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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Whither the Syrian Christian Refugees?

    As the Syrian city of Aleppo falls under government control, the question of Syrian refugees has become even more urgent. Forces loyal to the government are summarily murdering civilians, and even the wounded cannot be evacuated due to government (and Russian) military action. Despite heartbreaking "goodbye messages" from civilians trapped in the conflict zone, I have little expectation that the world will do much to help. We have ignored genocides again and again, so why should we expect anything different here?
    Which is easier to explain: The absence of Christian refugees, or the absence of Christian charity?
    Accepting Syrian refugees into the United States has also been controversial. Donald Trump called them "a great Trojan Horse." I suppose the same could be said of the Jews fleeing Hitler on the ship St. Louis, which reached our shores but was refused permission to land. I am sure many of those men, women, and children were secret Bolsheviks plotting a Communist takeover. Lucky for us, they were rejected and returned to Europe, where over 250 of them perished in the Holocaust.

    One gripe raised by those opposing the admission of Syrian refugees is that the refugees are disproportionately Muslim. In a recent concurring opinion, Judge Manion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, notes the mysterious absence of Christians from the pool of Syrian refugees arriving in the United States. See Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center v. DHS, 16-1840 (7th 2016). J. Manion writes:

    I write separately for a… critical reason, which is [to express] my concern about the apparent lack of Syrian Christians as a part of immigrants from that country…. It is well-documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war-torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian…. [Of] the nearly 11,000 refugees admitted by mid-September, only 56 were Christian. To date, there has not been a good explanation for this perplexing discrepancy.

    Judge Manion's observation is supported by a recent report from the Pew Research Center, which found that in FY 2016:

    [R]efugee status was given to 12,587 Syrians. Nearly all of them (99%) were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.

    The most accurate data I have found about Syrian refugees essentially lines up with the findings of Judge Manion and Pew: Of 12,541 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. in FY 2016, between 0.5 and 1% self-identified as Christian. It is a bit less clear how many Christians lived in Syria prior to the current war. Estimates range from 5.1% (Pew) to 10% (CIA). But no matter how you slice it, it's clear that the Syrian refugees entering the U.S. are not representative of the country's population--fewer Christians than expected are coming to our country as refugees. So what's going on here?


    First, here is the conclusion that I don't accept--the one pushed by people opposed to Muslim immigration--that the Obama Administration is deliberately favoring Muslims over non-Muslims. I don't support this conclusion because, while a disproportionate majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim, the majority of refugees overall (from all countries), are not Muslim. In FY 2016, we admitted 38,901 Muslim refugees and 37,521 Christian refugees (out of a total of 84,995 refugees). In other words, in FY 2016, about 46% of refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim; 44% were Christian. (This was the first year of the Obama Administration where more Muslims than Christians were admitted as refugees).


    A more plausible explanation for the absence of Syrian Christians was proposed by Jonathan Witt, an Evangelical writer and activist, and an Obama critic. Basically, he believes that Muslims are more likely than Christians to end up in refugee camps, and since refugees are generally selected for resettlement from the camps, Christians are disproportionately left out. This part sounds logical, but (to me at least) Mr. Witt takes his argument a bit too far:

    As bad off as the Muslim refugees are, they aren’t without politically well-connected advocates in the Middle East. Many Muslim powerbrokers are happy to see Europe and America seeded with Muslim immigrants, and would surely condemn any U.S. action that appeared to prefer Christian over Muslim refugees, even if the effort were completely justified. By and large, they support Muslim immigration to the West and have little interest in seeing Christian refugees filling up any spaces that might have been filled by Muslim refugees.
    The deck, in other words, is heavily stacked against the Christian refugees. The White House has been utterly feckless before the Muslim power structure in the Middle East that is doing the stacking, and has tried to sell that fecklessness to the American people as a bold stand for a religion-blind treatment of potential refugees —religion tests are un-American! It’s a smokescreen.

    Here, he's lost me. This conspiracy-minded nonsense might be more convincing if there were some evidence for it (and remember, FY 2016 was the first year of the Obama Administration where we resettled more Muslim than Christian refugees). The prosaic arguments may be less interesting, but they have the vitue of being more likely.


    I have a few of my own theories as well. For one thing--and maybe this ties in with the first part of Mr. Witt's thesis--Syrian Christians were somewhat better off than Syrian Muslims. If they have more resources, maybe they were able to avoid the refugee camps by leaving in a more orderly way and by finding (and paying for) alternative housing. Also, Syrian Christians are generally not being targeted by the Assad regime. Indeed, in view of the threats they face from extremists, Syrian Christians are more likely to support the government--not because they have much affection for Bashar Assad, but because the alternative is even worse.


