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Possibly the most common question I hear at initial consultations with asylum seekers is, "What are the chances that I will win my case?" It's a reasonable question. People want to know the likelihood of success before they start any endeavor. The problem is, it's impossible to answer this question. Why is that?
The other Impossible Question: "Does this dress make me look fat?"
One reason is mathematical. Probabilities are tricky to calculate and even more tricky to understand. Also, it is very hard to apply probabilities in a meaningful way to a single event. What does it mean, for example, when the weather report shows a 30% chance of rain? If you run 100 computer simulations of the weather, it will rain 30 times. But in the real world, it will either rain or it won't. The problem is that we do not have complete information to start with, and that there are too many variables to predict precisely how the weather will evolve over time. Without sufficient information, we have to approximate, and we are left with a range of possible outcomes and probabilities. As Niels Bohr observed, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."
Another difficulty is that predicting case outcomes involves human beings, and we are a notoriously capricious species. At the outset of a case, the lawyer may not know whether the client can get needed evidence, or whether she can remember her testimony, or how a witness will behave. Also, the lawyer may not know who the fact finder will be (with Immigration Court cases, we usually know in advance; for Asylum Office cases, we never know until the day of the interview). Also, what if the fact finder is in a particularly good or bad mood on the day of the case? Or what if she is hungry during the case (one Israeli study famously correlated favorable parole decisions to whether the judge had recently eaten lunch!)? These "human factors" can greatly affect the decision, and few of them can be known in advance, which again makes predicting difficult.
That's not to say we know nothing about the likelihood of success. For Immigration Court cases, there is data available about the grant rates of individual Judges. Also, there is some data available about Asylum Office grant rates. Of course, all of this is very general and does not necessarily bear much relationship to the likely outcome in a given individual's case, but I suppose it's better than nothing.
As a lawyer, once you get a sense for asylum cases, you can at least give the client some idea about the outcome. I can tell a strong case from a weak case, for example. If the client has a lot of credible evidence, has suffered past persecution on account of a protected ground, and faces some likelihood of future harm, the client has a strong case. The most I will say to such a prospective client is that, "If the adjudicator believes that you are telling the truth, you should win your case." I might also say that since the corroborating evidence is strong, it is likely that the adjudicator will believe the claim.
I do think there is a basic human desire behind the question about the chances for success, and that is the desire for certainty. Asylum cases now take years, and it is very difficult to live your life for so long under the threat of deportation. When the clients ask about the likelihood of success, I know part of what they want is reassurance. Even if the case is weak, they want to feel like they have a chance. They want to feel that what they are building in the U.S. while they wait for a decision will not all be lost. How, then, do we balance the need for certainty with providing an honest evaluation of the case?
For my clients, I try to give them both honesty and hope. In the beginning, I give the client my honest assessment of the case and the likelihood of success. Knowing my assessment (whether it is good or bad), if the client decides to go forward, my focus shifts to creating the strongest case possible with the facts and evidence available, and to helping reassure the clients so they feel some hope. I try to encourage the client to do what is within their power to make the case better: Gather evidence, talk to witnesses, find experts, etc. At least this helps empower the client a bit, and it gives them some agency over their case outcome.
Different lawyers do things differently, and there are probably many "right" ways to balance realism and hope. There are also wrong ways. Any lawyer who "guarantees" you will win an asylum case is a lawyer you should avoid. No lawyer can guarantee a win because we do not make the decisions--the government does. Also, lawyers who make dubious promises ("I am good friends with your Judge, so I can get you a quicker hearing date") are probably lying to get your business. Be careful, and remember that offers that seem too good to be true probably are. For all its flaws, the American immigration system is largely free from corruption. Lawyers don't have special relationships with adjudicators that can change outcomes or speed adjudication. When a lawyer oversells hope at the expense of realism, you are safer to seek a different attorney; one who is more interested in telling the truth than in selling you his services.
So when a prospective client asks me the chances for success, I'll try to give the best evaluation I can, so that the person can make an informed choice about whether to file an asylum case. Once the case is started, I will try to address weakness and gather evidence to maximize the chances for a win. I will also try to encourage the client, so that she has some hope during the long wait.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Following the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where the husband-and-wife perpetrators had purportedly become radicalized via the internet, Congress requested that the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") take steps to better investigate the social media accounts of immigrant applicants (the husband was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani decent; his wife was a lawful permanent resident from Pakistan). In response, DHS established a task force and several pilot programs to expand social media screening of people seeking immigration benefits and U.S. visas. DHS also approved creation of a Social Media Center of Excellence, which would conduct social media background checks for the various DHS departments. The Center of Excellence would "set standards for social media use in relevant DHS operations while ensuring privacy and civil rights and civil liberties protections."
