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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Implementing the Executive Orders: The DHS Memo

    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.
  2. Hateful Words and Helpful Actions

    After nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered on September 11, 2001, President Bush spoke to the nation and to the world. He assured us—Muslim and non-Muslim—that American was not at war with Islam. Would that President Trump had spoken similar words before instituting his immigration ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. But that is not Mr. Trump’s style.
    Lord of the Zings: The President's hateful words may be worse than his harmful EOs.
    The resulting firestorm may have been pleasing to the President’s most ardent supporters, who seem to relish the sight of suffering families and damaged government institutions, but for those of us concerned about national security, morality, and the rule of law, the President’s Executive Orders (“EOs”) were a frightening development.

    The problem, though, was not so much the EOs themselves, the effect of which is not immediately obvious, and in any case, portions of which have been blocked by the courts, but rather the divisive rhetoric attached to the orders. Let me explain.

    The EOs, which are currently blocked by the courts, would bar nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya from entering the United States for 90 days. All refugees would be barred from entering the country for 120 days, and Syrian refugees would be barred indefinitely. On its face, this is not a Muslim ban. If you are from one of the listed countries, you are barred from entry, regardless of your religion, and if you are a Muslim person from another country, you are not barred from entry. But to me, this is a case of “That’s what it says; that’s not what it means.”

    So what does it mean? First, in the context of campaign statements disparaging to Muslims, and some statements by Trump surrogates, it’s easy to see why many are interpreting the EOs as a first step towards a more general Muslim ban. Rumors are swirling that the list of countries will be expanded, to include more Muslim nations, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, the EOs direct the government to track and publish information about crimes committed by aliens, with a particular emphasis on people convicted of terrorism-related offenses, people who have been “radicalized after entry,” and “gender-based violence against women or honor killings.” Further, the EOs call for a “realignment” of refugee admissions to focus on refugees who are from a “minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” It’s hard not to view all this as targeting Muslims.


    But perhaps I’ve gotten it all wrong. There have been counter-arguments advanced by the President’s defenders. After all, the EOs do not directly refer to Muslims, and the listed nations are either chaotic (Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya), malignant (Iran) or both (Sudan, Syria). Also, as the EOs require, we should be keeping track of aliens who engage in criminal behavior or who support or commit terrorism (indeed, I myself have argued for such transparency in this blog).


    But here is why I don’t buy the counter-arguments and why I believe the EOs are designed to target Muslims: The President is very aware that many people view the orders as a Muslim ban, but he has said nothing to allay the fears of Muslims and immigrants in the U.S. or our Muslim allies abroad. He could easily have issued these same exact EOs and avoided the chaos by better explaining his intentions. He chose to not do that. Maybe it’s me projecting, but I can’t help but feel that he and his core staff are getting some sadistic pleasure watching the suffering and confusion that they are causing. I imagine they also view the mess they’ve made as evidence that they are fulfilling their promises to get tough on immigration and to protect the homeland.


    It almost goes without saying that things could have been done differently. The ban could have been explained as a necessary and temporary policy adjustment to enhance our national security. President Trump could have expressed his sorrow that such orders were needed, and he could have reassured people that the ban was only temporary. He could also have made some positive statements about immigrants and Muslims, especially those who are serving with us in the war on terror. But he did not. So all of us are left to wonder whether this is a short-term measure targeting only the listed countries, or whether it is the beginning of something bigger. For American Muslims and immigrants, and for our allies abroad, the uncertainty of the EOs is probably worse than the EOs themselves.


    The question, though, is what do we do from here? At this point, it would be naïve to expect any comforting rhetoric, or even common decency, from our President, so I think it is up to us—immigrants, advocates, and their supporters—to craft a response to the new reality.


    For me, the protests are a good start. They show our solidarity and our strength (indeed, this is precisely why we held the Refugee Ball last month). There is some comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that the larger community is ready to defend you, and refugees and immigrants in our country are certainly not alone. Tens of thousands of protesters in the streets and at airports have demonstrated as much. We also see this as hundreds of elected representatives and other leaders have been speaking out in defense of our non-citizen neighbors.


