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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? Not If You're Using the Asylum Clock (+ Some Other EAD Updates)

    If you're reading this blog, and presumably you are, you probably already know about the "Asylum Clock." The basic story is this: When a person files for asylum (with the Asylum Office or the Immigration Court), the Clock starts to count time. Once the Clock reaches 180 days, the asylum applicant is eligible for an employment authorization document (“EAD”). The Clock “stops” if the asylum applicant causes a delay in her case. The problem is that the rules governing the Asylum Clock are vague, and ever changing. Today, I want to discuss a new change with the Clock, debunk a rumor that has been floating around, and briefly discuss the new EAD application form.


    The official Asylum Clock, kept in a secure vault at DHS.

    First, a few words about the Asylum Clock. The Clock originally went into effect in 1996. Before then, if a person filed for asylum, she could also apply for an EAD. The powers-that-be (i.e. Congress) felt that this system encouraged frivolous asylum applications--people knew that they could file for asylum, get a work permit, and remain in the U.S. for years while their cases were adjudicated, and so they had an incentive to file for asylum even if they had meritless cases.

    To combat this problem (if indeed, it was a problem), Congress created a 180-day waiting period before asylum seekers would become eligible for the EAD (under the regulations, you can file for the EAD after 150 days, but you are not actually eligible to receive the EAD until 180 days have elapsed). The "Asylum Clock" counts this time. In order to avoid the problem of asylum seekers deliberately delaying their cases to obtain an EAD and draw out the process, the law states that any delay by the applicant causes the Clock to stop. It sounds simple, but in practice, it's often been a mess.

    EOIR--the Executive Office for Immigration Review--has a handy memo that lists the reasons why the Clock might stop in Immigration Court or at the Asylum Office. According to the memo, the Clock will stop in Immigration Court if (1) the applicant asks for the case to be continued so he or she can get an attorney; (2) the applicant, or his or her attorney, asks for additional time to prepare the case; or (3) the applicant, or his or her attorney, declines an expedited asylum hearing date. At the Asylum Office, the Clock stops if (1) the applicant requests to transfer a case to a new asylum office or interview location, including when the transfer is based on a new address; (2) the applicant requests to reschedule an interview for a later date; (3) the applicant fails to appear at an interview or fingerprint appointment; (4) the applicant fails to provide a competent interpreter at an interview; (5) the applicant is requested to provide additional evidence after an interview (though I have never seen this used as a basis to stop the Clock); or (6) the applicant fails to appear to receive and acknowledge an asylum decision in person (if required). Other--unspecified--delays can also cause the Clock to stop in the Asylum Office or in Court.

    Also, the Clock sometimes stops for random and unpredictable reasons: In court, different Immigration Judges interpret the rules differently and inconsistently, and so in some cases, one IJ would stop the Clock (or refuse to start it) in a situation where another IJ would do the opposite. Also, the Clock sometimes stops due to administrative error. Correcting these problems or re-starting the Clock is a real hassle, and some people who are eligible for EADs do not receive them.

    Over the last few years, we have seen some improvements in the operation of the Asylum Clock, and it has become less common for the Clock to stop. One particular improvement at the Asylum Office was that moving the case to a new jurisdiction would not cause the Clock to stop--that way, if a person moved within 180 days of filing for asylum, she could still receive her EAD. But that policy has now been reversed, at least according to the notes I received from a recent meeting at the Arlington Asylum Office--

    Please note that for the purpose of the 180-day Asylum employment authorization document (EAD) clock, a request to transfer a case to a new asylum office or interview location (including when the transfer is based on a new address) is considered a delay requested or caused by the applicant. This transfer will cause the EAD clock to stop. The 180-day Asylum EAD clock is resumed once the new asylum office transfers in the applicant’s case.

    Given the new last-in, first-out policy, perhaps the change makes sense from the Asylum Office's point of view, but asylum seekers will now need to be more cautious about moving. The bottom line is this: If you move and your case is transferred to a different Asylum Office, the Clock will stop. For how long it will stop is unclear. But since the Clock is notorious for stopping easily and only re-starting with difficultly, it seems important for affirmative asylum seekers to avoid moving after they file for asylum.