The director of the Center of Excellence, Bill S. Preston, Esquire.
Last month, the DHS Office of Inspector General released a (clumsily) redacted report detailing the efficacy of DHS's efforts and making suggestions. Due to the incomplete redaction job, it seems likely that the pilot program focused on refugees and perhaps asylum seekers, but the plan is to expand the program to cover all types of immigration benefits.
The goal of the pilot program was to help develop policies and processes for the standardized use of social media department-wide. "USCIS had previously used social media in a limited capacity, but had no experience using it as a large-scale screening tool." The pilot program relied on manual and automated searches of social media accounts to "determine whether useful information for adjudicating refugee applications could be obtained." It seems that the ability of DHS to investigate social media accounts was limited by technology: At the time the pilot program was launched in 2016, "neither the private sector nor the U.S. Government possessed the capabilities for large-scale social media screening."
In one portion of the pilot program, applicants were asked to "voluntarily" give their social media user names. USCIS then "assessed identified accounts to determine whether the refugees were linked to derogatory social media information that could impact their eligibility for immigration benefits or admissibility into the United States."
DHS has also been looking into social media, email, and other computer files of people entering or leaving the United States, including U.S. citizens, and this inquiry is far from voluntary. There have been numerous recent reports of DHS Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") agents demanding passwords for cell phones and computers. The number of people subject to such searches increased significantly at the end of the Obama Administration, and seems to be further increasing under President Trump. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the large majority of people targeted for these searches are Muslim.
All this means that DHS may be looking at your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. to determine whether you pose a threat and (possibly) to assess your credibility. They might also gain access to your email and other information stored on your computer or your cell phone. This data could then be used to evaluate your eligibility for immigration benefits, including asylum.
On the one hand, it seems reasonable that DHS would want to look into social media and other on-line material. After all, it is well-known that terrorists rely on the internet to spread their messages, and as DHS notes, "As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP." Also, most immigration benefits are discretionary, meaning that even if you qualify for them, the U.S. government can deny them in the exercise of discretion. Therefore, if DHS "requests" certain information as part of the application process, and the applicant fails to provide it, DHS can deny the benefit as a matter of discretion.
On the other hand, the inter-connectivity of the on-line world could yield evidence of relationships that do not actually exists. For example, one study estimates that Facebook users (all 1.6 billion of them) are connected to each other by 3.57 degrees of separation. That means there are--on average--only 3.57 people between you and Osama bin Laden (assuming he still maintains his Facebook page). But of course, it is worse than that, since there are many terrorist suspects on Facebook, not just one (Osama bin Laden). So if you are from a terrorist-producing country, it's likely that suspected terrorists are separated from you by less than 3.57 degrees of separation. Presumably, DHS would take these metrics into account when reviewing on-line data, but you can see the problem--your on-line profile may indicate you have a relationship with someone with whom you have no relationship at all.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
First, don't be paranoid. It's nothing new for DHS or other government agencies to search your on-line profile. Since everything posted on-line is, at least in a sense, public, you should be discrete about what you post, and you should be aware that anyone--including the U.S. government--could be reading it.
What's more problematic is when CBP seizes electronic devices at the border and then reviews emails and other confidential information. This is extremely intrusive and an invasion of privacy. There is also an argument that it violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful searches, but generally, people coming and gong from the U.S. have less protection than people in the interior (though I imagine that as CBP steps up the practice, we will see lawsuits that further define Fourth Amendment rights at the border). Knowing that you could be subject to such a search at least enables you to prepare yourself. Don't travel with devices if you don't want them searched. Be careful what you store on your devices and in the cloud.
Also, if you think you have problematic on-line relationships or derogatory on-line information, be prepared to explain yourself and present evidence if the issue comes up.
