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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. What Happens When Asylum Is Granted?

    With all the bad news related to refugees and asylum seekers, I thought it might be nice to discuss something positive: What happens when an asylum case is granted?


    One of my clients celebrates her asylum grant.


    The fact is, despite the best efforts of the Trump Administration, people are still winning their cases. They are winning affirmatively at the Asylum Offices, and defensively in the Immigration Courts. There are some differences between an affirmative and a defensive grant, and weíll talk about those first.

    If an applicant wins at the Asylum Office, she receives a letter indicting that asylum was granted. The date on the letter and the date of the asylum grant are usually not the same. To find the date that asylum was granted, look in the body of the letter on the first page. It will indicate that ďasylum was granted onĒ a certain date. This is the date that matters for purposes of applying for a green card and obtaining certain government benefits.

    If asylum is granted in Court, the Immigration Judge will issue an order stating that asylum is granted. If the DHS attorney appeals, the case is not over, and will have to be adjudicated by the Board of Immigration Appeals. But if DHS does not appeal (or if the BIA has already indicated that asylum must be granted), then the case is over and the applicant has asylum. There is one more step that the applicant must take in order to complete the process. The person must bring his approval order and photo ID to USCIS, which will issue an I-94 indicating that the person has asylum, and will also create a new Employment Authorization Document ("EAD"). You can learn about that process here (check the link called post-order instructions).

    As soon as asylum is granted, you are eligible to work in the United States, even if you do not have an EAD (see Working in the United States). You can also get an unrestricted Social Security number by contacting the Social Security office.

    A person who wins asylum can file an I-730 petition for her spouse and children. To qualify for an I-730, the marriage must have existed prior to the date that asylum was granted. For a child to benefit from an I-730, the child must have been under 21 and unmarried at the time the asylum application was filed. If the child turned 21 before the asylum case was granted, he is still eligible to benefit from the I-730. However, if the child married after the case was filed, he is not eligible to bring his own spouse and children to the U.S. through the I-730 process.

    One year after asylum is granted, the alien may file for her lawful permanent residency ("LPR") (her green card) using form I-485. We used to advise people that they could file for the green card 30 days prior to their one-year asylum anniversary, and this used to work. But then we filed a green card application early, and USCIS rejected it. Since then, we have advised our clients to wait one full year before filing for their residency. Principal asylum applicants do not generally receive a green card interview, but dependents usually do. When you receive the LPR card, it will be back-dated by one year (so if you get the card on May 21, 2018, it will indicate that you have been an LPR since May 21, 2017). You can apply for U.S. citizenship based on the earlier date listed on the card.

    A person who wins asylum can obtain a Refugee Travel Document using form I-131. This document is valid for one year and is used in lieu of a passport, but there are some limitations. For example, returning to the country of feared persecution can result in termination of asylum status or lawful permanent residency (I wrote about this here). Also, not every country will accept the RTD as a travel document, so you have to check with the country's embassy in advance.

    People granted asylum may also be eligible for certain government benefits, including referrals for short-term cash and medical assistance, job development, trauma counseling, and English as a Foreign Language services. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has a state-by-state collection of agencies that can help with these and other services (once you identify agencies near you, you have to contact them directly). For those granted asylum affirmatively, the Asylum Office sometimes holds meetings to explain the benefits available to asylum seekers. You would have to ask your local Asylum Office about that. Be aware that after the case is granted, you have a very limited time to access most services, and so the sooner you reach out to provider organizations, the better.

    Asylees are eligible to attend university (asylum applicants who have an EAD are also eligible to attend most universities). In many cases, universities offer in-state tuition to people with asylum. There may also be scholarships available. You would have to reach out directly to the university to learn more about tuition discounts and scholarship money.

    Asylees also have certain legal obligations. If you are a male asylee (or a dependent) between the ages of 18 and 26, you must register for Selective Service. LPRs and citizens are also required to register. Also, like everyone else, asylees have to pay taxes and follow the law.

    Finally, asylees and LPRs must inform USCIS whenever they move to a new address. You are required to do this within 10 days of the move. You can notify USCIS of your new address by mailing them form AR-11 or filing it electronically. Either way, keep evidence that you filed the change of address form.

    Especially these days, I view every asylum win not only as a victory for the individual, but also as a victory for our country. Whether our leadership understands it or not, our nation is defined in large part by how we treat those coming to us for refuge. So if you have been granted asylum in the U.S., thank you for still believing in the American Dream--it helps the rest of us keep believing as well. And of course, Welcome to the USA!

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, granted Add / Edit Tags
  2. Asylum Interview Tips for Attorneys from a Former Asylum Officer

    Before founding Stilwell & Slatton, Victoria Slatton worked as an Asylum Officer at the Department of Homeland Security. As a former employee of USCIS, she has an in-depth understanding of the United States immigration system and is a passionate advocate for her clients in private practice. Her full bio can be found here.

