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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. President Trump’s 101-Year Deportation Plan

    Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong had their five-year plans. Nikita Khrushchev had his seven-year plan. And now President Trump has a 101-year plan. That’s how long it will take to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented residents if current trends continue.


    Happy Birthday! Now, get the hell out of my country!


    The most recent statistics on case completions in Immigration Court show that the Trump Administration has issued an average of 8,996 removal (deportation) orders per month between February and June 2017 (and 11,000,000 divided by 8,996 cases/month = 1,222.8 months, or 101.9 years). That's up from 6,913 during the same period last year, but still well-below the peak period during the early days of the Obama Administration, when courts were issuing 13,500 removal orders each month.

    Of course, the Trump Administration has indicated that it wants to ramp up deportations, and to that end, the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR--the office that oversees the nation's Immigration Courts--plans to hire more Immigration Judges ("IJs"). Indeed, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Attorney General (at least for now) announced that EOIR would hire 50 more judges this year and 75 next year.
    Assuming EOIR can find 125 new IJs, and also assuming that no currently-serving judges retire (a big assumption given that something like 50% of our country's IJs are eligible to retire), then EOIR will go from 250 IJs to 375. So instead of 101 years to deport the nation's 11 million undocumented residents, it will only take 68 years (assuming that no new people enter the U.S. illegally or overstay their visas, and assuming my math is correct--more big assumptions).

    But frankly, I'm doubtful that 68 years--or even 101 years--is realistic. It's partly that more people are entering the population of "illegals" all the time, and so even as the government chips away at the 11,000,000 figure, more people are joining that club, so to speak. Worse, from the federal government's point of view, there is not enough of a national consensus to deport so many people, and there is significant legal resistance to Mr. Trump's immigration agenda.

    In addition to all this, there is the Trump Administration's modus operandi, which is best characterized as malevolence tempered by incompetence. One statistic buried in the recent deportation numbers illustrates this point. In March 2017, judges issued 10,110 removal orders. A few months later, in June, judges issued 8,919 removal orders.

    This means that the number of deportation orders dropped by 1,191 or about 11.8%. How can this be? In a word: Incompetence (I suppose if I wanted to be more generous—which I don’t—I could say, Inexperience). The Trump Administration has no idea how to run the government and their failure in the immigration realm is but one example.

    There are at least a couple ways the Administration’s incompetence has manifested itself at EOIR.

    One is in the distribution of judges. It makes sense to send IJs where they are needed. But that’s not exactly what is happening. Maybe it’s just opening night jitters for the new leadership at EOIR. Maybe they’ll find their feet and get organized. But so far, it seems EOIR is sending judges to the border, where they are underutilized. While this may have the appearance of action (which may be good enough for this Administration), the effect—as revealed in the statistical data—is that fewer people are actually being deported.

    As I wrote previously, the new Acting Director of EOIR has essentially no management experience, and it’s still unclear whether he is receiving the support he needs, or whether his leadership team has the institutional memory to navigate the EOIR bureaucracy. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the inefficient use of judicial resources.

    Another reason may be that shifting judges around is not as easy as moving pieces on a chess board. The IJs have families, homes, and ties to their communities. Not to mention a union to protect them (or try to protect them) from management. And it doesn’t help that many Immigration Courts are located in places that you wouldn’t really want to live, if you had a choice. So getting judges to where you need them, and keeping them there for long enough to make a difference, is not so easy.

    A second way the Trump Administration has sabotaged itself is related to prosecutorial discretion or PD. In the pre-Trump era, DHS attorneys (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) had discretion to administratively close cases that were not a priority. This allowed DHS to focus on people who they wanted to deport: Criminals, human rights abusers, people perceived as a threat to national security. In other words, “Bad Hombres.” Now, PD is essentially gone. By the end of the Obama Administration, 2,400 cases per month were being closed through PD. Since President Trump came to office, the average is less than 100 PD cases per month. The result was predictable: DHS can’t prioritize cases and IJs are having a harder time managing their dockets. In essence, if everyone is a deportation priority, no one is a deportation priority.

    Perhaps the Trump Administration hopes to “fix” these problems by making it easier to deport people. The Administration has floated the idea of reducing due process protections for non-citizens. Specifically, they are considering expanding the use of expedited removal, which is a way to bypass Immigration Courts for certain aliens who have been in the U.S. for less than 90 days. But most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have been here much longer than that, and so they would not be affected. Also, expansion of expedited removal would presumably trigger legal challenges, which may make it difficult to implement.