On-line information can affect an asylum or immigration case in more subtle ways. For example, if you state in your application that you attended a protest on a particular date, make sure you got the date correct--DHS may be able to find out the date of the protest, and if your account of events does not match the on-line information, it could affect your credibility. The same is true for more personal information. For instance, if your asylum application indicates you attended high school from 1984 to 1987, that should match any available information on the internet. Mostly, this simply requires that you take care to accurately complete your immigration forms, so that there are no inconsistencies with data available on-line.
Again, it's not really news that DHS is reviewing social media and other on-line information. It does appear that such practices will become more common, but as long as applicants are aware of what is happening, they can prepare for it.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Updated 03-15-2017 at 10:46 AM by JDzubow
Earlier this week, President Trump issued a new Executive Order ("EO") to replace one of his prior orders, which was largely blocked by the federal courts. The new EO, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, temporarily bans certain nationals of six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and reduces the total number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle in FY 2017. Whether the new ban can withstand court scrutiny, and how it will ultimately effect who can come to our country, remains to be seen.
"My favorite four-letter word."
For those foreigners already in the United States, the new ban has little legal effect. The immigration status of permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers remains essentially untouched. One possible exception is for family members of asylees and refugees who are hoping to come to the U.S. on a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (form I-730). Such relatives from the six "banned" nations--Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen--may be ineligible for a visa for a 90-day period. However, even this is unclear, as the EO provides a number of exceptions for nationals of banned countries, and such relatives may be entitled to an exception (depending on how you read the EO).
So for non-citizens in the U.S., including those from banned countries, the EO has almost no effect on their legal status here. That's not to say that the EO has no effect--it certainly does. But that effect relates to the message the EO sends and the psychological damage it inflicts on Muslims and on non-citizens. Indeed, for this population, the effects of the anti-terrorism EO are similar to the effects of an actual terrorist attack in certain key ways.
Like a terrorist attack, the number of people directly impacted by the EO is much smaller than the number of people terrorized by it. The new EO is very narrowly tailored, so much so that it almost does not make sense. For example, the Administration claims that vetting for the six banned countries is insufficient. Yet the order allows nationals of those countries who already have visas to come to the United States. If there is a problem with the vetting, shouldn't all the "improperly" vetted visas be revoked? Presumably, the Administration wants to avoid another humiliating defeat in court, but the limited scope of the EO seems to undercut the very rationale for its existence.
On the other hand, if the purpose of the EO is not really to block people from coming here, but rather to frighten people who are already here (Muslim Americans and non-citizens), the limited legal effect is less of a concern. As long as the order stands up in court--and even if it doesn't--Mr. Trump has sent a strong message to the intended audience (really, there are two intended audiences: Mr. Trump's supporters who want to see him fighting against "the others" and "the others" themselves, who feel targeted and excluded by the Administration's policies). In this sense, the EO mirrors a classic terrorist tactic--limited impact (because you have insufficient resources to have a wider impact) with maximum effect (everyone in the targeted population is frightened).
And make no mistake, the EOs and the accompanying rhetoric are affecting their intended targets. Reports indicate that non-citizens and their children are under great stress due to President Trump's words and policies. This stress can have harmful and life-long effects, especially on children. Muslims, including American citizens, have been subject to a barrage of bigoted statements from the President and his surrogates, and they are also suffering from similar types of stress. Some refugees are fleeing the United States, which they now view as unsafe, for Canada. So while the legal effect of the EOs may be small, the harm is very real, and very damaging.
Mr. Trump's EOs are similar to terrorism in another important way: They help create a vicious cycle. Terrorists rarely have the power to conquer territory. Instead, the purpose of their attacks is to draw a response. Unless the response is careful and precise (a rarity), it can cause further alienation and anger, thus driving more people into the terrorists' camp--a vicious cycle. In the case of the EOs, they help justify the narrative that groups like ISIS have been peddling (that the United States is at war with Islam). They also frighten and alienate people living in our country, particularly Muslims and non-citizens. Since alienated and frightened people are more likely to embrace extremism, the EOs are a type of self-fulfilling prophesy: EOs push people towards extremism, extremism justifies more EOs. It's a vicious cycle analogous to the one created by terrorism.
Finally, the EOs do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger campaign to demonize foreigners and Muslims. The whole effort of the Trump Administration towards such people is irresponsible and dangerous. It puts our country at greater risk by encouraging extremism and discouraging cooperation. But unfortunately, this Administration has proved again and again that it will not allow facts to get in the way of ideology, or sound policy advice to contradict prejudice. The new Executive Order is just the latest example of the misguided course our country is now taking. We are all less safe because of it.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
This article is by Ruth Dickey, a brilliant and dashing associate at Dzubow & Picher, PLLC.