    Once you reach 180 days on the Clock, moving has no effect, but to be extra-safe, I am now advising my clients not to move until they actually receive the EAD card. Of course, if you move, and your case remains at the same Asylum Office, there should be no effect. You can check whether moving will cause your case to be transferred to a new office by visiting the Asylum Office Locator and entering your old and new zip codes.

    Another development to discuss is the recent Attorney General memo that rescinds a number of prior memos. There have been rumors that the purpose of this memo is to prevent asylum seekers from obtaining an EAD while their cases are pending. The memo itself does not end EADs for asylum seekers, but whether this memo is a precursor to such a move, I do not know. The government seems to have the authority to end EADs for asylum seekers (the statute says, "An applicant for asylum is not entitled to employment authorization, but such authorization may be provided under regulation by the Attorney General"). But given that the new EAD application form allows for work permits for people with pending asylum cases, it seems unlikely that the government will end EADs for such people, at least in the near term.

    Finally, there is a new EAD application, form I-765. I will write more on this another time, but one major change is that asylum applicants must indicate whether they have been arrested for a crime. Many asylum seekers have been arrested for political reasons, as opposed to crimes, so what should they do? The I-765 instructions state that the applicant must list all arrests and convictions, which seems broader than the question actually listed on the form itself (which refers only to arrests for crimes). At this stage, I think it is safer to be over-inclusive. For our clients, if they have been arrested for any reason, even for a political reason, we will reveal that on the form and provide information about it. If there are no records of the arrest, which there often are not, we will include an affidavit from the client about what happened. Whether this will satisfy USCIS, I do not know. But until we learn more, this is the approach we will take.

    So I suppose the good news is that asylum seekers are still eligible to obtain work authorization. They do need to be careful about moving before they receive the EAD card, though. When we know more about the new EAD form, or if there are changes to the process, I will try to post an update here.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. An Update on LIFO and the Asylum Backlog (or, The Fix that Wasn’t)

    On January 29, 2018, the Asylum Division changed the way it prioritizes cases. Since 2015, asylum applicants were being interviewed in the order that their cases were filed. Oldest cases first, followed by newer cases (“first in, first out” or FIFO). During this period, the number of people waiting for an interview—the backlog—grew and grew.

    Now, under the new system, cases are interviewed on a “last in, first out” basis or LIFO. This is basically the same system we had prior to 2015. The backlog began under the pre-2015 LIFO because the Asylum Offices did not have the people-power to interview everyone who applied for asylum. The result: Some cases were interviewed, while others “disappeared” into the backlog. Because this was unfair to “disappeared” applicants, the Asylum Division eventually switched to FIFO, which had the virtue of being more fair, but did nothing to ameliorate the backlog.


    Most experts believe the backlog will be resolved by the late 25th century. Biddi biddi biddi.

    Under the Trump Administration, what’s old is new again, and so we are back to LIFO. How is LIFO working out? Some new data from USCIS gives us an idea. The short answer, if you don’t have time to read this whole post, is that the backlog is not about to be resolved any time soon. So if you are currently stuck waiting for an asylum interview, you might want to get comfortable, as you’ll probably be waiting for a while (or you can try to expedite your case). If you have time to keep reading, let’s look at where we are, and how you can best navigate through LIFO-land.

    First, as of March 31, 2018, there were 318,624 asylum applications pending in the backlog. That’s “applications” not “applicants.” Since some applications include multiple family members, the number of people stuck in the affirmative asylum backlog is probably quite a bit higher than 318,624.

    In response to the backlog, the Asylum Division has taken several actions. For years now, they’ve been staffing up. According to a recent report from the USCIS Ombudsman, since FY 2016, the number of Asylum Officers has increased from 533 to 686 (and they continue to hire – if you want to sign up, check out this job posting). Since we've dramatically reduced the number of refugees coming to the U.S., Refugee Officers have more free time, and so they are being rotated through the Asylum Offices on 12-week stints. We are also expecting a new National Vetting Center (in 2019 or 2020) that will deal with security checks and fraud issues, in order to free up more time for Asylum Officers to do their work. All these changes should allow the Asylum Offices to process more cases.