    Another “fix” is to prevent people from coming here in the first place. Build the wall. Deny visas to people overseas. Scare potential immigrants so they stay away. Illegally turn away asylum seekers at the border. Certainly, all this will reduce the number of people coming to America. But the cost will be high. Foreign tourists, students, and business people add many billions to our economy. Foreign scholars, scientists, artists, and other immigrants contribute to our country’s strength. Whether the U.S. is willing to forfeit the benefits of the global economy in order to restrict some people from coming or staying here unlawfully, I do not know. But the forces driving migration are powerful, and so I have real doubts that Mr. Trump’s efforts will have more than a marginal impact, especially over the long run. And even if he could stop the flow entirely, it still leaves 11 million people who are already here.

    There is an obvious alternative to Mr. Trump’s plan. Instead of wasting billions of dollars, harming our economy, and ripping millions of families apart, why not move towards a broad legalization for those who are here? Focus on deporting criminals and other “bad hombres,” and leave hard-working immigrants in peace. Sadly, this is not the path we are on. And so, sometime in 2118, perhaps our country will finally say adieu to its last undocumented resident.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. We're All in Atlanta Now

    Atlanta, Georgia is generally considered to have the most difficult Immigration Court in the country. Now, the Trump Administration has tapped attorneys from the Atlanta Office of the Chief Counsel (the "prosecutors" in Immigration Court) to take charge of the Immigration Courts and the "prosecutors" offices for the entire United States. A third Atlanta OCC attorney has been appointed to a key policy-making position at the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).


    If you're feeling down about Georgia exports, here's something to love.

    Before we get to those attorneys, let's first talk about Atlanta. The average grant rate for asylum cases across the U.S. is just under 50%. The asylum grant rate at the Atlanta Immigration Court is less than 9%. Also, immigrant advocates have frequently complained about due process issues and the treatment of litigants in the Atlanta court.

    It's true that the Office of the Chief Counsel ("OCC") and the Immigration Court are independent of each other, but I think we can safely glean a few things about the Atlanta OCC from what we know of the Court.

    For one, since Immigration Judges will usually grant cases where the parties agree on relief, it seems likely that OCC attorneys in Atlanta rarely determine that a case should be approved for asylum. Of course, we do not know about the quality of the asylum cases in Atlanta—maybe they are unusually weak (a real possibility since sophisticated litigants will avoid Atlanta due to its low grant rate). But it would be strange indeed if almost no cases there meet the relatively low threshold required for asylum. The fact that the OCC is not stipulating to asylum on occasion indicates that they are taking a very hard line against such cases (this contrasts with many other jurisdictions, where the local OCCs regularly conclude that applicants qualify for asylum). The job of OCC attorneys is not merely to deport as many people as possible; they are supposed to do justice. This means agreeing to relief where it is appropriate. The low grant rate in Atlanta may indicate that OCC lawyers there are prioritizing “winning” over doing justice, and ideology above the law—all worrying signs as these attorneys move into national leadership positions.

    Second, whether the asylum cases in Atlanta are strong or weak, I suspect that the high denial rate there colors the view of the OCC attorneys. If those attorneys believe that over 90% of asylum seekers are unworthy of relief—either because they do not meet the requirements for asylum or because they are lying about their claims—it seems likely that these attorneys will develop a jaundiced view of such cases, and maybe of immigrants in general.

    Finally, there exists at least one instance of the Atlanta OCC taking an overly-aggressive position in a case involving alleged racial profiling by ICE (if OCC attorneys are the prosecutors, ICE officers are the police). In that case, an Immigration Judge in Atlanta ordered the OCC to produce an ICE agent accused of racial profiling. The OCC refused to produce the agent, and ultimately, the Judge ruled that the agents had engaged in “egregious” racial profiling and the OCC attorneys had committed “willful misconduct” by refusing to bring the agents to court. While the three OCC attorneys at issue here had left the Atlanta office by the time of this case, the OCC's position again points to an agency willing to put “winning” ahead of justice.

    With this background in mind, let's turn to the alumnus of the Atlanta OCC who will be taking charge of our immigration system.

