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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. The Prevalence of Evidence

    If the asylum seeker's affidavit is the heart of her application, evidence might be considered the lungs: It provides the oxygen that allows the heart to function. Or maybe anatomical analogies are just weird. The point is, evidence in support of an asylum application is crucial to the application's success. But what is evidence? And what happens if you can't get it?


    An asylum attorney prepares to file evidence in his case.


    Let's start with a bit about the law. The REAL ID Act of 2005 provides--
    The testimony of the applicant may be sufficient to sustain the applicant's burden without corroboration, but only if the applicant satisfies the trier of fact that the applicant's testimony is credible, is persuasive, and refers to specific facts sufficient to demonstrate that the applicant is a refugee. In determining whether the applicant has met the applicant's burden, the trier of fact may weigh the credible testimony along with other evidence of record. Where the trier of fact determines that the applicant should provide evidence that corroborates otherwise credible testimony, such evidence must be provided unless the applicant does not have the evidence and cannot reasonably obtain the evidence.

    See
    INA 208(b)(1)(B) (emphasis added). In other words, if you claim that something happened (you were unlawfully detained), you are required to provide evidence about it (a police document), and if you are unable to provide such evidence, you should be prepared to explain why you could not get the evidence (maybe the police in your country don't issue receipts for illegally arresting people).

    What this means is that you should try to get evidence supporting your case. Different lawyers may have different views on this, but I think you should get evidence for every claim you make in your affidavit and I-589. That includes evidence not directly related to the asylum claims, such as evidence of education, employment, awards and certificates, membership in organizations and religious institutions, travel to third countries, documents used to obtain your U.S. visa(s), birth certificates for you and your immediate family members, all passports for you and your immediate family members, marriage and divorce documents, national ID cards, military service records, arrest records, and general medical records. In other words, evidence about who you are and what you've been doing with your life.

    Of course, you also need to get evidence related to your asylum claim. So if you were arrested, harmed or threatened, get evidence about what happened: Police and court documents, medical records and photos of injuries/scars, copies of any threats. If your case involves political activity in your country or elsewhere (including the U.S.), get party membership cards, receipts, letters from the party, and photos at political events. If it is a religious case, get evidence of your religion: Letters from church leaders and/or members, photos at religious events, certificates, membership documents, and government IDs, which sometimes list religion. If the case is based on nationality, ethnicity or race, get evidence that you belong to the group in question, such as identity documents.

    For people claiming asylum based on membership in a particular social group ("PSG"), the evidence needed depends on the group. For LGBT cases, get evidence of sexual orientation, such as membership in gay rights groups and evidence of past relationships. If your PSG involves family members, get evidence of familial relationships--birth and marriage certificates, photos, and other family documents, including evidence that other members of your family were harmed or threatened. If you have a domestic violence case, get evidence of the relationship (marriage certificate, birth certificates of children, photos together, other documentation that you were in a relationship) and of the harm.

    If there are newspaper or magazine articles, country reports or human rights reports--or even blog posts or Facebook posts--that support your asylum claim, include those. If you are using a newspaper or magazine, make sure to include the cover page of the newspaper, and the entire article. If you are using an on-line resource, make sure to include the website address.

    You should also get letters from family members, friends, and colleagues who can attest to your problems (I've posted about how to write a good letter here). In many cases, it is impossible to get direct evidence of harm, and so letters from people attesting to your problems is all that you can get. While letters from family members and friends are not as valuable as more direct evidence, they are still valuable, and we always include such letters if we can get them.

    Some people have scars or other evidence of physical harm (including FGM). In such cases, you should get a forensic medical report to help bolster your claim about how you received the scar (in other words, that the scar was caused by torture as opposed to a car accident or disease). Of course, the doctors who write such reports do not know for sure how you received a particular scar. But they can state that the scar is consistent with your explanation of how it was received. If you cannot afford a forensic exam (or find a doctor to do the exam pro bono), at least take photos of the scars and include them with your evidence. Normally, we have our clients take a close-up of the scar and also a photo from further away, so we can see the person's face (so we know the scar is on that particular person's body).