    Contact Victoria Slatton at victoria.slatton@ssimmigrationfirm.com. To schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney at Stilwell & Slatton, visit our website.


    Victoria Slatton

    Itís been a year since I left my former position as an asylum officer and switched to private practice. As a former officer, sometimes it's hard for me to balance my inherent urge to zealously advocate for my client during an asylum interview with my knowledge of how my actions will be perceived by an asylum officer. To address these concerns, Iíve compiled a very basic list of information I think will be helpful for attorneys during an asylum interview.

    1. Go Over the I-589 With Your Client Before the Interview

    Every officer has her own way of handling I-589 updates, but I personally preferred it when attorneys had changes to the I-589 already written out and ready for me to go over. You donít have to redo the entire document. Instead, simply type up the changes in an organized Word document and respectfully ask whether the officer would like a written update to help subsidize their I-589 review. Some might say no, but others will be very grateful.

    This was helpful to me for two reasons. First, it showed me that the applicant wanted to be upfront about the mistakes in his claim and had every intention of being forthcoming. Second, it saved me time, in that I did not have to ask repeatedly how to spell names of family members, addresses, or seek clarification from applicants over specific dates that might be confusing. Especially if your client has an interpreter, written updates could easily save an officer a precious 20 or 30 minutes in an interview. I was always grateful when attorneys took every step to respect my time.

    2. The Interview is About Your Client

    It is very frustrating to sit back and watch your client struggle to answer a question he doesnít understand, especially when you know he has a perfectly reasonable explanation and simply cannot communicate his response due to nerves or a language barrier. However, interjecting yourself into your clientís testimony to clear up a discrepancy is generally not going to do your client any favors.

    Officers almost never factor in attorney interjections when making a decision, and sometimes it can prevent your client from saying what the officer needs to get on record. When I handed my supervisor my interview notes, I wanted it to be clear that the applicant was forthcoming in his responses and understood my questions, not the attorney. Unless a conversation is truly going off the rails and you feel it is necessary to recenter the discussion for the sake of your client, I would highly suggest saving these remarks for your closing argument.

    3. Have a Copy of Your Clientís Evidence in Front of You

    One of the few times you should interject in an interview is if the officer asked for evidence that has already been submitted. Officers donít always have time to review the file in depth before an interview, and might not truly understand the nature of everything that has been submitted. Therefore, if your client is asked a question about why a certain piece of evidence wasnít brought forth, it is very helpful and appropriate to respectfully direct the officer to the exhibit in question.

    4. Make Your Closing Argument Short and Concise

    Generally speaking, for an asylum officer, the closing statement will probably be the least important piece of information in the record. Officers understand the nature of zealous advocacy and know that you will already have an inherent bias to protect your client. Now that Iím in private practice, I try to keep my closing argument to under three minutes and maintain a level of respect for my officer, even if the interview has been particularly frustrating.

    I usually use this time to address inconsistencies in my clientís testimony and to explain how I think the client either misunderstood the question or point to pieces of evidence that might help the officer paint a clear picture of what happened. For example, I recently had a client who stumbled over his timeline and incorrectly quoted a few dates. The officer questioned these discrepancies and I kindly explained at the end of the interview that my client used a different calendar in his home country and often became confused when recalling the specifics of his timeline.

    Lastly, I will make a short statement about why my client meets the definition of a refugee. I try to keep this to a thirty second monologue. Closing statements are an art, not a science, and I tend to focus on different legal aspects depending on the case. It is important to remember that not every legal aspect of the case needs to be defended at this point in the interview.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum Add / Edit Tags
  3. Disingenuous State Department Report Seeks to Block Refugee Women

    The 2017 State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is out, and the news is not good. The Report makes clear that the Department of State ("DOS") has joined our government's effort to block asylum seekers by any means necessary--including undermining their claims by lying about conditions in the home countries.


    A lie is a lie, no matter how many times they try to tell you otherwise.


    Let's start with a bit about the Report itself. Each year, the State Department issues a human rights report for every country in the world. Information in the Report is gleaned from U.S. diplomats "in country," and from other sources. The U.S. government uses the Reports in various ways, including to help evaluate asylum cases. So when a Report indicates that country conditions are safe, it becomes more difficult for asylum seekers to succeed with their claims.

    There have always been issues with these Reports. From the point of view of advocates like me, the Reports sometimes minimize a country's human rights problems. When that happens, we can submit other evidence--NGO reports, expert witness reports, news articles--to show that our clients face danger despite the optimistic picture painted by the DOS Report. But the fact is, whatever other evidence we submit, the DOS Report carries a lot of weight. It's certainly not impossible to win an asylum case where the Report is not supportive, but it is more difficult. I imagine that's doubly true for pro se asylum applicants, who might not be aware of the Report, and might not submit country condition information to overcome it.