    We also now have LIFO. Under this system, the Asylum Offices prioritize cases as follows: First priority are rescheduled interviews, whether the interview was rescheduled by the Asylum Office or the applicant. Second priority are asylum applications that have been pending less than 21 days. This does not mean you will receive an interview within 21 days of filing. Rather, cases less than 21 days old will receive priority to be scheduled for an interview. Third priority are all other affirmative cases, including the 318,624 currently in the backlog.

    According to the Ombudsman’s report, not all new cases will receive priority for an interview:

    Cases subject to interviews at “circuit ride” locations (generally a USCIS field office situated closer than the asylum office to an applicant’s residence) will not fall under the 21-day time frame. Rather, the Asylum Division will schedule these cases for interviews as resources permits.

    This means that if you want a quick interview, you have to live in a location that is covered by one of the main offices or a sub-office (Arlington, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York, New Orleans or San Francisco), as opposed to a “circuit ride” location, which is a USCIS field office that is visited periodically by Asylum Officers (there are many, but some examples are Atlanta, Buffalo, and Seattle). I do not know of an on-line listing of areas covered by circuit ride locations, but I suppose you can email your Asylum Office to ask. If you live in a circuit-ride area, you can ask to be interviewed in a main office--sometimes they accommodate such requests.

    Assuming you file at one of the main or sub-offices, the likelihood of actually receiving an interview (as opposed to disappearing into the backlog) varies by office. The chart below is based on very preliminary data from the Asylum Division. It shows the (very approximate) likelihood of having your case interviewed in each office.

    In the chart, “New Cases Filed” is the number of asylum cases filed in that particular office for March 2018. “Interviews” is the number of interviews actually conducted in March 2018 (as opposed to the number of interviews scheduled and then canceled, which is quite a bit higher). The percentage figure is the rough likelihood that an applicant in that particular office would have received an interview in March 2018. And the “Completed” column shows how many cases were completed during the month, which—when compared to the number of cases filed—gives an idea of how much the backlog grew or shrunk in that office for March 2018 (the +/- in the Completed column).

    Office New Cases Filed Interviews Completed
    Arlington 920 494 / 54% 408 / +512
    Boston 289 132 / 46% 178 / +111
    Chicago 550 675 / 100% 550 / +0
    Houston 751 583 / 78% 504 / +247
    Los Angeles 997 708 / 71% 1,243 / -246
    Miami 2,219 798 / 36% 920 / +1,299
    Newark 668 792 / 100% 865 / -197
    New York 802 690 / 86% 883 / -81
    New Orleans 206 166 / 81% 280 / -74
    San Francisco 653 529 / 81% 687 / -34

    There are some caveats to this chart. First, I compare new cases filed with cases interviewed to determine the likelihood that you will receive an interview in that particular office. This is an apples/oranges comparison since we don’t know how many of the interviews were newly filed cases, as opposed to rescheduled interviews or expedites. Worse, the cases interviewed were probably filed in January or February, since it takes some time to actually schedule the interview. This makes the comparison even less reliable. Second, this data is for only one month, and March was probably not a “normal” month, in that the system was still adjusting to the change from FIFO to LIFO. So how useful this chart is for predicting the likelihood of an interview going forward, I do not know. Finally, this chart was prepared by me. Using math. Since I’m no Ramanujan, you should take all this with a big grain of salt.

    That said, this is the best data we have, and maybe we can draw some tentative conclusions. For one, the backlog is generally growing, not shrinking. However, this varies by office. If your case is stuck in an office where the backlog is growing, it is unlikely that you will get an interview any time soon. If you are in an office where the backlog is shrinking, maybe you will eventually receive an interview. Also, if you are a new applicant and you want an interview quickly, you may be better off filing in Chicago or Newark, since they seem to be interviewing pending cases faster than they are receiving new cases (conversely, if you want a slower interview schedule, you are better off living in an area covered by a circuit ride location or an office where the backlog is growing). Again, all this is quite preliminary, and we will have to see how things progress when they release the next batch of data in a few months.

