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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Help Celebrate the Launch of a New NGO to Assist Asylum Seekers

    The community of asylum seekers (people waiting for their asylum cases) has grown exponentially over the past few years. Across the U.S., something like 540,000 people--including many asylum seekers--are waiting for their Immigration Court cases, and over 150,000 otehrs are waiting for their cases to be decided by the Asylum Office. Because this "backlog" is relatively new, there is a dearth of services available for such asylum applicants. A new non-profit aims to help fill that gap.
    There are more people in the backlog than in Cleveland, Ohio (and which group is worse off, I am not sure).
    The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project ("ASAP") is a community-based nonprofit providing comprehensive services to support the estimated 50,000 individuals pursing asylum in the Washington, DC-Metro region. The group launched in 2016 and received its 501(c)(3) non-profit status earlier this week (so donations are tax deductible). Its mission is to provide services that support the safety, stability, and economic security of asylum seekers and their families. ASAP's programs include:

    : ASAP’s employment program combines individualized career planning, 30-hours of job readiness training, and job placement services to address common employment barriers encountered by asylum seekers. The goal is to equip asylum seekers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to secure and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.

    : ASAP’s community program facilitates opportunities for asylum seekers to connect with each other, ASAP volunteers, and the larger community. The group also maintains a list of asylees willing and able to provide support and guidance to newly arrived asylum seekers.

    : ASAP offers asylum law trainings, legal information sessions, and “Know Your Rights” workshops on demand to clients, attorneys, law students, and community partners. ASAP can also provide targeted referrals to pro bono and low bono immigration legal service providers.

    : ASAP conducts educational awareness events co-facilitated by asylum seekers and asylees. The organization has given talks and presentations to audiences ranging from elementary school-aged children to adults. By engaging audiences of all ages, ASAP works to plant the seeds of social change.

    Social Services
    (Coming 2018): ASAP works with clients to create a comprehensive assessment of their life in the U.S. in order to identify client needs, recognize strengths, and prioritize goals. ASAP works with a coalition of community partners to provide information, resources, and referrals to ensure client safety and stability.

    To celebrate this new organization and to congratulate ASAP's first class of asylum seekers who will have completed an intensive one-week job readiness training, the group is holding an event called Together We Rise: A Family-Friendly Celebration on April 29, 2017 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM in Bethesda, Maryland. You can sign up for this free event, or make donations, here. The celebration will include food and friends, and activities for the younger guests, such as face-painting, fishing for ducks in a "pond," and henna art.

    To learn more about the party and ASAP, visit the group's Facebook page here, or email them at Also, if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, please contact ASAP

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 04-14-2017 at 08:11 AM by JDzubow

  2. Asylum Seekers Gone Wild

    Police officials in Cologne, German have received over 500 criminal complaints about attacks that occurred this past New Year's Eve. Forty percent of the attacks involved a sexual offense, and a large majority of the victims were women. Most of the culprits "were said to have been of a North African or Middle Eastern appearance," and so far, 22 of the 32 identified suspects are asylum seekers. Similar assaults were reported in other European countries.
    Perhaps in this case, the solution is worse than the problem.
    Not surprisingly, those who oppose refugee resettlement have seized on the attacks to denounce Germany's generous asylum policy. There were also several xenophobic assaults on refugees, supposedly in retaliation for the New Year's Eve incidents.

    The whole situation seems a bit strange to me: What exactly did these asylum seekers (and others) do? Why did this happen now? Have there been previous attacks that we have not heard about? What explains this behavior?

    First, based on the reports I have seen, I am really not sure what happened. Was this Spring-Break type debauchery exaggerated by anti-refugee hysteria, or something much worse (there is at least one report of Syrian nationals raping two girls at a New Year's Eve party, but the suspects are not asylum seekers and the incident seems unconnected to the other attacks)?