    We also sometimes submit other types of expert reports. The most common are psychological reports (that indicate PTSD, for example). In my opinion, the most effective reports are the ones created in the course of treatment. The less effective reports are created after one or two meetings with the asylum seeker, and were clearly created for purposes of the asylum case. Sometimes, we also use expert reports related to country conditions, though these days, we can usually find what we need on the internet.

    If any of your close family members applied for or received asylum, refugee or other humanitarian status (including SIV status) in the U.S. or abroad, try to get evidence of that status. In general, it is very helpful to show that other family members, who are often similarly situated, have been persecuted or have already received asylum. Indeed, we recently did a case in Texas where our client's close family members all had SIV status (meaning that the U.S. government determined those family members faced a threat in the home country due to their cooperation with the U.S.). This evidence alone was enough to convince the Judge to grant asylum to our client.

    You should also submit country condition information. Some lawyers submits lots of country condition information. I am not one of those lawyers. I think that redundant reports are counterproductive and distracting. It is standard procedure to submit the U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices (or at least an excerpt of the relevant portions). Also, if applicable, we submit the State Department Report on International Religious Freedom. If those reports are not sufficient, we submits reports from other credible organizations, like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. There are also lots of issue-specific reports from groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Doctors Without Borders, and International Christian Concern, to name a few. If there are news articles from credible sources, we submit those too (if they are relevant and not redundant). Finally, if there are specific articles or reports from less-reliable sources that speak directly to the issues in the case, we submit those as well.

    Of course, any documents not in English need to be properly translated.

    Finally, it is important to review all the evidence to ensure that it is consistent with your statement and with the other evidence submitted (for example, if your statement says that you lived in a red house, your witness letters should not say that you lived in a blue house). Inconsistent evidence can lead to a determination that you are not credible, so be careful about this.

    The evidence for each applicant is case specific. If you have an attorney, one of the attorney's jobs is to evaluate your case and determine what evidence is helpful. If you do not have an attorney, you should still do your best to obtain as much evidence as possible. This will help increase your chances for a successful outcome.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, evidence Add / Edit Tags
  2. Refugees and the Power of Stories

    I've written here many times about the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in the United States. But the fact is, asylum seekers and refugees are not powerless. They need not sit passively while politicians and pundits impugn them as "rapists" and "terrorists," and pretend that America's problems are caused by "the other." In fact, asylum seekers have a powerful tool at their disposal to fight back against such accusations: They have their stories.

    Talk to any asylum seeker or refugee, and you will hear a great story. It is often a tragic and depressing story, to be sure, but it is always a story about overcoming adversity, about survival, about perseverance. It is, more than anything, an American story. My ancestors fled pogroms in Russia or conscription in the Czar's army. My wife's grandfather escaped from a Nazi concentration camp in Austria. Many American families have stories like these.

    The clients I talk to every day also have amazing stories: Eritreans who escaped national service (i.e., slavery) by outrunning military guards and then traveling through dozens of countries to reach the United States; Afghans who served shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers and who were then threatened by the Taliban; transgender women from El Salvador who face persecution from their families; journalists from Pakistan who were threatened by the ISI; a gay man from Rwanda who was subject to a bizarre and harmful exorcism ritual; a Chinese whistle-blower who exposed billions of dollars of corruption and then faced threats from powerful businessmen; democratic activists from Egypt imprisoned after the Tahrir Square crackdown; religious converts from Iran who face death for their apostasy. The list goes on and on.

    Indeed, people don’t come to America because they’re doing great in their homeland. They come here because they want a better life, and the stories about why they left and how they came here are often riveting.