    Another bit of information we can glean from the Ombudsman report is that local asylum offices “report a 25 percent drop in affirmative receipts in the immediate aftermath of the change to LIFO scheduling." The implication/hope is that the new LIFO system is deterring people from filing frivolous asylum claims. I think there is another, more likely explanation, however. In my office, for example, when the Asylum Division switched from FIFO to LIFO, we stopped filing cases for a few months in order to adjust how we filed (under FIFO, we filed a bare-bones application, consisting of the I-589 form and the passport; under LIFO, we file a complete case, which takes much longer to prepare). My guess is that once people adjust to LIFO, there will be little change in the number of cases being filed (of course, since fewer aliens are coming to the U.S. these days, we can expect fewer asylum applications for that reason).

    One final piece of news is a pilot program to refer one-year bar cases directly to the Immigration Court without an interview. The Asylum Division has identified up to 50,000 pending cases where the applicant entered the U.S. more than 10 years before filing for asylum. Such people may have filed for asylum in order to be referred to Court, where they will seek other relief (most notably, Cancellation of Removal). So far, the Asylum Division has contacted about 1,500 such people, and given them the option to skip the interview and go directly to Court. Depending on the case, and the person's goals, this may be an attractive option for some, though I suspect anyone with a real fear of returning to the home country will prefer to have an asylum interview.

    So there you have it. It is probably too soon to draw any firm conclusions from the data at hand, but based on what we know so far, it seems likely that the backlog will be with us for the long term. Keeping informed about the Asylum Office's statistics and policies may allow some applicants to increase their chance for an interview. As more data becomes available, I will try to post that information here.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, backlog Add / Edit Tags
  3. Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers Protect Us All

    I’ve never been a big fan of the Martin Niemöller poem about the Nazi era, “First they came…” You know the one:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist,
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew,
    ...yadda, yadda, yadda…
    Then they came for me – And there was no one left to speak for me.

    I have two complaints about this poem. First, it implies that the main reason to “speak out” on behalf of others is self-interest: If I don’t help others, no one will help me. That seems a weak foundation for a system of moral behavior. Second, I don’t think Pastor Niemöller’s basic point—that eventually a malicious government will come for everyone—is convincing to the people who need convincing. Nazi supporters certainly did not think that their government would turn against them. And the fact is, Hitler did not persecute most of the people who stood by his side (he caused them great misery, but that is another story).


    Due Process of Law...

    Fast forward to our own time, and President Trump’s attacks on non-citizens. Last month, the President announced his opposition to due process of law for asylum seekers: “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” he wrote on Twitter. And a series of new legal, policy, and personnel changes represent clear moves in the direction of weakening due process protections for non-citizens, and making it easier to deny cases—including asylum cases—without a full review of the applicant’s claim.

    Why should we be so concerned about due process, you ask? For one thing, due process is a foundational principle of our democracy (and its origins go all the way back to the Magna Charta). The Founding Fathers were rightly concerned about the exercise of government power against individuals. Due process provides a procedural check on that power—the government’s authority cannot be unleashed in a criminal, civil or immigration case without first ensuring that the use of that power is lawful. In the case of non-citizens, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) provides certain legal rights to non-citizens, including the right to apply for asylum. The Supreme Court has recognized—repeatedly—that aliens are entitled to due process of law before they can be deported.

    What does due process look like in the immigration context? The protections afforded to non-citizens vary, depending on many factors, including the type of case, the relief sought, and whether the alien is inside the U.S. or seeking admission at the border. In the asylum context, an alien who is physically present in the United States or at a border has the right to seek asylum. That is the law (specifically INA §208). In most cases, asylum seekers are entitled to a full hearing to evaluate their claims. However, the Trump Administration has been working hard to eliminate due process protections, and reduce the system’s safeguards (for a sobering analysis of the Trump Administration’s degradation of due process for non-citizens, check out this article by the brilliant Jeffrey S. Chase). But thus far, the Trump Administration has not changed the immigration law—that requires an act of Congress.