    Tracy Short - ICE Principal Legal Advisor
    : Tracy Short is the new Principal Legal Advisor for ICE. In that capacity, he "oversees the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, the largest legal program within the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of more than 1,100 attorneys and 300 support professionals throughout the United States." These are the attorneys who serve as "prosecutors" in Immigration Court, among their other tasks. According to his ICE biography, "From 2009 to 2015, Mr. Short served as the Deputy Chief Counsel in the ICE Atlanta Office of Chief Counsel." Mr. Short also served on the committee staff for Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the staunch anti-immigration representative from Virginia.

    While Mr. Short has impressive litigation experience, he has almost no management experience (as Deputy Chief Counsel, he might have supervised a few dozen people, at most). But now, under the Trump Administration, he is overseeing more than 1,400 lawyers and staff. Like his fellow veterans of the Atlanta OCC, I suspect he was chosen more for his ideological views than for his management background.

    James McHenry - Acting Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR")
    : In a move characterized as "unusual" by retired Immigration Judge and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt, the Attorney General has appointed James McHenry as the new Acting Director of EOIR, the office that oversees the nation's immigration court system. Judge Schmidt notes that, "While Judge McHenry has stellar academic and professional credentials, and is an 'EOIR vet,' having served as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Adviser in the Buffalo and Baltimore Immigration Courts, it is unusual in my experience for the acting head of EOIR to come from outside the ranks of current or former members of the Senior Executive Service, since it is a major executive job within the DOJ." In other words, while Judge McHenry has had significant legal experience, he has very little leadership experience, especially at EOIR.

    Indeed, Judge Schmidt's characterization of Judge McHenry as an "EOIR vet" seems overly generous. He served as a Judicial Law Clerk, which is basically a one or two year gig for new law school graduates working as an assistant to Immigration Judges (I myself was a JLC back in the prediluvian era) and he has a few months experience as an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, an office at EOIR that reviews certain employment cases involving immigrants.

    Like Mr. Short, Judge McHenry worked for the Atlanta OCC. He served as an Assistant Chief Counsel for ICE in that office from 2005 to 2010.
    Whether Judge McHenry's "acting" role as Director of EOIR will become permanent, we do not know. But I agree with Judge Schmidt that it is highly unusual for a person with such limited management experience to be picked to head our country's immigration court system, with hundreds of judges and support personnel to oversee.

    Gene Hamilton - Counsel to DHS Secretary
    : Gene Hamilton was appointed as counsel to DHS Secretary John Kelly. Along with Stephen Miller, he was apparently a key architect of the Trump Administration's travel ban against people from several majority-Muslim countries. He also served as a trial attorney at the Atlanta OCC in about 2014 and 2015, though I could not verify his length of service there. In addition, Mr. Hamilton served on the staff of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions before he was appointed Attorney General. Mr. Sessions, of course, is well known for his regressive views on immigration, civil rights, and just about everything else.

    So there you have it. Three veterans of the Atlanta OCC who together will be exercising significant control over our country's immigration system. Given their backgrounds and experience (or lack thereof), it's difficult to be optimistic about how that system will fare under their watch.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, atlanta, trump Add / Edit Tags
  3. Return of the Travel Ban

    Days after President Trump took office, he moved to implement one of his campaign promises: To bar Muslims, refugees, and others from coming to the United States. Courts were not amused, and blocked significant portions of the President's executive orders (thanks largely to the brilliant work of lawyers at the ACLU and at several states attorneys offices). The President tried again, with a new, more limited executive order ("EO"). The new EO was also severely limited by the courts.


    You'd think a bunch of people in burkas would be a bit more sympathetic to Muslims.

    But now, the Supreme Court has spoken, and the EO is back, at least in part. So what's the story? Here is a nice summary (with some comments by yours truly) of where we are now, courtesy of Aaron Reichlin-Melnick at the American Immigration Council (and if you want to do something to help resist the travel ban, consider donating to the AIC--they are a terrific organization that does yeoman's work in all areas of the immigration field):

    "[The] the Court ruled that the government can only enforce the travel ban against foreign nationals who do not have 'a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.'

    "What this means is that individuals from the six countries [Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen] will be permitted to enter the United States if they have a 'close familial relationship' with someone already here or if they have a 'formal, documented' relationship with an American entity formed 'in the ordinary course' of business. However, the Court said that such relationships cannot be established for the purpose of avoiding the travel ban. The government will likely begin applying the travel ban in the limited fashion permitted by the Supreme Court on June 29, 2017.

    "Who is likely to be allowed to enter the United States?