    Here’s my theory: Even people who generally oppose immigration will support the immigrants that they know personally or who they feel a connection to. For example, the only legislative amendment to the legal definition of “refugee” came when pro-life advocates lobbied Congress to make asylum available to victims of forced family planning. Pro-lifers are not necessarily associated with liberal immigration policies, but through this legislation, they greatly expanded the number of people eligible for asylum. On a more interpersonal level, I have a friend who worked for Pat Buchanan, the anti-immigrant firebrand who once challenged President George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination. My friend’s fishing buddy—an immigrant from West Africa—was arrested for assault and battery against a police officer. My friend referred the case to me, and when we ultimately won, my friend sent me a note: “You did the most important thing a person can do, you made me look good for recommending you.” I love that. The point, of course, is that even a Pat Buchanan supporter was sympathetic to the immigrant he knew personally.

    Why should this be the case? Why should people who normally oppose—and even hate—immigrants still support the immigrants they know?

    I think the simple truth is that immigrants are no different than anyone else. And for most people, when they hear stories of struggle and survival, and of love and gratitude for America, it’s difficult not to be sympathetic. In other words, if immigrants and their supporters can get people to listen to immigrant’s stories and to meet immigrants in-person, we win.

    The difficulty lies in making the connection, and in getting people to listen. How can we do that?

    First, I think we need to connect in-person, not through traditional or social media. The problem with the media is that it has become so Balkanized as to be largely useless for bridging ideological divides. In addition, media "interactions" are generally too superficial to change minds. Personal connections are harder to achieve, but they are far more powerful, convincing, and long-lasting.

    Second, we need to invite people in and make them comfortable. We should not put them on the defensive. This means engaging them on their turf, not ours. It means listening to people with different points of view, and not judging them. Most people who oppose immigrants and refugees are not bigots and xenophobes. They are not irrational. But in many cases, they do not have all the facts. They do not personally know refugees, and have not heard their stories. We may not be able to change their minds, but at least we can provide them with more information, and give them a more complete picture (a picture, by the way, which is sorely lacking in our partisan media environment).

    Finally, we need to accept that some people will not be persuaded, no matter how compelling the story, or how many statistics we cite. We need to respect that decision, and this often requires self-control. It also requires recognizing that it’s not easy for a person to change her views. Sometimes, all you can do is tell your story and accept that there is no perceptible change. Perhaps, though, we can hope that a positive interaction will at least plant a seed in the person’s mind, and maybe that is enough.

    So how does this work in practice? If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my three favorite words are, I don't know (in fact, I don't even know if "I don't know" counts as three words or four!). But here's how I would imagine implementing this idea:

    Refugees and asylum seekers (and their supporters) would reach out to a church, school or community association, and ask to come tell their stories. The purpose would not be to debate refugee or immigration policy. Instead, it would be to tell a personal narrative and express gratitude for what American has offered. Hopefully, the audience would consist of people with little exposure to non-citizens. Or better yet, an audience that is skeptical of "illegals." Preferably, the speakers would be proficient in English (and presumably, if you've read this far, you are proficient in English). After the story, perhaps there could be a Q&A. And that's it. It does not have to be political. It does not have to specifically touch on policy. It would just be individuals connecting, telling stories, and listening.

    So maybe if you are an asylum seeker or refugee, and you've read this far, you would consider reaching out to your neighbors and telling your story. Or if you are a member of a religious or civic group that might benefit from hearing refugee stories, you'd consider contacting a refugee organization for a speaker. In this way, one person at a time, we can change the world for the better.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, politics Add / Edit Tags
  3. Tips from a Former Asylum Officer

    Heidi Boas has dedicated her legal career to assisting asylum-seekers, refugees, and other immigrants through her work with the U.S. Government, United Nations, and non-profit organizations. Heidi served as a Senior Asylum Officer at the Arlington Asylum Office (2014-2017) and currently practices immigration law at Wilkes Legal, LLC in Takoma Park, MD. Heidi’s full biography can be found here.



    Heidi Boas

    Contact Heidi Boas at
    heidi@wilkeslegal.com. To schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney at Wilkes Legal, LLC, visit our website or call (301) 576-0491.