    Lawsuits—such as the lawsuits by the ACLU and several state governments—are also crucial. Thus far, they have blocked some of the most offensive portions of the EOs. The lawsuits show that the protections of our laws and Constitution extend to all non-citizen in our country and quite possible to some non-citizens who are outside our country. This will, I hope, provide some comfort to those in the Administration’s crosshairs.


    Legislation in various states and municipalities is also important. Such action can serve to shield non-citizens from some provisions of the orders, particularly those that seek to encourage (or more accurately, coerce) local governments to help enforcement federal immigration law. They also potentially help build momentum for more positive legislative change on a national level.


    Finally, volunteering to assist non-citizens--with housing, food, job search, English--helps such people integrate into our communities and feel more welcome in our country. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, you might try contacting a local non-profit organization.


    While these actions cannot fully allay the fear felt by refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, Muslims, and many others in our country, they are all signs of the strong resistance President Trump faces to his policies and to his divisive world view. As we move through this difficult time, we must continue to resist hatred and work to support each other.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. Updates on the Executive Orders: The Umpire Strikes Back

    President Trump's Executive Orders ("EOs") on immigration triggered a series of lawsuits that are still playing out in federal courts across the nation. The lawsuits have resulted in orders barring certain portions of the EOs, at least for the time being.
    Judge James Robart: Referees helping Refugees.
    For those not familiar with the U.S. system, we have three (supposedly) co-equal branches of government: The executive (the President), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (federal courts). The judicial generally acts as an umpire or referee, making sure that the other branches play by the rules, or in this case, the Constitution and laws of the United States. What has been happening with the EOs is that the President is asserting his authority over immigration (and the President does have broad authority over immigration), but he is constrained by the U.S. Constitution and the existing immigration law. The lawsuits argue that the President has overstepped his authority, and so far, most courts have agreed to issue preliminary orders blocking the EOs, at least until the courts can more fully analyze whether the orders comply with the law.

    Probably the broadest decision thus far issued was by a U.S. District Judge in Seattle, James Robart. The lawsuit was brought by Washington State and the state of Minnesota in their role as "parens patriae of the residents living in their borders." The decision temporary stays several key portions of the EO related to terrorism based on the Judge's conclusion that the states' lawsuit was likely to succeed on the merits and that the states face "immediate and irreparable injury" as a result of the EOs. Specifically, the Judge found that the EO "adversely affects the States' residents in the areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel." In addition, the Judge found that, "the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injuries to the States' operations, tax bases, and public funds." Thus, the Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the EO. The order blocks portions of the EO nationwide, and will remain in effect until the Court can reach a decision on the merits of the lawsuit (or until it is overturned by a higher court).


    The President, through the Department of Justice, filed an appeal, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has thus far refused to overturn the District Judge's order. So what does all this mean?


    First, according to its website, USCIS "continues to adjudicate applications and petitions filed for or on behalf of individuals in the United States regardless of their country of origin, and applications and petitions of lawful permanent residents outside the U.S. USCIS also continues to adjudicate applications and petitions for individuals outside the U.S. whose approval does not directly confer travel authorization. Applications to adjust status also continue to be adjudicated, according to existing policies and procedures, for applicants who are nationals of countries designated in the Jan. 27, 2017, 'Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.'" This means that even if you are from one of the "banned" countries--Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya or Yemen--your case will be processed as before the EO. So USCIS should continue to issue decisions for nationals of such countries, at least for the time being.


    Second, the State Department will resume issuing visas for people from the listed countries, including refugees. U.S. visas for nationals of these countries that were "provisionally revoked" are now "valid for travel to the United States, if the holder is otherwise eligible." Meaning that if you are from a banned country and you have a valid U.S. visa, you should be able to enter the United States. Again, the Judge's order is temporary, and it may be overturned, so if you have a visa and wish to come to the United States, you should do so immediately, since we do not know for how long the Judge's temporary restraining order will remain in place.


