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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Advance Parole: Overseas Travel for Asylum Seekers

    When government scientists invented Advance Parole (“AP”), they were not thinking about asylum seekers. Even today, if you look at the instructions to form I-131, the form used to apply for AP, you’ll find nary a word about asylum seekers (though asylees—people already granted asylum—can apply for a Refugee Travel Document using the same form). But fear not: People who have filed affirmatively for asylum and who are waiting for their interview can file for AP in order to travel abroad and return while their case is pending.

    First, a brief word about asylum seekers who are not eligible to travel and return using AP. People who are in removal proceedings (i.e., in Immigration Court) cannot leave the U.S. and return, even if they have AP. If you are in removal proceedings, it means the government is trying to deport you, and if you leave, you are considered to have deported yourself. Thus, even if you apply for AP and receive the travel document, if you leave the United States, you will be deported, and thus barred from return. And yes, I am sure that there is a story about your third cousin’s best friend who was in Immigration Court, and who left and returned using AP. To that, I say: Talk to your cousin’s friend’s lawyer (and if you learn something, let me know!). My opinion is that if you are in removal proceedings and you leave the U.S., either you won’t get back here at all, or you will be detained upon arrival.

    Another group that may be ineligible to travel using AP are J-1 visa holders subject to the pesky two-year home residency requirement. There are more people like this than you might imagine, and for such people, I recommend you talk to a lawyer about AP. Asylum basically “erases” the home residency requirement, but it is unclear (at least to me) whether this will work for purposes of AP while the asylum application is still pending.

    Also, there was a group of people who were ineligible for AP, but who are now eligible. It is people who have six months or more of “unlawful presence.” If a person remains in the U.S. after her period of stay ends, she accrues unlawful presence (you stop accruing unlawful presence once you file for asylum). If she accrues six months of unlawful presence and leaves, she is barred from returning for three years. If she has one year or more of unlawful presence and then leaves, she cannot return for 10 years. Prior to 2012, if a person had six or more months of unlawful presence and left, she could not return to the U.S., even with AP. However, a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals changed the rule, and so now, even if you have unlawful presence, you can leave the U.S. and return using Advance Parole. Thank you BIA!

    There might be other people who are also ineligible to travel--people with criminal convictions or prior removal/deportation orders, for example. If you are not sure, you should certainly talk to a lawyer before applying for AP or traveling.

    Next, let’s talk about what AP is and is not. If you get AP, you will receive a piece of paper with your photo on it. This paper works like a U.S. visa. It allows you to board the plane (or boat, if, like me, you hate flying), and pass through customs once you arrive at the port of entry. AP is not a passport or a Refugee Travel Document. You cannot use it to go to other countries or as a form of ID. If you travel with AP, you also need a passport. Keep in mind that traveling with a passport from a country where you fear persecution can raise questions at the asylum interview about why you would “avail” yourself of the protection of your country by using its passport. You should be prepared to respond to such questions, with evidence, during your interview.

    So how do you apply for AP? Use form I-131. This one magic form can be used for all sorts of different applications: AP, Refugee Travel Document, DACA (at least for the next couple weeks), humanitarian parole. If you are applying for AP, complete only the portions of the form that apply to Advance Parole. You need to include evidence of a pending asylum case (receipts, biometrics notice), two passport-size photos, a copy of your passport or other government-issued photo ID (like an EAD card), and the filing fee (a whopping $575.00 as of this writing).

    Also, you need to demonstrate a humanitarian need for the travel. It is not enough that you simply want to travel. A humanitarian reason might be that you are traveling to receive medical treatment or going to visit a seriously ill relative. It might also be because you are attending a funeral for a close relative. We have sought AP for people who needed to travel for work or education, though that was pre-Trump, and I would not feel particularly optimistic about such an application today.

    To demonstrate a humanitarian need for AP, you need to provide a written explanation for the travel. You also need to provide evidence: A letter from the doctor, in the case of medical travel, or a death certificate if you are traveling for a funeral. If you are trying to travel for work or education, you need a letter from your job or school, plus an explanation of why the travel is "humanitarian." In addition, if you are traveling to visit a sick relative, provide proof of the relationship, such as birth or marriage certificates connecting you to your relative.

    On the form I-131, you need to state the dates of proposed travel. Don't make the date too soon, or USCIS will not be able to process the paperwork before your travel date, and then they will send a request for evidence asking you to explain whether you still plan to travel since your departure date passed before AP was approved.

    Also, it may be possible to expedite a request for AP, or even to get AP on an emergency basis, though you can bet that the bureaucrats at USCIS will not make the process easy. For more information about such requests, see the USCIS Ombudsman webpage.