    Given the large backlog and heavy caseload at the asylum office, asylum officers are under significant pressure to complete cases as efficiently as possible. An asylum officer is allocated an average of four hours to complete each asylum case, which involves some steps that you and your attorney don’t see—including about an hour spent drafting the written decision, and about forty minutes working on security checks and other administrative tasks. When you add those steps to the two hours that an asylum officer spends conducting the average asylum interview, the officer may have only about twenty minutes to review your file before calling you in for the interview. When preparing your asylum case, therefore, it is helpful to keep the asylum officer’s time constraints in mind and avoid submitting extraneous information.

    Below are some tips from my perspective as a former asylum officer on how to prepare an effective and efficient asylum claim:


    The Personal Statement

    The personal statement is arguably the most important document in your asylum application, but it does not need to be very long. If the asylum officer only has twenty minutes to review your file, she probably will not have time to read your attorney’s lengthy legal brief, but she should always take time to read your personal statement. Given the time pressure that the officer is under, it is best to keep your personal statement concise and to the point. I recommend limiting it to a length of five pages or less. State up front why you are applying for asylum—What harm did you suffer in the past or do you fear in the future? Why were you harmed in the past, and/or why do you fear harm in the future? Avoid including extraneous information such as details about your family background, education, and employment history. Basic information about your background is included in the Form I-589 Application for Asylum, and additional detail is often irrelevant to your asylum claim. The main purpose of the personal statement is to focus on any harm that you suffered in the past and any harm you fear in the future. Leave general references to country conditions out of the personal statement and focus on telling your story. Finally, make sure that you fully understand the contents of your personal statement before signing it, and that the statement has been translated back to you word-for-word in your language.


    Supporting Documents

    Keeping in mind the asylum officer’s time constraints, you should avoid submitting extraneous or duplicative documents in support of your asylum claim. For example, it is usually not helpful to submit copies of your diplomas or school records, as these documents are usually irrelevant to your asylum claim. It is also unnecessary to submit hundreds of pages of country conditions documents. Asylum officers are already familiar with human rights conditions in many countries and keep their own country conditions excerpts on hand to use when writing decisions. If an asylum officer is not already familiar with the situation in your country, the officer will conduct research and find relevant information to include in his or her written decision. Asylum officers generally consult the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as these reports are considered an objective and reliable source of information. Since asylum officers have their own resources for finding country conditions information, you should be mindful of the number of pages you submit and highlight any excerpts of a report that you want the officer to focus on.


    Form I-589

    Take the time to carefully prepare the Form I-589 Application for Asylum, including details about where you have lived, your education, and your employment history. This can help save time when the asylum officer reviews the form with you during your interview. If you have several changes or corrections to make to Form I-589 at the interview, it is helpful to provide the officer with a list of your changes. The asylum officer is still required to note any corrections or changes by hand on the original Form I-589, but your list can help save the officer some time.

    Under “other names used,” list as aliases any alternate spellings (including misspellings) or alternate versions of your name that you have used. By listing these other names on Form I-589, you can help avoid delays during the security check process. After receiving the asylum application, the asylum office will automatically run security checks on any names listed on Form I-589. If the asylum officer learns during or after the interview that you have used another version or spelling of your name that was not initially listed on Form I-589, the officer must then initiate the security check process for that name, which could cause a delay in receiving your decision.


    The Legal Argument

    Asylum officers are required to undergo an extensive six-week training program in asylum law, and pass exams before adjudicating asylum cases. In addition, they continue receiving weekly training throughout their tenure at the asylum office. If confronted with a challenging or unfamiliar legal issue, asylum officers are encouraged to refer to the Asylum Officer Training Manual or consult a supervisor.

    In light of the training that asylum officers receive and the significant time constraints they face, it is not necessary to submit a lengthy legal brief in support of your asylum case. The asylum officer probably won’t have time to read the brief word-for-word and may not have time to read it at all. If you or your attorney are making a novel legal argument or referencing new case law and want to submit your argument in writing, try to keep your analysis as concise as possible. A succinct cover letter can suffice, for example, instead of a lengthy brief.