    So there very well may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of Christians among Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. But because the Administration has not explained the anomaly, we are (as usual) left with an information void. And that void is being filled by speculation from fringe writers like Mr. Witt, but also by federal court judges, like Judge Manion. The solution should be obvious: Those involved in the refugee resettlement effort should tell us what's going on. This would help satisfy many critics and it will help protect the refugee program going forward.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: obama, refugees, syria Add / Edit Tags
  2. Climate Change and the End of Refugee Resettlement

    Some observers believe that one of the root causes for the war in Syria is climate change. Starting in the first decade of the current century, drought and warmer temperatures in Syria pushed about 1.5 million people to move from their farms into cities. This more volatile atmosphere helped lead to war.
    Aquapalypse Now: Rising sea levels may create millions of new refugees
    So one effect of climate change may be to increase competition for scarce resources. Increased competition = more wars = more refugees.

    Another source of climate refugees is rising sea levels. As the water rises, certain areas and certain countries might become uninhabitable. People will have to be relocated. Many will be able to move within their own countries, but others will be forced to leave their homelands.


    The potential for mass movements of people across national borders is very real, and some experts predict that the new flow of climate refugees will dwarf anything we’ve seen thus far. That’s a scary thought, and for those of us involved in refugee resettlement, it represents an existential challenge: If tens or hundreds of millions of people are on the move, how do we accommodate them?


    And what about the current international legal regime? By definition, a refugee is a person who cannot return to his country owing to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. Many people fleeing Syria can meet this definition (some of our cases, for example, are shoe-horned in by presenting the claim as one based on imputed political opinion—even if they are not politically active, the Syrian government believes they are political opponents and that is enough for a grant). However, people who flee because their homes are flooded or because their crops have failed are not “refugees” as that term has been defined in international and U.S. domestic law. They are not being “persecuted” by anyone, except perhaps Mother Nature, but I don’t think that counts. So what do we do with them?


    As we’ve seen with the exodus from the Middle East to Europe and, on a smaller scale, from Central America to the U.S., the mass movement of people creates many challenges—social, economic, political, and moral. There is also great resistance by many segments of the community to accepting large numbers of foreigners. If that is the case, what will become of the new climate refugees? Will they be confined to UN-supported camps in the countries of first arrival? Will they remain in such places indefinitely? What is the end game for people who can never return home? How will the world order be affected by millions of stateless refugees, who live without hope and who may become a destabilizing influence on the host countries?


    Of course, I have no answers to any of these questions. Given the state of the problem today (over 59 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including about 19 million refugees) and the number of people who are annually resettled (about 626,000 were recognized as refugees or received some form of protection), I am not optimistic that we will accommodate millions more refugees in some dystopian (but probably not distant) future. One thing is true, if we see much larger numbers refugees in the world, we will have to deal with them in some way.


    One solution is to close our doors and try to keep the problem as far away from home as possible. This is essentially the path favored by several main-steam restrictionists groups. Indeed, the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (“FAIR”) both originated from concerns about immigration and the environment. The leading founder of these groups, John Tanton, viewed the mass movement of people as a threat to the environment, and favored restricting immigration as a way to protect the environment. It also happens that he was a bit of a white supremacist, but I suppose that is not particularly relevant to the environmental argument.


    As you might guess, I am not a fan of the environmental argument (or the white supremacist argument, for that matter). People who move from poor countries to rich ones probably use more resources in their new homes than if they'd stayed put, but they also have a better quality of life and they generally enrich the societies they move into (in 2014, for example, immigrants made up 12.9% of the U.S. population, but started 28.5% of new businesses). I am not sure how to balance this with the environmental impact, but when you add in the fact that many people are fleeing persecution or environmental disaster, the balance for me tips in favor of protecting people by allowing more migration.


    That said, I’m also not convinced that the U.S. and Western Europe can or should absorb millions of new refugees. There is a limit to how many people we can resettle and still maintain our social cohesion. I am not sure what that limit is, though it seems clear that we can do more than we are doing now. But the West cannot do it alone--if we see mass migrations due to climate change, the task of assisting and resettling people will need to be distributed across the globe.