    Assuming that Congress does not act (usually a safe assumption), some measure of due process will remain for all asylum seekers—even those at the border. But of course, reducing due process means increasing the likelihood that legitimate claims will be denied, and that some aliens will be returned to face harm.


    Dupe Process of Law.

    All this brings us back to Pastor Neimöller. I have little hope that President Trump’s supporters or Republicans in Congress will have a sudden change of heart, or recognize that when due process protections are reduced for some, those protections are reduced for us all. They seem to believe that while the government might come for non-citizens, it will not come for them. Or in the case of our elected officials, they may know better, but are cowed by the President’s Twitter account. Either way, we can’t expect much help here.

    So where does that leave us? Who will speak out?

    The primary decision-makers in asylum cases—the people on the front line—are Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers. There are other players, of course: The federal courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and USCIS Officers, but in most cases, it will be the IJs and Asylum Officers who determine the applicant’s fate. Here, I do have hope. Despite seeming efforts (probably illegal) by the Justice Department to exclude politically undesirable candidates, most IJs and Asylum Officers are serious people who recognize their duty to the rule of law. They were not hired to rubber stamp the President's agenda, and most will not do so.

    And while I can't say I am a fan of Pastor Neimöller's famous quote, I do think he is correct in this sense: When we weaken the legal mechanisms and institutions that protect us from excessive government power, we all become more vulnerable. Perhaps non-citizens are the canaries in the coal mine. As the government seeks to reduce due process protections for them, we should all be concerned. Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers stand on the front line of this fight, and when they do their duty, they protect us all.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. The Attorney General's Not-as-Bad-as-We-Feared Decision on Asylum

    We knew this was coming. On March 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to revisit a Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") case called Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2018), which granted asylum to a victim of domestic violence from El Salvador. Now, the Attorney General has reversed A-B- and issued a wide-ranging opinion that seeks to limit asylum for victims of domestic violence and other criminal activity.


    Attorney General Jeff Sessions explains why asylum seekers are bad.


    There is a lot to say about the AG's decision, but here I want to focus on two issues: (1) Who is affected by the decision, and (2) Why the decision may not have the broad impact that the AG seems to have intended.

    Matter of A-B- most immediately impacts victims of domestic violence. Since 1999, the law related to asylum for DV victims has been evolving. Different lawyers and government agencies have worked to crack open the door for such applicants. The end result of their efforts was Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), which created a convoluted path for victims of DV to obtain asylum. I think it was fairly apparent that A-R-C-G- was a house of cards, waiting for a hostile Administration to knock it down. And in Matter of A-B-, Mr. Sessions has done just that--he has overturned nearly two decades of evolving precedent, and overruled A-R-C-G-.

    How, exactly, Mr. Sessions has attempted to block DV asylum seekers is important. To win asylum, an applicant must not only show that she faces harm; she must demonstrate that the harm she faces is on account of a protected ground, such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group ("PSG"). So if a persecutor wants to kill you in order to steal your money, that is usually not a basis for asylum. But if the persecutor wants to harm you because he does not like your political opinion, or race, or religion, or PSG, that can form the basis for an asylum claim. A-R-C-G- said that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” can constitute a PSG, making such people potentially eligible for asylum (assuming they met a host of other requirements).

    In A-B-, the Attorney General is saying that this PSG formulation was erroneous, and so victims of DV can no longer use it as a basis for asylum. Such victims can still attempt to win asylum based on other protected grounds (maybe they are a member of an acceptable PSG, for example, or maybe the persecutor seeks to harm them due to their religion or for some other "protected" reason). But the fact is, many of these (mostly) women will no longer qualify for asylum, and will be sent home to face whatever "vile abuse" (Jeff Sessions's words) that is awaiting them.