    Preparing for the Interview

    When preparing for the asylum interview, don’t avoid addressing the tough issues. A critical part of an asylum officer’s job is to assess your credibility, so you should discuss with your attorney any potential credibility issues that could arise and be prepared for questions about those issues at your interview. An asylum officer is required to confront you about any inconsistencies in your testimony or application, give you an opportunity to explain the inconsistency, and then assess the reasonableness of your response. Be prepared to respond calmly and provide an explanation for any inconsistencies, rather than reacting defensively to the officer’s question.


    After the Interview

    After the interview, if you strongly disagree with the asylum officer’s decision, consider filing a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider. No form or filing fee is required. The motion should be filed within 30 days, or later if you can show the delay was reasonable and beyond your control. It is best to submit the motion by letter to the asylum office as soon as possible after receiving your decision. If the asylum office receives your motion soon enough, it can decide to call you back in for a re-interview before serving a Notice to Appear ("NTA") on the court. Alternatively, if the NTA has already been served on the court, the asylum office can ask Immigration and Customers Enforcement to terminate the NTA and recall the case to the asylum office for another interview.

    If you have been waiting months or years since your interview to receive a decision from the asylum office, you might consider filing a writ of mandamus. A mandamus can help incentivize the asylum office to call you in for another interview and finally issue a decision. Even if the asylum office’s decision is not a positive one, you can move forward with presenting your case before the immigration judge and then pursuing any necessary appeals.

    Originally posted at www.Asylumist.com.

    Updated 03-28-2018 at 08:18 AM by JDzubow

    Tags: asylum Add / Edit Tags
  4. Attorney General Seeks to Limit Asylum... Or Something

    The Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, has been busy "certifying" cases to himself in order to (apparently) reduce protections for certain asylum seekers. I want to talk about two cases in particular, but first, let's talk about the process that Mr. Sessions is following.


    "Oh Magoo, you've done it again!"

    The decisions in question involve cases that were before the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA" or "Board"), the administrative appellate body that interprets the nation's immigration laws. The BIA has been called (sometimes derisively) the "Supreme Court of immigration law." The BIA is not actually a court in the normal sense of the word (and, by the way, neither are the Immigration Courts). Instead, it is an office within the U.S. Department of Justice. The leader of the Department of Justice is the Attorney General ("AG"). So in essence, the BIA derives its power from the AG, who is the ultimate "decider" when it comes to BIA cases.

    What has been happening recently is that Mr. Sessions has been "certifying" cases from the BIA to himself. Basically, this means that he is taking the cases from the BIA and changing the Board's decisions. In a sense, this is nothing new--previous AGs have done the same thing on occasion. But the concern here is two-fold: Substantively, the AG seems to be moving towards limiting the scope of asylum protections in some types of cases, and procedurally, the AG's actions do not comport with due process of law, at least as that concept is understood in non-totalitarian countries.

    The first case I want to discuss is Matter of E-F-H-L-, 27 I&N Dec. 226 (AG 2018). In that case, the AG vacated a 2014 BIA decision (also called Matter of E-F-H-L-) and returned the matter to the Immigration Judge (the letters in the case name refer to the alien's initials). The 2014 case stands for the proposition that an asylum applicant is entitled to a hearing on the merits of her application, including an opportunity to provide oral testimony and other evidence, "without first having to establish prima facie eligibility for the requested relief." In other words, the case is widely viewed as re-affirming the right to a hearing, even if the asylum claim, as articulated by the applicant, is legally insufficient.

    In civil litigation, there is something called "failure to state a claim." Judges routinely dismiss lawsuits if they determine that a litigant's claim--even if taken as true--does not entitled the litigant to relief. In our adversarial system, this makes sense. Why waste a court's time (or the jury's time) adjudicating the facts of a case if those facts do not entitle the claimant to any relief? And why not do the same thing for asylum applicants?