    Third, DHS/Customs and Border Protection is also following the Judge's order, even if it is doing so reluctantly. From the CBP website:

    In accordance with the judge's ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." This includes actions to suspend passenger system rules that flag travelers for operational action subject to the Executive Order. DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure. At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this order and defend the President's Executive Order, which is lawful and appropriate. The Order is intended to protect the homeland and the American people, and the President has no higher duty and responsibility than to do so.

    So all people with valid visas and who are otherwise eligible to enter--including nationals of the banned countries--should be able to board planes, travel to the United States, and enter the country. In short, the Judge's order restores the situation for such travelers to how it was prior to the EOs.


    Finally, I wrote in an update to last week's post that additional countries may be added to the banned list. As long as the Judge's order is in place, I doubt that will happen, and--more importantly--the State Department informed the American Immigration Lawyer's Association that there was no "addendum, annex or amendment now being worked on to expand visa revocations or the travel ban to countries other than those currently implicated in [the] Executive Order." Hopefully, this means that we will not see additional countries added to the "banned" list.


    The legal fight over the EOs is a rapidly moving target, so before you make any travel plans, please check the news or check with a lawyer to make sure there are no additional changes affecting you. I will also try to keep posting updates here.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. Update on President Trump's Immigration Orders

    Since President Trump began issuing executive orders ("EOs") on immigration last week, there has been outrage, confusion, and chaos within the immigration community. The EOs were clearly not very well thought out, and seem to have been written by someone lacking a comprehensive understanding of America's immigration law. As a result, several courts have blocked portions of the EOs, and the Administration has walked back one of the more problematic elements of the new rules. There will be time later for an analysis of how all this affects our country's security and moral standing, but since we are still in the middle of it, and since the situation is rapidly changing, I wanted to provide an update to my post from last week, to help non-citizens understand their situation.
    I've never felt so proud to be Canadian! Oh, right, I'm American. Woo-f'n-hoo.
    As I wrote last time, the EOs' most damaging effects are on people trying to come to the United States. For people who are already here, the effect is less dramatic (and not all-together clear). Also, I believe nothing I wrote last week is obsolete, so if you have not read the previous posting, please do, as today's posting is meant to supplement what I wrote last time.


    Lawful Permanent Residents from Countries of Particular Concern
    : In some ways, the worst part of the EOs is how they affected lawful permanent residents ("LPRs" or people with green cards) who are from "countries of particular concern,” meaning Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya (perhaps more countries will be added to this list later).

    DHS originally interpreted the EOs to mean that LPRs from these countries would be turned back at the border. Apparently, at least some LPRs were rejected at the airport and sent back to their point of origin (Customs and Border Protection or CBP claims that only two LPRs were turned back). However, after (partially) successful litigation by the ACLU and others, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a statement that "the entry of lawful permanent residents [is] in the national interest. Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations." This means that if you are an LPR from one of the listed countries, you should probably (but not certainly) be able to re-enter the United States, but you should expect delays upon arrival, as your case will be individually reviewed to determine whether you present a threat to the United States. Whether you will, in fact, be able to enter the U.S. is not guaranteed, and how long the delay will be at the airport is currently unknown (DHS claims that entry into the U.S. should be "swift").

    Given all this, it is clearly a bad idea for anyone with lawful status in the U.S. who is from one of the listed countries to travel outside the U.S. at this time. If you are from one of the listed countries and are currently outside the U.S., you should be able to return if you are an LPR (if you have some other status in the U.S., especially a non-immigrant status, you likely will not be able to return at this time). Because there is so much uncertainty for people from these countries, it is best to remain in the United States or, if you are outside the country and are able to return, to return as soon as possible.