    As a father and an uncle (and a person who is generally rooting for the human race), I hope that the world's leaders will make genuine efforts to curb global warming. As someone concerned about refugees and migration, I hope that we will respond to climate refugees with compassion. Climate change is a great challenge to mankind. I hope that we can meet that challenge and retain our humanity.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. Fighting Syrian Refugees... With Lies

    The recent attacks in Paris have opened the floodgates of anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in the U.S. Language that was once the province of white-supremacist screeds has become part of our mainstream dialogue. For me, however, what's worse than the xenophobia and the hate, are the lies.

    The New York Times recently editorialized about Donald Trump's repeated and vile mendacity: "it’s become a full-time job just running down [his] falsehoods.... It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one."

    What if cheating at politics was as dangerous as cheating at poker?
    Mr. Trump is a presidential contender, and thus subject to some scrutiny. But the internet abounds with lies, and given the atomized nature of social media, it's easy to immerse yourself in this fictitious and paranoid world. It's also easy and, in a way, comforting to have your own world view go unchallenged, and to believe that you are among the privileged few who knows The Truth. The Lame-stream media be damned!

    There are, of course, websites devoted to correcting inaccurate internet rumors, but how can they possibly keep up with the torrent of falsehoods that daily flood our in-boxes? And even if they could respond to each phony news story, the people who accept such stories are unlikely to read—or believe—the fact-checkers.


    Given the futility of the task, there’s probably little point in posting a few internet rumors here and then debunking them. But one of my two favorite fictional heroes is Don Quixote, and so I thought I might tilt at a couple of wind mills (if you must know, my other favorite fictional hero is Rocky Balboa - Yo). Anyway, here are a few "news" stories that arrived in my in-box post-Paris, and some thoughts on their veracity:


    - From Brian Hayes at Right Side News: "BREAKING: They're Here! First Load of 10,000 Syrian Refugees Has Arrived in New Orleans..." Accompanying the article is a photo showing dozens of swarthy young men, looking vaguely dangerous. Have these young jihadists landed in New Orleans? Are 10,000 Muslims invading the Big Easy? No, in fact, the photo of the young men was taken in Hungary in September 2015 and has nothing to do with refugees in New Orleans. Also, while President Obama has committed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, very few have arrived in the U.S. What we know is that over the last four years, the U.S. has resettled a total of 2,070 Syrian refugees as part of the regular refugee admissions process. As for New Orleans, it appears that two Syrian families have arrived and one more family is expected. So much for the 10,000 young jihadists.


    - From Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the World Tribune: "Obama welcomes an Islamist Trojan horse: Consider who is selecting our refugees." This article claims that under the President's plan "millions [of refugees] could be allowed to flood our country" and that "the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees... in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation... selects which refugees can be settled within our country." It also states that "Mr. Obama now poses a clear and present danger to America [because of his] stubborn insistence on resettling so-called 'refugees' from Syria." Where to even begin with this nonsense? First, 10,000 ≠ 1,000,000. Mr. Obama has been president for almost seven years. Until the recent announcement about the 10,000 Syrian refugees, he has continued the same refugee policy as President Bush. So don't try to tell me that all of sudden, in his final year in office, somehow "millions" of refugees will arrive on our shores. Second, while refugees are often referred to the U.S. by UNHCR, the United States (through the State Department, DHS, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement) conducts the background checks and decides which refugees to accept. Neither the Organization of Islamic Cooperation nor the UN decides which refugees will be allowed to resettle in our country. Finally, what the hell is a "so-called" refugee? I suppose the implication is that the people fleeing the Syrian civil war are not really refugees. Maybe the whole "so-called" civil war in Syria is just a farce to send jihadists to the West. They sure put on a good show, those Syrians.


    - From Andrew C. McCarthy in the National Review: "Refugee 'Religious Test' Is 'Shameful' and 'Not American' ... Except that Federal Law Requires It." Mr. McCarthy writes--

    Under federal law, the executive branch is expressly required to take religion into account in determining who is granted asylum. Under the provision governing asylum (section 1158 of Title 8, U.S. Code), an alien applying for admission must establish that … religion [among other things] … was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.

    In reality, 8 U.S.C. § 1158 states that, in order to qualify as a refugee, a person must establish that she faces persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, particular social group or political opinion. It is not a religious test at all. If you fear persecution on account of religion (any religion-including Islam), or any other protected ground, you can qualify for asylum. Either Mr. McCarthy has no understanding of the Immigration law or--more likely--he is twisting the language of the law into something it is not. Either way, he has no business writing about this subject.