    I must admit that I am of two minds about this question. On the one hand, if scores of young women are reporting sexual assaults, that is deadly serious and must be addressed forcefully. On the other hand, I am wary of the old trope where the swarthy foreigner violates the innocent white female. This same story has been used many times to justify violence against "the other." For example, last year a young man entered an African-American church in South Carolina and murdered nine people, yelling at them: "You rape our women... You have to go!" Jews have long dealt with this issue in Europe, where for many centuries, we were "the other" (until Hitler eliminated that problem). In those days (and unfortunately still today in some places), Jews were accused of killing Christian babies in order to use their blood for ritual purposes. These "blood libels" were notorious lies, but they were used as an excuse to harm Jews. There's a tragic/comic joke about the blood libels that I've always appreciated:

    In a small village in the Ukraine, a terrifying rumor was spreading: A Christian girl had been found murdered. Realizing the dire consequences of such an event, and fearing a pogrom [a murderous anti-Jewish riot], the Jewish community gathered in the synagogue to plan whatever defensive actions were possible under the circumstances. Just as the emergency meeting was being called to order, in ran the president of the synagogue, out of breath and all excited. "Brothers!" he cried, "I have wonderful news! The murdered girl is Jewish!"

    You get the point. Obviously, this does not mean that the attacks in Cologne did not happen the way they have been portrayed, but it does urge us to be cautious in drawing conclusions, especially since there is so little publicly-available detail about those attacks.

    Assuming that the initial reports are correct and the attackers are asylum seekers, what is going on here? Maybe one explanation is that the asylum seekers in question are young men from sexually repressive countries who have been living in instability for many months. Now that they are in safe, open societies, where men and women mix freely, they cannot handle the adjustment. Not to let them off the hook—if they are guilty of assault or other crimes, they should be punished—but when refugees behave badly, there are often underlying pathologies that need to be examined. Maybe it is too late for these particular refugees (who might be deported), but at least this highlights an issue that can be addressed for other asylum seekers with similar backgrounds.

    Another explanation--the one favored by opponents of refugee resettlement--is that asylum seekers are a danger to the receiving communities, and that their values are incompatible with Western society. The New Year's Eve attacks, under this theory, are just one iteration of the problem. I think this view is incorrect. Refugees are not perfect, but the evidence suggests that they are no more likely to commit crimes than anyone else.

    But of course, many refugees are damaged people who have suffered trauma. They come from societies that are much more repressive and conservative than those in the West. While these factors may help explain criminal behavior among refugees, in my opinion, they do not in any way excuse it. Nevertheless, we need to keep this in mind when considering refugee resettlement. We need to help refugees deal with their trauma. We also need to help them understand and integrate into their new communities. This is easier said than done, especially in a situation like Germany's, where tens of thousands of people are arriving each month.

    In the U.S., our refugee numbers are much lower, and we are more able to help people adjust to their new lives. As a result, the overall crime rate for non-citizens seems to be the same as, or lower than that for native-born Americans. Vetting refugees and helping them integrate is the best way to protect ourselves, while at the same time meeting our humanitarian obligations and ideals.

    The doors to Europe appear to be closing, and the New Year's Eve attacks will only make things more difficult for all refugees. My hope is that we in the West will learn from this experience. Receiving countries should step up their efforts to recognize and pro-actively address the psycho-social needs of refugees, so that they will better acculturate to their new homes. This, to me, is the best way forward for everyone.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  3. A Military Solution to the Migration Crisis?

    The European Union has been struggling to cope with a surge of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. The high season has not yet begun, and already hundreds have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. Thousands more have arrived on the Continent to seek protection. In response, the EU is planning a combined military campaign by air, sea, and possibly land against the smuggling networks. Can such a plan succeed? And could the lessons of Europe be applied to our own migration crisis along the Southern border?

    Just because you have a hammer does not mean every problem is a nail.

    According to a recent article about the EU plan:

    The campaign’s aim is defined as “to disrupt the business model of the smugglers, achieved by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, seize/capture, and destroy vessels and assets before they are used by smugglers … The operation will need to be phased in and will be heavily dependent on intelligence.

    Military operations would focus on actions “inside Libya’s internal and territorial waters and the coast,” and possibly “ashore,” as well.