    That's why this year's DOS Report is so disappointing, especially with regards to certain populations. The group I am concerned with today is female asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Countries in the Northern Triangle are very dangerous for women. As a result, many women from this region have come to the United States in search of protection.

    Over the past two decades, the U.S. government has grudgingly recognized that some such women meet the definition of refugee. But even so, it is still very difficult for most such women--especially if they are unrepresented--to navigate the convoluted path to asylum.

    The Trump Administration is working on several fronts to make it even more difficult for women from the Northern Triangle to obtain asylum. For one thing, the Attorney General seems to be reconsidering precedential case law that has cracked open the door for female asylum seekers. He is also moving to charge some "illegal border crossers" with crimes (though it is legal to seek asylum at a port of entry). And now, the 2017 DOS Report is undercutting the factual basis for such claims by whitewashing the dangerous conditions faced by women in Central America.

    Just looking at some basic statistics, it's obvious that something is up. The below chart compares the number of words in the "Women" portions of the 2016 and 2017 DOS Reports for Northern Triangle countries. In each case, the length of the Women's section has been dramatically reduced:


    Country 2016 Report 2017 Report % Reduction
    El Salvador 1364 423 69%
    Guatemala 1212 283 77%
    Honduras 1235 365 70%


    As you can see, the "Women" sections of the 2017 Reports are more than 2/3 shorter than in the 2016 Reports. But numbers alone tell only part of the story. Let's look at some of what the DOS has eliminated from the 2017 Report in the sub-section called "Rape and Domestic Violence" (and, by the way, DOS has entirely eliminated the portion of the Report devoted to "Reproductive Rights," but that's a story for another day). The Report for Honduras is typical, and so we'll use that as an example.

    The 2017 Report for Honduras states:

    The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from three to nine yearsí imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.

    Sounds pretty good, aye? The government of Honduras seems to be prosecuting rapists, including spouse-rapists, and the penalties for rape are significant. But here are a few lines from the 2016 Report that didn't make it into the most recent version:

    Violence against women and impunity for perpetrators continued to be a serious problem.... Rape was a serious and pervasive societal problem. The law criminalizes all forms of rape, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. Prosecutors treat accusations of spousal rape somewhat differently, however, and evaluate such charges on a case-by-case basis.... Violence between domestic and intimate partners continued to be widespread.... In March 2015 the UN special rapporteur on violence against women expressed concern that most women in the country remained marginalized, discriminated against, and at high risk of being subjected to human rights violations, including violence and violations of their sexual and reproductive rights....

    So basically what we have is this: The 2017 Report is not a human rights report at all. Rather, it is a report on the state of the law in Honduras. Of course, when the law is not enforced and persecutors enjoy impunity (as indicated in the 2016 Report), laws on the books are not so relevant (and it's really quite a bit worse than what I've indicated here, since the 2016 Report already minimized the violent environment in Honduras--for this reason, in our cases, we often rely on the more honest U.S. Travel Advisory and the OSAC Crime & Safety Report, both created by DOS for U.S. citizens traveling abroad).

    How this new Report will impact asylum seekers, we don't yet know. At a minimum, people will need to supplement their applications with evidence to overcome the rosy picture painted by the DOS Report, and for those asylum seekers who are unable to obtain such evidence, the likelihood of a successful outcome is further reduced.

    I've said this before, and I will say it again here: What bother's me most about the Trump Administration's efforts to block asylum seekers is not that they are making it more difficult to obtain protection--they were elected on a restrictionist platform and they are doing what they said they would do. What bother's me most is the blatant dishonesty of this Administration, and now of the State Department. If you want to reject female asylum seekers, reject them honestly. Don't pretend that they are economic migrants and that you are returning them to safe places. At least have the decency to tell them--and the American people--that you are returning them to countries where they face extreme danger and death.

    Frankly, there's nothing too surprising about the new DOS Report. President Trump has made his views on refugees and on women quite clear. But what's so sad is that the Report represents further evidence that the Administration's lies have infected yet another esteemed government institution. Not only is this Report bad for asylum seekers, it's bad for the State Department, which is now complicit in the Administration's mendacity. Indeed, I can't help but think that the fate of these asylum seekers is inextricably tied to the fate of the DOS, and the new Report doesn't bode well for either of them.

    Special thanks to Attorney Joanna Gaughan for the idea for this piece. Ms. Gaughan works for the Farrell Law Group in Raleigh, NC. Her practice focuses largely on asylum cases, and she can be reached at joanna.m.gaughan@gmail.com.

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

    Updated 05-02-2018 at 10:09 AM by JDzubow

    Tags: asylum, dos, women Add / Edit Tags
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