    Finally, and this is important, if you are an asylum seeker and you use AP to visit your home country, it will very likely cause your asylum case to be denied. Indeed, unless you can demonstrate "compelling reasons" for returning to your country, your asylum application will be deemed abandoned by the return trip. You can learn more about that here.

    So there you have it. Most lawyers--including this one--discourage our clients from traveling with AP. There is always a risk when you leave the U.S. You might have trouble boarding a return flight. You could be detained upon arrival in the United States. Our capricious President might issue a new travel ban. But so far (knock on wood), we have not had any problems for our clients who traveled using AP. I do think it is better to stay in the country while your asylum application is pending, but given the long waits, some people must travel. If so, at least AP gives most people that option.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. USCIS Errors Compound Asylum Applicant Woes

    "Bye, Mommy, I'll see you in high school."

    I’ve written about the “backlog” a number of times. Essentially, as a result of large numbers of Central American youths arriving at our Southern border and seeking asylum, the system was overwhelmed and—though it didn’t exactly grind to a halt—there have been major delays for many applicants. The “surge,” as it is known, was not USCIS’s fault and, in fact, USCIS has worked hard to continue processing cases under very difficult conditions.

    I’ve discussed before about some things USCIS could do to ease the burden on asylum applicants—prioritize applicants separated from family members, expedite following-to-join petitions once a case is approved, perhaps implementing “premium processing” for asylum applicants who can afford it—but lately I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend that USCIS needs to correct.

    We’ve seen several of our clients’ applications for Advance Parole improperly handled or denied. Advance Parole is a document that allows an asylum applicant to leave the United States, travel to another country, and then return to the U.S. and continue her asylum application. When asylum applications generally took only a few months, Advance Parole was much less necessary. But now, when applications can take years, it is very important. In the era of the “backlog,” many asylum applicants face prolonged separation from spouses and children, not to mention parents, siblings, and friends. As you can imagine, these long separations are often the worst part of the whole process.

    Advance Parole is a way to mitigate the difficulty of long separations. The applicant can obtain Advance Parole, travel to a third country to see her family members, and then return to the United States and continue her case. The application form itself (form I-131) asks whether the applicant plans to return to the country of feared persecution and—if the applicant returns to her country—it could result in a denial of asylum.

    In recent weeks, we’ve been seeing two problems with USCIS decisions in Advance Parole cases. The first problem involves outright—and improper—denials of the I-131s. In these denials, USCIS claims that the I-131 must be denied because the applicant has not filed a concurrent form I-485 (application to adjust status to lawful permanent resident). In other words, because the asylum applicant has not filed for his green card, USCIS believes that he is not eligible for Advance Parole. This is simply incorrect: Asylum applicants are eligible for Advance Parole. See 8 C.F.R. 208.8. What is so frustrating about these denials is that we clearly indicated on the form I-131 that the person was an asylum seeker, and we included evidence of the pending asylum application; evidence that USCIS completely ignored. Not only do these denials prevent asylum applicants from seeing relatives (including relatives who are in very poor health), but they also waste money: The cost of an I-131 application is $360.00. To appeal the denial of an I-131 costs $630.00 (not counting any attorney’s fees) and takes many months, so it really is not worth the trouble and expense.

    The second problem we’ve seen with Advance Parole applications is that USCIS has been requesting additional evidence about the purpose of the trip. So for example, where one client has a sick parent who he hopes to visit in a third country, it has not been enough to provide some basic evidence about the sickness (like a doctor's note or a photo in the hospital), USCIS has requested more evidence of the health problem. Why is such evidence needed? As applicant for asylum is eligible for Advance Parole. He can travel for any reason: To see a sick relative, to attend a wedding, to go to a professional conference. So why should USCIS need to see evidence that a relative is ill in order to issue the Advance Parole document? It is insulting and unnecessary; not to mention a waste of time. I suppose this type of request for additional evidence is better than an outright denial, but it is still improper.

    What also been a source of frustration, is that we’ve filed three identical Advance Parole applications for a husband, a wife, and their child. We mailed the applications in the same envelope with the same evidence. So far, the husband’s was denied because there was no pending I-485, the wife was asked for additional evidence about her sick relative (so presumably USCIS believes she can travel despite the absence of a pending I-485), and the child’s has been transferred to a different office altogether and is still languishing there. They say that consistency is the Hobgoblin of small minds, but it would be nice if USCIS could get its act together on these Advance Parole applications. Real people are harmed because of the government’s confusion about how to process these cases. I don’t know if it is a training issue or something else, but USCIS should examine what is going on here.

    As the backlogged cases drag on and on, foreign travel becomes more important for many applicants. The uncertainty surrounding the I-131 applications, and the inability to see family members, is only adding to the applicants' stress and frustration. Let's hope that USCIS can resolve the problem and give some basic relief to asylum applicants.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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