    • Individuals who have valid immigrant or non-immigrant visas issued on or before June 26, 2017: These individuals are not included in the travel ban [However, it seems to me that the decision leaves open the possibility of a new EO where such people are banned, and so I am concerned about that as well].
    • Individuals with visas coming to live or visit with family members: The Court’s order is clear that individuals who 'wish [] to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member' have close familial relationships. The Court used both a spouse and a mother-in-law as examples of qualifying relationships, but it is unclear whether more distant relatives would qualify.
    • Students who have been admitted to a U.S. university, workers who have accepted offers of employment with U.S. companies, and lecturers invited to address an American audience: The Court provided these three examples of individuals who have credible claims of a bona fide relationship to an American entity.
    • Other types of business travelers: It is unclear whether individuals with employment-based visas that do not require a petitioning employer will be able to demonstrate the requisite relationship with a U.S. entity.
    • Refugees: Most refugees processed overseas have family or other connections to the United States including with refugee resettlement agencies [I read this a bit more pessimistically--I do not know whether a pre-existing relationship with a resettlement agency is enough to avoid the ban]. The Court ruled that such individuals may not be excluded even if the 50,000 [person] cap on refugees has been reached or exceeded.


    "Who may have trouble entering the United States?


    • Individuals who form bona fide relationships with individuals or entities in the United States after June 26, 2017: The Court’s decision is not clear on whether it is prospective or retrospective only. Individuals who form such relationships to avoid the travel ban are barred from entering.
    • Tourists: Nationals of the designated countries who are not planning to visit family members in the United States and who are coming for other reasons (including sight-seeing) may be barred from entering [I also read this more pessimistically--it seems to me that anyone from a banned country who does not merit an exception as discussed in the decision will be denied a visa, including people coming to the U.S. for business, pleasure or medical treatment]."


    As I read the decision and the EO, asylum seekers who are already in the United States, as well as people who have asylum or have a green card based on asylum, are not blocked from traveling and re-entering the country. They are also not blocked from receiving additional immigration benefits (like asylum, a green card, a work permit, travel documents or naturalization). However, the proof will be in the implementation--how the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") interprets and applies the Supreme Court decision in actual, real-life cases.

    In that regard, I agree with Justice Thomas, who "fear[s] that the Court's remedy will prove unworkable" and will invite a "flood of litigation." Who is a qualifying relative for purposes of this decision? Must that person be a U.S. citizen? Or can the person be a resident or an asylee (as in a refugee/asylee following-to-join petition, form I-730)? Could the qualifying relative simply be someone here on a work visa or a visitor visa? What if the person is here illegally? And what is a business relationship, and how do we know whether it is bona fide or created solely for the purpose of subverting the EO?

    In short, while the Supreme Court decision is reasonably clear for some aliens, it leaves large gray areas that will require interpretation, meaning more litigation. Such litigation is expensive and time consuming, and so the Court's decision is likely to leave some people who might qualify to come here stranded, depending on how DHS implements the EO, and depending on whether they can get legal help. Overall, that's not a great situation to be in.

    Finally, yesterday's decision perhaps telegraphs where the Justices will come down on the merits of the EO when they look at the case this fall (the Court's decision relates only to whether to stop implementation of the EO pending a decision on the merits). Three Justices (Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch) seem likely to allow a broader version of the ban to go forward. Given what we see in this decision, it may be that the other Justices are more skeptical of the ban and will limited it in some ways (and with luck, if the Trump Administration fears that the Court will limit the ban, it may just declare victory and allow the EO to expire, as originally intended).

    All this remains to be seen, but for now, anyone from a banned country should pay attention to how the EO is implemented in the coming days, and perhaps avoid traveling outside the U.S. until we know more.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. Fred Korematsu and the Forgotten Legacy of Lies

    Seventy-five years ago this week, Fred Korematsu was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro, California. His crime: Failing to report to an internment center for Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese decent who were detained en masse once the United States entered World War II.
    Fred Korematsu and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
    After three months in pre-trial detention (he wasn’t released even though he posted bail), Mr. Korematsu was convicted in federal court for violating the military relocation order, sentenced to five months’ probation, and sent to an internment camp where he lived in a horse stall. He later said, “Jail was better than this.” Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were confined to such camps during the course of the war because the government feared they were disloyal (German- and Italian-Americans were not subject to such treatment).


    The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) represented Mr. Korematsu at trial and in his appeals. Eventually, the case reached the United States Supreme Court, which issued a 6-3 decision upholding the conviction as justified due to the circumstances of “direst emergency and peril.”