    The main objection is that many asylum applicants are unrepresented, and do not know how to articulate their claims effectively. Only in the course of testimony might an applicant's claim become apparent (and that is especially true in a case like E-F-H-L-, where there is a complicated "particular social group" analysis). Most Immigration Court hearings are fairly truncated affairs to begin with, and so further curtailing an applicant's ability to present his case makes it even more likely that overworked judges will take the easy route and dismiss an asylum claim before the applicant is able to fully develop his case. The result, of course, will be that legitimate asylum seekers are denied protection.

    So it is concerning that Mr. Sessions has vacated E-F-H-L-. But what comes next is not yet clear. The case has been returned to the Immigration Court for further decision-making, and as I read the case, it seems unlikely that the Judge or the BIA would need to rule on E-F-H-L-'s right to a full hearing. According to the AG's decision, E-F-H-L- married a U.S. citizen and withdrew his asylum claim. If that is true, there is little reason to think we will hear anything more about this particular case.

    The problem, though, is that the AG presumably vacated E-F-H-L- for a reason. I expect the reason is that he wants to create a new standard (in a different alien's case) for adjudicating asylum claims. What this standard will be, we do not yet know, but given Mr. Sessions's jaundiced view of asylum seekers, I'm not feeling optimistic. Whatever he does, Mr. Sessions is limited by the statute and by the courts, and so hopefully, it will not be as bad as we fear.

    The second case I want to discuss is Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2018). Mr. Sessions has certified that BIA case to himself and requested new briefs (legal arguments) from the parties and from amici (interested organizations). The question Mr. Sessions wants briefed is this:

    Whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable “particular social group” for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.

    We don't know, but presumably the goal here is to block asylum seekers who fear harm from "private criminal activity." This might, for example, block people fleeing harm from gangs in Central America, or victims of domestic violence. It potentially affects other types of asylum claims as well.

    The main problem is that Mr. Sessions has asked for briefing on a question that is vague. He has not given us the facts of the case, thus making it difficult to write an effective brief, since cases are fact specific. He even tried to hide the name of the attorney representing A-B-; perhaps in an effort to block advocates from learning more about the case.

    This is not how due process works, and I imagine that whatever decision the AG issues in A-B- will be vulnerable to review by the federal appellate courts, which tend to look askance at such blatant (and amateurish) violations of due process.

    That the Attorney General of the United States would engage in such obvious procedural misfeasance is very concerning. Since we don't know what the AG is really asking for, his request for amici briefs is completely disingenuous. Indeed, even if you favor limiting the scope of asylum, you should be concerned when our country's top law enforcement officer demonstrates such contempt for the rule of law.

    Where the AG is heading with all this, we shall see. The widespread belief among advocates is that in anticipation of DACA and TPS ending, Mr. Sessions is planning to roll back protections for certain asylum seekers, specifically people facing harm from gangs and also victims of domestic violence. But he could also be targeting LGBT asylum seekers who fear community (as opposed to government) persecution, victims of female genital mutilation, and victims of terrorist groups, among others.

    Finally, it’s difficult not to see the irony here. For years, advocates for asylum seekers have been litigating to expand protections for a wider range of persecuted individuals, particular women, who often face harm not contemplated by the people (mostly white men) who came up with the definition of “refugee” after World War II. However, by pursuing litigation—rather than legislation—we have left ourselves vulnerable to a restrictionist Administration that now seeks to contract that definition.

    Don’t get me wrong—I certainly don’t blame advocates for our current woes; we tried and failed legislatively at least once. But I do hope that if the pendulum swings back, and the public mood becomes more favorable, we will try again to create a refugee law that is more in-tune with the types of harm individuals face today. Until then, we are stuck litigating our clients’ cases in an uncertain environment, against an Attorney General who has little interest in playing by the rules.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, sessions Add / Edit Tags
  5. The Last-In, First-Out Policy Ain't Exactly Last-In, First-Out

    It's been a month since the Asylum Division surprised us by changing from a first-in, first-out (FI-FO) system to a last-in, first-out (LI-FO) system. Under the new system, cases were supposed to be interviewed in the following order of priority: (1) Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or the needs of USCIS; (2) Applications that have been pending 21 days or less; and (3) All other pending affirmative asylum applications will be scheduled for interviews starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings. So in other words, the Asylum Offices would interview newly filed cases first; then, if they had extra time, they would interview recently filed cases, working their way backwards through the backlog.

