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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. How Can I Help?

    Being an immigration attorney at a time when immigrants are under assault means that people often ask me what they can do to help.

    Frankly, I am usually at a loss about how to answer this question. There are many ways to help, depending on what you mean by “help” and where your interests and abilities lie. The problem is, there is no magic bullet to solve our current difficulties. But there are things that people can do, both on the individual level and the collective level. I will discuss a few of those ideas here.

    "I would have gotten away with deporting them all if it weren't for you meddling kids."

    Volunteer with a Non-Profit
    : There are plenty of non-profit organizations that assist refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, and they need plenty of help. Such organizations can be found throughout the U.S. (here is a link to a list of organizations in each state), and they provide all sorts of opportunities to volunteer: Teach English or other skills, spend time assisting organizations or individual immigrants, help with job searches, resumes or job counseling. People with specialized skills can provide specialized assistance. For example, those lucky enough to be lawyers (gag!) can take a case pro bono, or—for a less burdensome commitment—attend a group event where you assist with immigration forms. Some asylum seekers need forensic medical exams or psychological reports for their cases, and could use expert assistance. Others need mental health therapy, or assistance navigating the DMV, Social Security Office or school or university bureaucracies. Still others need help with housing or public benefits. Many people who are new to our country are lost, and someone familiar with "the system" can provide invaluable guidance.

    Also, many faith-based institutions, such as churches, mosques, and synagogues, have programs to assist non-citizens. My synagogue, for example, has helped refugee families from Syria and Afghanistan to resettle in the Washington, DC area. Synagogue volunteers assist with babysitting and setting up the new apartments. Some religious institutions are involved in the sanctuary movement, offering living space to non-citizens in an effort to shield them from deportation (ICE has thus far declined to enter churches to detain people). Perhaps you could encourage your church or mosque to consider joining this movement.

    Get Involved Politically
    : There are numerous opportunities here too, and not just at the federal level. A lot has been happening at the local and state levels (where it is often easier to have an effect). One group that supports pro-immigrant candidates is Immigrants List. A group that assists with impact litigation and public awareness is the American Immigration Council. Many local non-profits are also involved in advocacy for immigrants. You can find such groups here.

    Reaching out to politicians can have an impact as well. During the Obama Administration, opponents of immigration famously mailed hundreds of bricks to Congress. This was a not-so-subtle message to “build a wall.” If the other side can advocate effectively, we can too. Congress needs to know that many Americans support our humanitarian immigration system. Unless we reach out to them, our representatives will only hear half the story. You can contacting your Senators here, and your Representatives here. You can find links to the different state legislatures here. You don't have to be a U.S. citizen to contact your representative. Anyone can do it.

    Contact the Media
    : There are many misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees in the news. If you see an article or program that misrepresents such people, you can contact the journalists and let them know (contact info is often available on the journalist's website). I think it is especially powerful for refugees themselves to engage in such advocacy. It’s very difficult for stereotypes to survive in the face of individual truths, and so when asylum seekers and refugees tell their stories, it can be quite influential. Also, if you ask in advance, journalists will usually agree to keep identity information confidential, so you can talk to them without fear that your personal information will be made public.

    Take to the Streets
    : I’m of two minds about public protests. Sometimes, I think they are useless; other times, I think they are transformative. Of course, there are all sorts of protests from mass rallies to performance-art type events (and there was also our very own Refugee Ball back in January 2017). Such events can be inspiring and energizing for the people involved. They can also help coalesce disparate people into a unified group. Such events also send a message—to politicians and to the American public.

    Hire an Immigrant
    : The government is making it easier to discriminate against non-citizens. And in any case, it’s never been easy to get a job when you’re new to America. So if you have the ability to employ someone, why not consider an immigrant?

    What if the intended employee does not have work authorization? Some people--such as people with asylum--are eligible to work even without the employment authorization document (the EAD card). It is obviously not legal to employ someone who is not authorized to work, but for many asylum seekers, who often wait months for their EAD, the only way to survive is to work without permission. Such people are frequently mistreated by employers. Hiring such a person comes with a risk to the employer as well as to the employee, and as a lawyer, I can't advocate for breaking the law. However, at least in my opinion, employing such people, paying them fairly, and treating them decently is an act of resistance against an immoral system.

    Talk to People Who Disagree with You
    : Advocates for immigrants have failed to convince the American public about the rightness of our cause, or at least we have failed to convince enough of them to win a presidential election. Rather than talking at people who disagree with us (as we often see on social media and left-leaning news outlets), we should be talking with such people. Speaking respectfully with people, listening empathetically and asking questions, and explaining a pro-immigrant view will not win everyone over to our side. But it might win over some. And even if we talk to people who disagree with us, and they are not swayed, a respectful conversation can help open doors later on. Anti-immigrant views seem to thrive in our current divisive environment. Perhaps if we work to tone things down and help move our country towards a more rational debate, it will also help immigrants. This needs to be done in big ways, but it also needs to be done in small ways, one conversation at a time. If you want to educate yourself about immigration issues, a good (pro-immigrant) source is the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has policy statements on various issues.

    So those are some ideas. Like I said, there is no magic solution for our current situation. But by supporting immigrants, in big ways and small, it is possible for each one of us to make a difference.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. Refugees and the Power of Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: asylum, politics Add / Edit Tags
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