    Professional liars like Mr.Hayes, Mr. Kuhner, and Mr. McCarthy clearly have an agenda--to inflame passions against Muslim refugees. They create an alternate reality where President Obama is "willing to potentially sacrifice countless Americans on the altar of liberal multiculturalism [and] is gambling with our lives." Well then, it sounds like he must be stopped--by any means necessary.


    But of course the "alternate reality" described above is not reality. It is a false story, planted to paint Mr. Obama as a "clear and present danger" to our republic. Had Mssrs. Hayes, Kuhner, and McCarthy bothered with the facts, they would have found a much more nuanced situation, where reasonable people can disagree on policy, and where no one is evil.


    The danger of all this should be obvious. When we falsely label other Americans as the enemy, when we use inflammatory and divisive language, and when we forgo efforts at understanding those who disagree with us, we damage our democracy and impoverish our national debate. In the black-and-white world of the fear-mongers, it makes sense to open fire on a Planned Parenthood Clinic. And if "so-called refugees" are actually disguised jihadists, wouldn't it make sense to subject them to the same treatment?


    Reality is complicated and messy. The straw men we create to comfort and enrage ourselves rarely comport with reality. There are legitimate grounds to oppose refugee resettlement, and the more rationale opponents of refugees rely on such arguments. But that is not what we are talking about here. There are far too many liars and charlatans involved in the refugee debate. Their false alarms are designed to turn Americans against each other. And that is a real threat.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: muslim, refugee, syria Add / Edit Tags
  4. In Defense of Muslim Refugees

    Since the vicious attack last week by Muslim extremists in Paris, attention in the U.S. has focused on our country’s refugee policy and President Obama’s decision earlier this year to admit an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees (above the normal refugee ceiling of 70,000). More than half of the nation’s governors have indicated that Syria refugees are unwelcome in their states. Paul Ryan, the new Speaker of the House, is pushing legislation to hinder the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. And most Republican presidential candidates have expressed their opposition to resettling Syrian or Muslim refugees in our country. Senator Ted Cruz has called the plan “absolute lunacy.”

    When we say "no" to a refugee, what does it say about us?As an immigration attorney who specializes in political asylum, I represent clients whose lives have been profoundly disrupted by war and terrorism, who have been threatened or harmed by extremists, and who have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks. Many of my clients come from Muslim countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. These are people who have devoted their lives--and often risked their lives--to promote democracy, women's rights, and human rights. Many have served shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers from the U.S. military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, I suspect that many of my Muslim clients have risked and sacrificed far more in the defense of liberty and in support of U.S. policy than the American commentators who routinely disparage them.

    In the face of barbarism from ISIS and other extremists, we as Americans should not abandon our friends or shrink from our humanitarian commitments. As the leader of the Free World, we must lead not only with the sword. We must also lead by demonstrating our values, and by showing the world that we do not abandon those values in difficult times.

    During the refugee crisis that followed World War II, the U.S. committed itself to assisting displaced persons. Since then, we’ve absorbed—and been enriched by—tens of thousands of refugees from Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Indochina, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. We are, to a great extent, defined by our generosity towards the dispossessed: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”


    Allowing ourselves to be intimidated into compromising these humanitarian values would be a victory for the terrorists. It would mean that we gave in to our fears. Great nations are not bullied by ignorant thugs. We already have strong safeguards in place to identify potential terrorists and criminals, and prevent them from coming to our country. Indeed, our asylum and refugee programs are probably more secure than any other aspect of our immigration system.

    Also, many of the Muslims who have sought sanctuary in the U.S. are people who worked with the United States military or government, or who worked for international NGOs and companies in concert with our efforts (however imperfect) at nation-building. Such people risked their lives and trusted us. To abandon them would send a message that America does not stand by its friends. This is a message that we cannot afford to send. If we are not trustworthy, no one will cooperate with us going forward.

    Finally, allowing terrorists to drive a wedge between our country and moderate Muslims would make the world more dangerous. There will be fewer bridges, not more. We need to keep strengthening ties between the West and the Muslim World. The terrorists want to cut those ties; we cannot let them.

    In the aftermath of the Paris attack and the claim by ISIS that it will send infiltrators to the West disguised as asylum seekers, the desire to re-examine security procedures is understandable. But as we evaluate our humanitarian policies, we should keep in mind people like my clients and the many Muslims who have demonstrated their fealty to us in our fight against extremism.