    Over time, the Supreme Court’s decision—and the internment of Japanese Americans—came to be viewed as a great injustice. President Ford issued a proclamation apologizing for the internment. A commission established by President Carter concluded that the decision to remove those of Japanese ancestry to prison camps occurred because of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” And President Reagan signed a bill providing compensation to surviving internment camp residents. In 1998, President Clinton awarded Mr. Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, stating:

    In the long history of our country's constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls: Plessy, Brown, Parks… to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.

    Mr. Korematsu himself remained active in civil rights until his death in 2005. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he spoke out about how the United States government should not let the same thing happen to people of Middle-Eastern descent as happened to Japanese Americans during WWII. He also filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in several cases involving lengthy detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay.


    With the Trump Administration’s attempted crackdown on Muslim immigrants, Korematsu v. United States is again in the news. A few (misguided) individuals have suggested that Korematsu provides precedent for the President’s crackdown on Muslims (though it seems highly doubtful that any modern court would rely on Korematsu for precedent). Others view the case as a cautionary tale: We should not abandon our ideals in the face of a perceived threat.


    But there is another lesson from Korematsu; a lesson that has received surprisingly little attention in our “post truth” age: The U.S. government, including the Solicitor General who argued the case, Charles Fahy, knowingly lied to the Supreme Court about the alleged threat posed by Japanese Americans during the war, and those lies very likely influenced the outcome of the case.


    The government’s mendacity came to light in the early 1980’s when Peter Irons, a law professor writing a book about the internment camps, discovered that the Solicitor General had deliberately suppressed reports from the FBI and military intelligence which concluded that Japanese-American citizens posed no security risk. The documents revealed that the military had lied to the Supreme Court, and that government lawyers had willingly made false arguments.


    As a result of these discoveries, a District Court in San Francisco formally vacated Mr. Korematsu’s conviction on November 10, 1983--more than 40 years after he was found guilty. Mr. Korematsu told the Judge, “I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color.” He continued, “If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people.”


    In 2011, the Acting Solicitor General stated:

    By the time the [case of] Fred Korematsu reached the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General had learned of a key intelligence report that undermined the rationale behind the internment. The Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court “might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the Court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by “racial solidarity.”

    [The District Judge that overturned Mr. Korematsu’s conviction] thought it unlikely that the Supreme Court would have ruled the same way had the Solicitor General exhibited complete candor.

    And so, the U.S. government recognized that its lies did real damage. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and lives, confined to camps, and excluded from American society. In addition, our country lost the benefit of those citizens’ contributions—to our nation and to the war effort.


    Yet here we are again. Refugees—particularly Muslim refugees—are painted as a threat to our security. The President says they are a “Trojan Horse” for terrorists. Precious little evidence supports these claims. And much of that evidence has been discredited. Indeed, to me, it sounds a lot like “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” with an emphasis on the latter.


    Which all leads to the final point: Will the current Administration follow the lead of Solicitor General Fahy? If the evidence does not support its assertions about Muslim immigrants, will it suppress the truth? And how will judges respond? For now, it seems that our courts remain the only level-headed branch of government, and the only real bulwark against the bigotry and falsehoods peddled by our President. When the government ignores the evidence and makes policy decisions based on fantasy, it’s not just Muslims and immigrants who will suffer. Fred Korematsu is gone, but let’s hope his legacy is never forgotten.

    Learn more about Fred Korematsu and his on-going story at the Korematsu Institute.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: korematsu, trump Add / Edit Tags
  5. In Trump's America, Are Asylum Seekers at Risk of Arrest?

    A recent case from Florida has raised concern in the asylum-seeker community. On April 26, Marco Coello, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, went to his interview at the Miami Asylum Office. Instead of meeting with an officer to discuss his case, he was detained by Homeland Security officers.
    If you see these guys at your asylum interview, it's probably a bad sign.
    Fortunately, for Mr. Coello, he was released the next day, after various people--including Senator Marco Rubio--intervened on his behalf. An ICE spokesman said that he was detained "because he has a misdemeanor criminal conviction and had stayed in the U.S. longer than his visa allowed."


    I contacted Mr. Coello's attorney, Elizabeth Blandon, and learned that his conviction was for trespassing (he was originally charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana). I also learned that the Asylum Office issued a letter on the day of his arrest stating that the case had been sent to the Immigration Court. In fact, Mr. Coello's case is not with the court, and the issue of jurisdiction (i.e., who will hear his case--an Asylum Officer or an Immigration Judge) is yet to be worked out. Until that happens, his case remains in limbo.