During the latter part of the Obama Administration, it became common for DHS/ICE attorneys (the prosecutors) in Immigration Court to offer "prosecutorial discretion" or PD. If the applicant accepted PD and the Immigration Judge agreed, the case would be administratively closed. Basically, it would be taken off the court's calendar and placed into a permanently pending status. Applicants with weak cases might take PD rather than risk losing their cases with the Judge and getting ordered deported.
Perhaps USCIS has a case of the Gremlins. First, they sabotaged B-17's and P-52's; now, they're messing with I-765's.
Under President Obama, PD was typically offered to people who were not enforcement priorities for ICE – that is, the person had positive factors, like long-term ties to the United States and did not have any disqualifying criminal issues. During the Obama Administration, ICE published a list of factors that prosecutors would consider when a person asked for PD. According to recent data, since 2013, almost 67,000 court cases have been administratively closed based on PD. This represents about 10% of all case closings in Immigration Court.
If your asylum case was administratively closed by an Immigration Judge, and if you had your employment authorization document ("EAD") based on a pending asylum case, you remain eligible to renew the EAD for as long as the case is in administrative closure (theoretically, forever). This is because the case is technically still pending, and thus still "alive" for purposes of renewing the EAD.
Since Donald Trump came into office, DHS has largely done away with PD, and so we can expect to see far fewer cases administratively closed in the future. However, our office has several asylum clients whose cases were already administratively closed. They have ongoing needs, such as the need for an EAD.
One of my clients in this situation is an Unaccompanied Alien Child or UAC. UACs are people who crossed the border as minors without a parent or guardian. Such people are given additional procedural protections. For example, UACs have the right to present their asylum claims to an Asylum Office, which is a less intimidating environment than an Immigration Court. In my case, an Immigration Judge administratively closed my client's case so she could file her case with the Asylum Office. Before the case was closed, I "lodged" her asylum application with the Court to start her “asylum clock,” which then allows her to file for an EAD (after a 150-day waiting period).
When the time came, our office prepared the EAD application (form I-765) and mailed it. Last week, we received a response denying the EAD. In its denial, USCIS referred to the applicable regulation, 8 CFR 208.7(a)(1), claiming that it said:
An applicant whose asylum application has been denied or closed by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day [clock] period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.
But this is not what the regulation says. USCIS inserted the phrase "or closed" into the language of the actual regulation. The full sentence in the regulation actually reads:
An applicant whose asylum application has been denied by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.
Someone at USCIS added the words “or closed” to their quotation of the regulation, and then denied our client's case because it had been administratively closed. The actual language of the regulation states that only denied--not closed--cases are ineligible for an EAD. The idea that USCIS would add language to the regulation in order to improperly deny someone--a UAC no less--their work permit is shocking and distressing.
I have already escalated the issue to the USCIS Ombudsman, an office within USCIS that can assist with delayed or difficult cases, because the denial is so problematic. I am waiting to hear back from them, but the Ombudsman’s review process can drag out for months, and my client will not have a work permit in the meantime. This is extremely frustrating for her, especially because she is young and vulnerable (she has that UAC designation for a reason).
If your case has been administratively closed and your EAD application has been denied, please let us know. If there are others experiencing this problem, we can present the issue to USCIS and hopefully seek a resolution of this unfair and harmful practice.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Earlier this week, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a memorandum describing how DHS plans to implement President Trump's policies concerning "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements." Here, I want to discuss how this memo could affect the asylum system.
First, for people granted asylum or who have obtained their residency (green card) or citizenship through asylum, the memo has essentially no effect. The only possible exception is that DHS plans to expand the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (affectionately referred to as the FDNS), and if DHS somehow discovers that a previously-granted case was, in fact, fraudulent, it could reopen that person's case. Also, given the Trump Administration's stepped-up enforcement, it is a good idea to carry proof of lawful status with you at all times, just in case you are stopped by the authorities (and in many cases, non-citizens are actually required by law to carry proof of immigration status).
Shade-enfreude (defined): The pleasure one gets knowing that someone with a darker skin tone is in pain.