    The impact of A-B- is clearly meant to reach beyond the realm of DV asylum, but how it will be interpreted outside the immediate circumstances of the case is unclear (at least to me). For example, in the decision, Mr. Sessions writes, "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum." Indeed, the decision makes multiple references to "gang violence," but as far as I can tell, gang violence is not an issue in the case. This is strange, since normally, courts decide issues that are before them; not abstract issues that are obliquely related to the subject of the case.

    So if they are presented with an asylum claim involving "gang violence," how will Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers apply Matter of A-B-? It's difficult to know. The AG's vague pronouncements about "gang violence" are not easily translated into legal guidance for adjudicators. Of course, adjudicators who want to deny a case can find additional support for such a decision here, but those who want to grant a case are not blocked from doing so.

    There's also the more general issue of "persecution based on violent conduct of a private [as opposed to government] actor," which could include harm against LGBT individuals, FGM, threats from terrorists groups, etc. The AG states that in such cases, an asylum applicant "must show more than difficulty controlling private behavior... The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or at least demonstrated a complete helplessness to protect the victims." In other words, says the AG, "Applicants must show not just that the crime has gone unpunished, but that the government is unwilling or unable to prevent it." Maybe I'm missing something here, but this is the exact same legal standard we've had since the asylum statute was enacted. As I read Matter of A-B-, I don't expect big changes for people seeking asylum based on sexual orientation or FGM, or those fleeing terrorists, even though these cases typically involve persecution by non-state actors.

    In fact, though Matter of A-B- will block many DV victims from obtaining asylum, I am not sure that its effects will be broadly felt. Much of the decision is hyperbole without substance: "Generally," asylum claims based on persecution by non-state actors will fail. Generalizations like this aren't guidance for adjudicators; they are propaganda. And then there are helpful chestnuts like this:

    Neither immigration judges nor the Board may avoid the rigorous analysis required in determining asylum claims, especially where victims of private violence claim persecution based on membership in a particular social group.... Furthermore, the Board, immigration judges, and all asylum officers must consider, consistent with the regulations, whether internal relocation in the alien’s home country presents a reasonable alternative before granting asylum.

    In other words, adjudicators are supposed to follow the law. No duh.

    I don't know why the AG used Matter of A-B- to make a broad statement against people fleeing violence from non-state actors (as opposed to limiting his ruling to the facts of the case). But the decision's platitudes and generalizations are not conducive to the type of legal precedent that can guide decision makers.

    Perhaps Mr. Sessions hopes that his anti-asylum rhetoric and exhortations to "follow the law" will set the tone for adjudicators at the Immigration Courts and Asylum Offices. Maybe he believes that his disdain for immigrants can somehow be transmitted through the bureaucracy to the men and women deciding cases. But in my experience, IJs and Asylum Officers are not lemmings who exist to do the AG's bidding. They are adjudicators empowered to interpret the law.

    After Matter of A-B-, some applicants will have a tougher time obtaining asylum; others will be unaffected. In a strange sense, this decision gives me hope. If this is the best Mr. Sessions can do, it is not enough to end asylum as we know it. Thanks to Mr. Sessions, many domestic violence victims will be returned to face harm, but our country will continue to offer protection to many others. For that, I am thankful.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, bia, sessions Add / Edit Tags
  5. Attorney as Counselor; Attorney as Cheerleader

    It's not easy to be an asylum seeker these days. Between the government's efforts--often disingenuous--to undermine asylum claims, the long delays, and the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, the process has become more stressful and more unfair than at any time in recent memory.


    Some people just weren't meant to be cheerleaders.


    It's also become more difficult for attorneys who represent asylum seekers. Given the government's unpredictability, we can’t easily advise our clients or evaluate their cases. It's also harder to help them understand the process and to predict how long they will wait for an interview or a decision. In other words, it's more difficult to serve as a counselor for our clients.

    It's also more difficult to offer our clients encouragement and hope. The long delays and hostile environment have made the asylum process (and the immigration process in general) more stressful. Clients need a sense of hope, and they need to feel someone is on their side. Hence, attorney as cheerleader.