    The downsides of such an operation are fairly obvious. As an EU planning document admits, the campaign could result in innocent people being killed: “Boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life.” There are also difficult practical problems—smugglers frequently rent boats from fisherman and then fill the boat with migrants shortly before they sail. So there is little time to identify which boats are being used for human cargo and to neutralize them before people are aboard. Also, the Libyan coast is dangerous. Different militias control different parts of the country, and some have the capacity to target European warships and aircraft. Finally, and maybe most significantly, the migrants are desperate people fleeing for their lives, so it is unclear whether they would be dissuaded from their journey if it were marginally more difficult.

    On the other hand, large numbers of people are already dying at sea (about 2,000 so far this year), and there is little doubt that the impunity the smugglers enjoy encourages them to continue their activities. There is also some evidence that the smugglers are encouraging certain people to make the journey, when they would be better off staying put. But the question is, Can military force make the situation better?

    First, I suppose it depends on how we define “better.” If we mean that Europe will have to deal with fewer migrants, then military action against the smugglers may make things “better,” at least to some degree. We’ve seen this story before in the militarization of the drug war. The costs to the drug smugglers goes up, the cost of the product goes up, and—perhaps—fewer drugs get through. The key difference between smuggling humans and smuggling drugs is that each person must be able to pay for the cost of his trip. If the cost to smuggle drugs goes up, the users pay, but if the cost of human trafficking goes up, the trafficked people must pay. If action against the traffickers increases the cost of passage, maybe fewer people will be able to afford the journey. And if fewer migrants reach Europe, the situation will be “better” in that Europe will not have to deal with it.

    But if “better” means actually addressing the problem, interdicting smugglers will likely not make the situation any better. If the asylum seekers were merely economic migrants, they might be dissuaded from making the trip. But most of the people crossing the Med are fleeing for their lives--they are from places like Syria and Eritrea, where return to the home country is unthinkable. Cutting off the route to Europe will--at best--force them to go somewhere else.

    While Europe does bear some of the blame for the current mess in the Middle East and Africa (due to colonialism and economic exploitation), I don't believe that the Europeans can be expected to accept every migrant who come their way. However, I do think Europe--and the rest of the world--has a moral obligation to help legitimate refugees fleeing violence and persecution. Perhaps European interests would be better served by using its military and logistical power to establish better safe havens for refugees, and to create an orderly resettlement process for those who will likely never return home.

    And what of America? Is there a military solution to our own migrant crisis? Much of the migration to our country is driven by gang and cartel violence in Central America and Mexico. Last year, the Congressional Research Service published a report about the U.S. government's role in combating Central American gangs. The report details our efforts on the law enforcement and preventative sides of the gang problem. In short, it seems that a law enforcement-only approach (such as Mano Duro in El Salvador) is not as effective as a more holistic approach, and so the effectiveness of throwing additional military forces against the gangs seems doubtful.

    Perhaps the border itself could be further militarized, but it is difficult to see how this would make much difference either. The number of agents at the border is at an all time high, and the number of apprehensions has dropped to 1970s levels (indicating fewer people attempting to enter illegally). The bigger problem these days is the large number of people surrendering at the border and requesting asylum, and of course this is not a problem amenable to a military solution.

    For us and for the Europeans, the influx of asylum seekers presents a serious challenge. Rather than using military force to attack smugglers and deflect the problem, we would be better off addressing root causes and protecting vulnerable people from harm.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  4. Is the Asylum System to Blame for Migrant Deaths?

    We think of spring in the Northern hemisphere as a time of rebirth and renewal. But in the Mediterranean, for refugees attempting to reach Europe by sea, it is a time of dying.
    Deporting children protects them. Vaccines cause Autism. Ketchup is a vegetable.

    Last month, over 800 people died when an overcrowded boat sank en router from Libya to Southern Europe. That brings the number of migrant deaths at sea during this season to 1,780 people, as compared to 96 people during the same period last year.