For people with asylum cases currently pending--before the Asylum Office or the Immigration Court--the memo also has little effect. As I have written here before, a person with a pending asylum case cannot be deported from the United States without due process of law, meaning a hearing before an Immigration Judge and an appeal. So while the atmosphere for asylum seekers has become more toxic, the substantive law and procedure remains largely the same. As mentioned above, you should carry proof of your pending status (work permit, asylum receipt, court order) with you at all times.
One possible issue for people currently in the system is more delay. The DHS memo directs USCIS "to increase the number of asylum officers and FDNS officers assigned to detention facilities located at or near the border with Mexico to properly and efficiently adjudicate credible fear and reasonable fear claims and to counter asylum-related fraud." The memo also envisions a "joint plan with the Department of Justice to surge the deployment of immigration judges and asylum officers to interview and adjudicate claims asserted by recent border entrants." Assigning more Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges to the border (either by physically sending them there or by having them adjudicate cases remotely), obviously means that those adjudicators will not be available to work on the hundreds of thousands of cases in the backlog, and that could mean more delay. In addition, the memo calls for hiring thousands more immigration officers, and for stepped up enforcement and detention. If all that happens, many more people will be channeled into the Immigration Court system, and unless more judges (lots more judges) are hired, the influx of people into the system will cause further delay. On the other hand, the memo also calls for expanded use of "expedited removal," which may end up removing certain cases from the system and cause the remaining cases to move more quickly. How all this plays out, only time will tell.
Another possible issue for people with pending asylum cases is the increased focus on fraud. The Immigration and Nationality Act and the REAL ID Act, along with the Code of Federal Regulations, and case law set forth the standards for evaluating credibility. The DHS memo calls for "enhancing" asylum referrals and credible fear determinations. While this would not directly impact people with pending asylum cases (as asylum referrals and credible fear determinations occur prior to a case being sent to Immigration Court or to the Asylum Office), it might signal DHS's intention to subject asylum cases to greater scrutiny. Also, of course, expansion of the FDNS points towards a greater focus on asylum fraud, which could impact pending cases (personally, I think DHS should be doing more to combat asylum fraud, as long as they are doing so effectively, as I discuss here).
For people inside the United States who plan to seek asylum here, but have not yet filed, the memo may affect you. If you entered lawfully with a visa, you should be able to apply for asylum as before. Indeed, even if you entered unlawfully, you should be able to seek asylum as before. However, if you entered the U.S. without inspection or based on some type of fraud (how broadly "fraud" will be interpreted is not yet known), and you are detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) before you file for asylum, you could be subject to "expedited removal." People crossing the border illegally who get caught or who surrender to ICE agents may also be subject to expedited removal.
People facing expedited removal are permitted by law to request asylum. If they indicate a fear of harm in their country, the law requires that an Asylum Officer perform a "credible fear interview" where the person must demonstrate a "significant possibility" that they could establish eligibility for asylum. If they meet this standard, their case will be referred to an Immigration Judge for an asylum hearing. If they do not demonstrate a "significant possibility" of winning asylum, they can be removed immediately from the United States (subject to limited review by an Immigration Judge). The DHS memo indicates that the government will greatly expand the use of expedited removal, though the details of the plan have not yet been released.
As you might imagine, there are some major problems with the expedited removal process. For one, ICE officers often fail to inform aliens of their right to seek asylum (or ignore their requests to seek asylum). If this happens, people with a legitimate asylum claim may be removed from the United States before they have an opportunity to claim asylum or have a credible fear interview. The expedited removal process is quite fast and there is little chance to retain counsel and defend yourself, and no opportunity to see an Immigration Judge. In addition, the DHS memo seeks to expand the use of expedited removal and raise the evidentiary bar for credible fear interviews. All this will make it more difficult for asylum seekers who are subject to expedited removal from asserting their claims. I plan to write another post on this topic, but I will first wait for DHS to clarify its position on expedited removal (in the mean time, if you want to learn more, check out this excellent practice advisory by the American Immigration Council).
Per its campaign promises, the Trump Administration is ramping up immigration enforcement efforts. People who have won asylum, or who have already filed, are largely insulated from those efforts, and without Congressional action, it is likely to remain that way. But if you are in the United States and you plan to file for asylum, you should do so soon (at least before your lawful status expires). Remaining here lawfully is the best way to protect yourself from the Administration's enforcement efforts.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.