    Fulfilling both jobs—counselor and cheerleader—is not easy, and at times, the two roles can be contradictory. So how can we as lawyers provide honest counsel and still offer our clients hope?

    First, I have found that even clients in the most dire circumstances appreciate hearing the unvarnished truth about their cases. Especially in the beginning, when it is time to evaluate the case and present the client her options, it is important not to sugarcoat the odds of success or gloss over potential obstacles. I sometimes have a tendency towards pessimism when I evaluate a case, as I don’t want to give the client unrealistic expectations. I also want the client to know what she is up against, so she can make her own decisions about how to proceed.

    Also, of course, it is very important for the client to understand the problems in the case. Is there a one-year bar issue? Or other bars to asylum? Are there potential credibility problems? Is there important evidence that will be difficult to obtain? All this we need to know, so that the client and the lawyer together can prepare the strongest possible case.

    The client needs to understand the process of seeking asylum, in all its dysfunctional glory. He needs to know how long a case might take, and whether it will likely be referred to court. He also needs to know about the limits of what we lawyers know. The fact is, the system is a mess. Even people working within the system often cannot predict how long a case will take, and lawyers like me certainly don’t know. We have to convey this uncertainty to the client, so he can understand the range of possible events. With the most accurate (albeit limited) information available, the client can make the best possible decisions for himself and his family.

    In short, it is very important that the client understand his situation as clearly as possible, so he can prepare his case, make informed decisions, and have some sense of his prospects for success. But once the client understands the case and decides to go forward, he needs support and hope. He needs to feel that success is possible, and that he won’t be stuck forever in limbo. This is where the cheerleading comes in.

    The process of seeking asylum is long (despite—or maybe because of—LIFO). It’s also grueling. Many clients want to forget about the bad things that happened to them back home. But for those mired in asylum-land, they cannot put traumatic events behind them. Also, many asylum seekers are separated from their families, which is particularly difficult and stressful for those with young children. There’s also the overall uncertainty of not knowing whether you can stay in the U.S. or you will have to leave. Should you buy a house? Build a life? What if your case is denied and you lose it all? Any human being living through such uncertainty will feel stress, but it’s even worse for asylum seekers, many of whom have suffered trauma, and whose family members may still be in danger. People in this situation need hope.

    There is a school of thought—which was already outdated when I was in law school—that the client’s emotional needs are not the attorney’s problem. If the client needs a shoulder to cry on, he should find a friend. Or a therapist. It doesn’t help that we lawyers don’t receive much training in counseling, and that we’re usually super busy and don’t have time to sit and listen to the client’s troubles. There's also the issue of attorney burn-out. Getting too emotionally involved in a case can lead to more stress and less objectivity, which is not good for the lawyer, or, ultimately, for the client. Despite all this, lawyers can offer clients hope and positivity in order to help them get through the difficult process of asylum.


    How to do this? One way is to focus on aspects of the case that are within the client's control: Obtaining evidence and witnesses, preparing the affidavit, applying for the work permit, trying to expedite or short-list the case. Much of the asylum process cannot be influenced by the client (or the lawyer), and so taking steps that are within the client's power at least gives her a sense of agency.


    We can also encourage clients to live their lives as normally as possible: Get a job, go to school, get married, have children. To the extent possible, it is better to build a life, instead of allowing the uncertainty of an asylum case to rule your day-to-day existence.


    Finally, we can try to emphasize the positive aspects of the case. Once the client is going forward with the case and understands the challenges, there is no point in focusing on the negative. If it's very unlikely that your client can overcome the one-year bar, for example, do everything possible to help the client demonstrate an exception to the bar, but once that is done, offer the client some encouragement: Some Immigration Judges or Asylum Officers will interpret the bar more liberally, maybe the client will get lucky, etc.


    These are difficult times for asylum seekers in the U.S. As attorneys, we have to continually push ourselves to be more compassionate and more patient. I know personally how difficult that can be, but if we want to best serve our clients and stand up to the forces against them, that is what we must do.

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