    Frankly, it is unclear to me why ICE detained Mr. Coello. His conviction was for a minor violation, which is probably not even a deportable offense. One possibility is that ICE targeted him due to the mistaken belief that he had more than one misdemeanor conviction (trespassing and marijuana possession). Another, more conspiracy-minded, possibility is that ICE arrested Mr. Coello because he was a well-known activist from Venezuela. As the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated, the number of asylum cases from that country has soared. Currently, Venezuelans are filing more affirmative asylum applications than people from any other country. Maybe ICE wanted to send a message in an effort to intimidate potential Venezuelan applicants and stem the tide of cases from that troubled country. Normally, I tend to shy away from such conspiracy theories, but in this case, where the applicant is well-known in his community, I am not so sure.


    Mr. Coello's case is not the only instance of an asylum seeker being detained since President Trump took office, and rumors have been swirling about the new hard-line approach of his Administration. We have heard reports about an HIV-positive Russian asylum seeker, who was detained after visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands and then returning to the mainland (the problem here is probably that a person must go through customs to enter the U.S. from the USVI, and he did not get Advance Parole before leaving and trying to return). He was held for a month before being released. There have also been examples of ICE officials arresting asylum seekers who have been charged with crimes when they appear in criminal court. (And of course, there are the thousands of asylum seekers who arrive via the Mexican border without a visa and who are detained when they request asylum--but this began en masse long before President Trump's time).


    It's not just asylum seekers who are being detained. Aliens applying for other USCIS benefits have also been arrested. For example, there were five cases where immigrants were notified to appear for USCIS interviews, and were then detained when they arrived at the USCIS office. Apparently, all five had prior deportation orders from Immigration Judges. There's also the case of a woman who was arrested at a courthouse after filing a protective order against her ex-boyfriend. According to one news source, the woman had an extensive criminal history and had illegally re-entered the United States after being deported.


    In addition to all this, there is the now-famous (at least in immigration circles) case from February of a domestic flight from San Francisco to New York where ICE agents checked IDs for everyone disembarking the plane (ICE claims that the searches were "consensual"). Supposedly, ICE was searching for an alien with a criminal record. Turns out, he wasn't even on the flight.


    So what does all this mean? Do asylum seekers risk arrest when they appear for their interview? Or when they show up for a court hearing? Or when they travel domestically? The short answer, at least for now, is no, no, and no.


    First, except for the person returning from the USVI, the common denominator in the above cases is that all the aliens had a criminal conviction and/or a deportation order. If you do not have a criminal record or a removal order, there is no reason to believe that ICE will detain you if you appear for an appointment, court date or domestic flight. Indeed, except for the examples above involving criminal convictions and deportation orders, I have not heard about any asylum applicants being detained.


    If you do have a criminal conviction (or even an arrest) or a removal order, then there is some risk, but it's unclear exactly how to assess that risk. How likely is it that a person with a criminal record or removal order will be detained if they appear for an interview? Does the likelihood of detention increase with the severity of the criminal conduct? I do not know, and I am not confident that the few examples discussed above help us evaluate the chance of trouble. But given that there is some risk, it seems worthwhile for anyone with a criminal conviction or a removal order to consult with an attorney before going to an appointment with USCIS.


    If I had a conviction or a deportation order, and I was scheduled for an asylum or other USCIS interview, I would want to know a few things from my lawyer. First, I would want to know the likelihood of obtaining the benefit that I have applied for. If my case is very weak and unlikely to succeed, maybe I would be less willing to appear for an interview where I risked detention. Also, I would want to know how seriously the government views my criminal conduct. If the conviction is very minor, I would expect that the likelihood of ICE detention is low (but maybe not, as Mr. Coello's trespassing conviction illustrates). If the conviction is serious--and many convictions subject an alien to mandatory detention--I would want to know that too. In fact, I would want to know all this before I even apply for asylum or other immigration benefit. Why start the process when it is unlikely I will be able to successfully complete it, especially if applying for the benefit exposes me to possible arrest?


    Every person must make his or her own decision, weighing the risk and reward of applying for an immigration benefit. But if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, or if you already have a deportation order, it would be wise to talk to a lawyer before you file an application or attend an interview with USCIS.

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