The cost of admission for a seat in one of these rafts? US$2,000.00 to US$3,000.00 per person. Since January 2016, roughly 3,600 refugees and migrants have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
    Refugee camp bathrooms lack privacy.

    Next, we visited a re-creation of a refugee camp. Each person in the camp receives a daily ration of water, grains, beans, oil, and salt. The young women and girls are responsible for filling and delivering water containers holding up to six gallons. Humans need a minimum of four gallons of water a day for drinking and basic hygiene and cooking. For comparison, the average American uses 90 gallons of water each day. Jane also demonstrated how to use a typical bathroom in a refugee camp, which is essentially a box around a hole with a curtain in the front. Notably missing was toilet paper.


    Standing in front of an MSF medical tent, Jane told us about several medical issues that refugees face. While relatively easy to treat, cholera--which arises from contaminated food or water--can kill within hours if left untreated. Malaria is also common. MSF staff test patients for malaria by applying a blood sample to a test card. Because of language barriers, the packaging for the malaria medication uses symbols instead of words to convey dosage instructions.

    A typical MSF medical tent

    Malnutrition in young children can be difficult to recognize, particularly for local aid workers who lack formal medical training. MSF staff use mid upper-arm circumference ("MUAC") bracelets to measure the arms of young children as a simple means of detecting malnutrition and determining a treatment plan. Children whose arm circumference is under 116 millimeters (roughly 4.5 inches) suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are immediately hospitalized. Malnourished children are fed Plumpy’nut, a high-calorie peanut paste mixed with vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients for weight gain. One small packet of Plumpy’nut contains 500 calories.


    Finally, we viewed several tents similar to those where refugee families live. Conditions in refugee camps range from reprehensible (more common) to fairly good (rare). Regardless of their living conditions, refugees are forced to wrestle with concerns over the safety of family and friends left behind and uncertainty over their own futures.

    Plumpy’nut has been called “surprisingly tasty.”

    The town of Dadaab, Kenya contains some of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world. The first camps in Dadaab were constructed in 1992. The Dadaab camps are now home to over 300,000 refugees. Some refugees born in Dadaab have grown up and now have children of their own. Jane told us of one resident she spoke to who had expected to stay for only a few weeks. He has not left the camp in over 15 years.


    At the end of the exhibit, Jane told us the greatest lessons she learned from serving as a nurse in refugee camps around the world. “Every day," she said, "I was reminded of the resilience of humanity and that despite the terrible things that had happened to them there, people always miss their home.”


    Follow the route of the Forced From Home exhibit, register to attend, and sign up for updates about future locations here.

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