    By contrast, deaths at the U.S. border are down from previous years. The Associated Press reports that, "The number of people who died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped to the lowest level in 15 years as more immigrants turned themselves in to authorities in Texas and fewer took their chances with the dangerous trek across the Arizona desert." In FY 2014, the government recorded 307 deaths at the border. Although this is significantly lower than what we are seeing in Europe, hundreds of people are still dying each year on their journeys to the United States (and of course this figure does not include people who die on the route to the U.S. before they reach our border).

    In many cases, the migrants coming to Europe and the United States are fleeing severe violence in their home countries. They are desperate people seeking safety and a better life in the West. And although in many ways the U.S. and Europe are hostile to asylum seekers, we do provide strong "pull factors" that encourage people to make the journey. We offer such people asylum.

    So it's fair to ask: Does the very fact that we offer asylum provide an incentive for people to risk their lives--and sometimes die--to reach our country?

    A recent bill proposed in Congress and passed by the House Judiciary Committee seems to answer this question in the affirmative. The bill, called the Protection of Children Act of 2015, would "protect" unaccompanied minors who come to the U.S. by sending them home more expeditiously. One of the bill's sponsors, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) explained the rationale for this new legislation:
    The Obama Administration’s immigration policies have given confidence to parents who are in the U.S. illegally that they can stay and have encouraged them to bring their children, who are still in Central America and beyond, to the United States unlawfully. These children, often assisted by smugglers, face many dangerous situations as they travel through Mexico and then walk miles across a hostile border environment. We need to take action to stop these children from risking their lives to come to the United States unaccompanied and unlawfully. The Protection of Children Act makes common sense changes to our laws to ensure minors who travel to the U.S. alone are returned home safely and quickly.

    While the bill will not, in fact, protect any children (rather, it will harm them), the Protection of Children Act is--at least in part--an effort to reduce the incentive for people to come to the U.S. for asylum and thus an effort to reduce the number of people who die attempting to reach our country.

    But still, the question remains: Do our asylum laws encourage people to come illegally to the United States and risk their lives in the process? Is our generosity killing people?

    One way to look at the question is to explore the motivation for asylum seekers' coming to the U.S. Which is more important, the "push" of danger in the home country or the "pull" of asylum in the United States? If the "pull" is more important, we would expect that people from similar countries would come to the U.S. in similar numbers, regardless of violence levels in those countries. So for example, we would expect to see people coming to the U.S. in similar numbers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (all poor Central American countries). A review of the data, however, indicates that this is not the case. Many more people come to the U.S. from the more violent countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) than from the less violent one (Nicaragua) (I have written more about this here).

    Some of the disparity may be because there are more people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the U.S. than there are people from Nicaragua, and so perhaps migrants are not fleeing violence, but instead are coming here for family unity. There is no doubt that this is part of the equation. However, according to the Pew Foundation, there are roughly 408,261 Nicaraguans in the U.S. By comparison, there are 774,866 Hondurans, 1,265,400 Guatemalans, and 1,969,495 Salvadorans in the United States. I could not find recent data on the number of Nicaraguans coming to the U.S., but for December 2014, Nicaragua was not even in the top 10 sending countries for asylum seekers. In that month, 333 people filed for asylum from Honduras, 495 from El Salvador, and 546 from Guatemala. One hundred and fifty four people filed for asylum from India, which is # 10 on the list, so we know that even fewer people sought asylum from Nicaragua. Given the significant number of Nicaraguans living in the U.S., if family unity was the main “pull” factor, we would expect greater numbers of migrants from Nicaragua.

    All this leads to the conclusion that violent conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are “pushing” people to come to the United States. And, by the way, this squares with anecdotal evidence from the asylum seekers themselves and the lawyers (like me) who represent them.

    So what does it all mean? If people are coming here mainly due to “push” factors (violence) and not “pull” factors (asylum), then making it more difficult for them to claim asylum in the U.S. (or Europe) is unlikely to dissuade them from making the journey.