    People from Countries of Particular Concern Waiting for an Immigration Benefit
    : For people in the U.S. who are from “countries of particular concern” and who are waiting for an immigration benefit, such as asylum, a work permit or a green card, the situation is also unclear.


    Section 3 of the EO on terrorism is titled, “Suspension of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern” and states that the U.S. government should conduct a review to determine whether additional information is needed to adjudicate visas, admissions, and “other benefits under the INA (adjudications)” for people from countries of particular concern. The reference to “other benefits under the INA" or Immigration and Nationality Act – the immigration law of the United States --would presumably include benefits such as green cards, asylum, and work permits, though the EO does not specifically define what it means. Also, while the EO suspends immigrant and non-immigrant admissions for 90 days for people from countries of particular concern, it makes no other mention of suspending immigration benefits to such people who are already in the U.S. As a result, it is unclear whether, or for how long, USCIS (the agency that administers immigration benefits) will suspend such benefits for people from the listed countries.


    Unfortunately, some leaked--but thus far unconfirmed--emails from USCIS indicate that the agency has decided to suspend all final decisions in cases for people from the listed countries. According to one news source:

    "Effectively [sic] immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya," wrote Daniel M. Renaud, associate director of field operations for DHS’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Field offices may interview applicants for adjustment of status and other benefits according to current processing guidance and may process petitions and applications for individuals from these countries up to the point where a decision would be made."

    In other words, while interviews can take place for such people, no decisions--to include approval, denial, withdrawal, or revocation--will be made "until further notice." I can report that USCIS is conducting interviews for people from countries on the list--my Syrian asylum client was interviewed yesterday--but I have not heard anything official yet about whether decisions will be issued. If this is accurate, it means decision will be suspended, at least for a while, on asylum cases. Whether it will affect applications for work permits, which are issued while waiting for a final decision on an asylum case, is less clear. Hopefully, it will not, and hopefully, this suspension will be temporary.


    I-730 Petitions
    : If a person is granted asylum, she can file an I-730 (follow to join) petition for her spouse and minor, unmarried children. For family members from countries on the list, the EO applies, and thus the State Department "has stopped scheduling appointments and halted processing for follow-to join asylee beneficaries who are nationals or dual nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Further information on appointments for follow-to-join refugees will be available in the future." In other words, family members of asylees from the listed countries cannot currently come here based on I-730 petitions, but how long this prohibition will last is unknown. In contrast to the State Department website, CBP indicates that I-730 petitions will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. How this will ultimately play out, we do not know, but there is still hope that family members overseas will be able to join the principal asylee in the United States. Also, the visa ban is set to expire after 90 days, and so we can hope that once procedures are reviewed, travelers from "countries of particular concern" will be able to come to the United States to join their family members.


    People from Other Muslim Countries
    : At this point the EOs are limited to the seven listed countries. People from other Muslim countries are not affected. However, the EOs require government agencies to determine whether additional countries should be added to the "banned" list. For this reason, if you are a non-citizen, and particularly if you are from a predominately Muslim country, it is important to keep an eye on the news, just in case more countries are added to the list. A good source for up-to-date information about the EOs, and the lawsuits opposing them, is the American Immigration Council's website, here.


    So that is the update for now. It is important to understand that the "ban" described in the EO is temporary, and that the people mainly affected are nationals from "countries of particular concern." Of course, we will have to see how this plays out going forward, but it is important to remain calm and patient, and to keep hoping--and working--for something better.

    [Update for February 2, 2017: I have heard an unconfirmed rumor out of the State Department that additional countries will be added to the list of banned countries. This is not confirmed, but here is the message I received: "There is a draft order being circulated at the State Department. The order has language extending the list of banned countries to Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, Mali, Colombia, and Venezuela." I suggest people from those countries pay careful attention to the news, in case the countries are added to the list, and I suggest that people from these countries not travel outside the U.S. until we have some clarification.]

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

    Updated 02-02-2017 at 08:32 AM by JDzubow

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