    We should not allow the evil deeds in France to cause us to retreat from our humanitarian obligations, which would compromise our principles, or to weaken our commitment to our Muslim allies, who are crucial in our battle against Islamic terrorists. Many people in the Muslim World want change. We saw that in the Arab Spring. We need to align ourselves with such people and give them our support. We need to stay engaged with the world and not retreat. When considering Muslim refugees and asylum seekers, we should be guided by our highest ideals, not by the dark vision of our enemies.

    Updated 11-19-2015 at 02:31 PM by JDzubow

  5. More Syrian Refugees = More Asylum Seeker Delays?

    The U.S. government recently announced that we will be raising the refugee cap and accepting thousands of additional refugees from Syria. We’re hearing the usual angry voices decrying the “invaders” and the “jihadists,” but that is not what I want to discuss today (I’ve already written about Muslim refugees here). Instead, I want to cover two topics: First, I want to discuss the process of how refugees get selected and screened to come to the U.S., and second, I want to discuss whether the additional resources necessary to process these new refugee cases will impact people seeking asylum in the United States.
    For refugees, waiting is a way of life.

    So how does the U.S. government decide who gets resettled in our country? What is done to prevent terrorists and criminals (not to mention phony refugees who are simply economic migrants) from taking advantage of our generosity?


    First, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”) is an interagency effort led by three government agencies: the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. The process also involves the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), the International Organization for Migration, and a number of nongovernmental organizations that assist during various stages of the process.


    A refugee case begins either through a referral or a direct application. Most cases (about 75%) are referred by UNHCR. Another 25% of cases come through direct applications under various programs. For example, there are programs for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and for religious minorities from Iran and the former Soviet Union. There is also a program for certain Cubans. The newest program is for Central American minors who have a lawfully-present parent in the United States. In addition, a few cases are referred to the program by U.S. embassies and certain NGOs.


    Each applicant must complete a series of mandatory steps before she can be resettled in the U.S. These include an in-person DHS interview, a security background check, and a medical exam. The process is labor-intensive and generally takes 18 to 24 months from referral to arrival in the United States. It’s not cheap either. Last year, the USRAP cost the U.S. government over $1.1 billion.


    After the refugee is selected, she must be interviewed. The interviews are conducted by DHS officers, and take place at more than 70 locations worldwide. Before the interviews, the applicants are assisted by different NGOs, such as the International Rescue Committee and the International Organization for Migration, which collect biographic and other information that is forwarded to DHS for adjudication.


    Next, all refugees undergo multiple security checks before they can be approved for resettlement in the United States. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the U.S. The screenings are conducted by several agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, DHS, and the Department of Defense. Details of the security checks are classified, and so we do not know a whole lot about the process.


    Finally, refugees undergo a health screening, TB testing, and three days of cultural orientation (where, presumably, they learn about McDonald’s, Taylor Swift, and hot pockets).


    Travel to the U.S. is arranged by the International Organization for Migration. The U.S. government pays IOM for the cost of air travel, but before departing for the United States, refugees sign a promissory note agreeing to repay the cost of their travel (whether they actually repay the loan, I have no idea).


    Nine domestic agencies in about 180 communities throughout the United States work to resettle the refugees. Every week, representatives from the agencies review biographic and other information to determine where to resettle each refugee. The agencies welcome refugees at the airport and begin the process of helping them settle into their new communities. The agencies also provide reception and placement services in the first 30 to 90 days after arrival. This includes finding safe and affordable housing and providing services to promote self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment. The Office of Refugee Resettlement continues to offer support to the refugees for up to five years after arrival.


    So that’s the basic process that each refugee—including the additional Syrian refugees—will go through to get to the United States. It is not a fast process because of the vetting, but it is designed to minimize the risk of terrorists and criminals infiltrating the resettlement system.


    One concern for asylum seekers is whether increasing the number of people admitted under the refugee program will impact the asylum system.


    The asylum office is funded by USCIS customer fees. If you have ever applied for an immigration benefit, you know that filing fees can be expensive. A small portion of the fee covers the cost of operating our asylum system. So if resources are shifted around to resettle additional refugees, the asylum offices should not be affected. They have a different, independent source of funding. That's the good news.


    The possible bad news is this: All the new refugees must undergo security background checks. This process is quite opaque, and therefore we know little about it. Whether the resources used for refugee background checks will impact the background checks for asylum seekers, we don’t know. It seems that refugees and asylum seekers are subject to many of the same security checks. If so, additional background checks for refugees might further slow the background check process for asylum seekers.


    Thus, while the additional refugees probably will not slow down the asylum interview schedule, they might cause more delay for asylum seekers' background checks. Whether and how much of an impact there might be, we will know soon enough.

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