    Most asylum seekers, like most people, are rational and respond to their environment in rationale ways. If conditions are violent and they fear for their lives, people will flee. If there is somewhere safe for them to go, they will go. The Protection of Children Act does nothing to protect such people. It merely shifts the problem somewhere else. To help reduce the number of asylum seeker deaths, the United States and Europe need to do more to address the root causes of violence. Making life even more difficult for those fleeing harm will only make a bad situation worse.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 05-05-2015 at 09:13 AM by JDzubow

  5. The Border Problem, Solved

    We've been hearing a lot lately about the dramatic increase of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors at our Southern border. There is debate about what is causing the increase--violence and poverty in the home countries vs. lax enforcement and the relative ease of obtaining lawful status in the U.S.--and no one really knows for sure. Because we receive more migrants from the more violent Central American countries and less from the more peaceful countries, I think that dangerous country conditions are a significant "push" factor. This hypothesis is supported by a new UN report that found a 435% increase in the number of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans requesting asylum in other, more peaceful, Central American countries. The report also surveyed several hundred child arrivals and found that, for the majority, violence in the home country was a factor in their migration. On the other hand, because the uptick in arrivals in the U.S. is generally not correlated with an uptick in violence at home, I suspect that "pull" factors also play a significant role. The fact is, if you live in a violent, poor country, and you want to find a place where you can resettle, live safely, and build a life, the U.S. is probably your best bet (yes, Canada is nice too, but it's a bit far).

    For some politicians, even considering thinking about possibly looking into immigration reform can be harmful.

    Regardless of the reasons behind it, the surge of people arriving at our Southern border has created real problems for the asylum system and for all applicants, many of whom are facing long, seemingly indefinite, delays. The influx is also problematic because large numbers of young people are making the dangerous journey North to the United States. This journey puts them at risk of physical and sexual harm, it separates families, and it provides income to the criminal organizations that smuggle people to the U.S. (often the same organizations involved in the drug trade). Indeed, the criminal/smuggling organizations apparently contribute to the influx (and their own bottom line) by encouraging people to make the journey.

    So what can be done about the situation? And--more specifically--what can be done that discourages primarily economic migrants, but that also protects legitimate refugees and preserves our asylum system for those who need it? Also, can anything be done to make the journey safer and to cut criminal/smuggling organizations out of the process?

    The UN report provides some recommendations: International actors should pay more attention to the protection needs of child migrants, we should increase our capacity to deal with child arrivals and work together with other nations to address the needs of these children, and we should work to reduce or eliminate the factors leading to forced migration. While the report's findings are very valuable (this seems to be the first time any large scale study bothered to ask the migrants themselves why they are coming here), I don't find the recommendations particularly satisfying. It is always easy to say we need more attention and more resources to reduce a problem, but who will pay for this? And how do we build a public consensus to bring more immigrants here and pay for them? Also, to say that we should address root causes seems obvious, but how?

    Perhaps a better solution would be to create Refugee Processing Centers in Mexico and Central America. Not only would this cut the smugglers out of the picture, deprive criminal/smuggling organizations of income, and greatly reduce the financial incentive for these organizations to encourage more migration, it would also curtail the need for young people to make the perilous journey North.

    For this to work, we would have to end all refugee processing at the border. Anyone who arrives at the border (or who enters unlawfully and then seeks asylum) would be sent to a refugee processing center in, say, Mexico. In order to encourage people to go directly to the processing centers (instead of the border), people who go to the border first would be given a lower processing priority than people who arrive directly at the centers. A side benefit would be that legitimate refugees would no longer be arriving at the border; this would allow the Border Patrol to focus on illegal entrants.

    There are obviously logistical issues to work out, for example: Where do we house people--including children--who are waiting? How do we share the burden with other countries in the region? Would other countries be willing to resettle some refugees (according to the UN report, they already are). Despite the obstacles, it seems to me that this would work better than the non-system that we currently have.

    The estimated budget for resettling unaccompanied minors in 2015 is over $2 billion, and this does not even count the cost of dealing with adults who arrive without permission. If trends continue (which hopefully they won't), our current system will fall apart. We need creative solutions; solutions which--hopefully--will reflect our humanitarian obligations and ideals, protect children, put smugglers out of business, and keep our border secure. De-coupling refugee processing and border enforcement may be one way to accomplish these goals.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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