    How's the new LI-FO system working out for you?


    We're now a month in, and the new system is not working exactly as advertised. In our office, for example, we had one client whose case was filed in mid-January 2018. The case was scheduled for an interview earlier this week (we postponed it, as we needed more time to gather evidence). This is about what we expected under the LI-FO system. Another client, whose case was filed in August 2014 was scheduled for an interview in mid-March. The Asylum Office mailed out the interview notice in mid-February, at a time when LI-FO should have been in place. This is not what we were expecting. So what the heck is happening?

    It turns out that different Asylum Offices are implementing the LI-FO system in different ways. In a conference call with AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association), the Asylum Division informed us that if they do not have enough new cases to fill their schedule, Asylum Offices will interview cases from the backlog. The different offices apparently have the authority to decide which backlogged cases they will choose to interview--old cases, new cases or (I guess) whatever cases they feel like interviewing.

    In my local office--Arlington, Virginia--it seems they are interviewing old backlog cases--from 2014. This is contrary to the interview priorities published on January 31, 2018, where the Asylum Division indicated they would work their way backwards through the backlog. It sounds like other Asylum Offices will interview newer backlogged cases--from January 2018 or December 2017, in conformity with the published priorities.

    On one level, my preference is that the Asylum Offices interview older cases first, as that seems more fair. But frankly, at this point, my main concern is that they just make a decision and stick with it. It's bad enough that the Asylum Division announced a surprise change and basically upended the expectations of asylum seekers (and their lawyers). But now, it seems they can't even follow their own policy.

    For advocates, including yours truly, this makes it very difficult to know how to prioritize cases and advise clients. Worse, so much uncertainty makes it even more difficult for asylum seekers to endure the long waits.

    Of course, all things pass, and my guess is that we are currently in a period of transition. After the recent change to LI-FO, many attorneys and applicants stopped filing cases. Prior to the change, we were filing bare-bones asylum applications with the intention of finishing the cases later, as the interview date approached. But now, given the (supposed) short time between filing the case and receiving the interview, we have to file completed cases. It takes more time to prepare complete cases, and so we are adjusting how we do things. As a result, fewer cases are being filed and the Asylum Offices have a brief pause to work on backlogged cases.

    However, once everyone re-calibrates, I expect the volume of new asylum applications will return to normal, and the Asylum Offices will probably be interviewing new cases, and maybe--if we're lucky--some cases from the backlog.

    Once things settle down, it would be nice to know how the different Asylum Offices plan to interview backlog cases going forward. That way, asylum seekers will have some idea what to expect, and attorneys can advise their clients and manage their caseload. In this sense, the now-defunct Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin was quite helpful. At least we had some idea about what was going on.

    My hope is that the Asylum Offices will choose to provide us with some information about how they are operating. This shouldn't be all that difficult since each office has its own website. Indeed, whether they are moving through their backlog from oldest to newest or from newest to oldest, I don't see why they can't simply tell us where they are.

    And while I'm wishing, maybe they can also give other useful information on their website, like the deadlines for filing evidence and the procedures for rescheduling, expediting, and short-listing. Repeat customers like me already know the rules, but pro se applicants don't, and there is currently no easy way for them to find out. Why not simply post this information on the Asylum Office website for everyone to see?

    I know that all this is probably asking for too much. I also know that the Asylum Offices are in a tough spot these days. The Trump Administration is clearly hostile to their mission of protecting bona fide refugees, and anything they do to make the process more user-friendly might come back to bite them. Also, they are potentially on the cusp of a massive surge in new cases, if nothing is done for DACA or TPS recipients. Nevertheless, it would be nice if they could follow the policy that they announced less than a month ago. Or, if they don't plan to follow the policy, at least keep everyone informed about what they are doing.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, backlog Add / Edit Tags
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