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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers Protect Us All

    I’ve never been a big fan of the Martin Niemöller poem about the Nazi era, “First they came…” You know the one:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist,
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew,
    ...yadda, yadda, yadda…
    Then they came for me – And there was no one left to speak for me.

    I have two complaints about this poem. First, it implies that the main reason to “speak out” on behalf of others is self-interest: If I don’t help others, no one will help me. That seems a weak foundation for a system of moral behavior. Second, I don’t think Pastor Niemöller’s basic point—that eventually a malicious government will come for everyone—is convincing to the people who need convincing. Nazi supporters certainly did not think that their government would turn against them. And the fact is, Hitler did not persecute most of the people who stood by his side (he caused them great misery, but that is another story).

    Due Process of Law...

    Fast forward to our own time, and President Trump’s attacks on non-citizens. Last month, the President announced his opposition to due process of law for asylum seekers: “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” he wrote on Twitter. And a series of new legal, policy, and personnel changes represent clear moves in the direction of weakening due process protections for non-citizens, and making it easier to deny cases—including asylum cases—without a full review of the applicant’s claim.

    Why should we be so concerned about due process, you ask? For one thing, due process is a foundational principle of our democracy (and its origins go all the way back to the Magna Charta). The Founding Fathers were rightly concerned about the exercise of government power against individuals. Due process provides a procedural check on that power—the government’s authority cannot be unleashed in a criminal, civil or immigration case without first ensuring that the use of that power is lawful. In the case of non-citizens, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) provides certain legal rights to non-citizens, including the right to apply for asylum. The Supreme Court has recognized—repeatedly—that aliens are entitled to due process of law before they can be deported.

    What does due process look like in the immigration context? The protections afforded to non-citizens vary, depending on many factors, including the type of case, the relief sought, and whether the alien is inside the U.S. or seeking admission at the border. In the asylum context, an alien who is physically present in the United States or at a border has the right to seek asylum. That is the law (specifically INA §208). In most cases, asylum seekers are entitled to a full hearing to evaluate their claims. However, the Trump Administration has been working hard to eliminate due process protections, and reduce the system’s safeguards (for a sobering analysis of the Trump Administration’s degradation of due process for non-citizens, check out this article by the brilliant Jeffrey S. Chase). But thus far, the Trump Administration has not changed the immigration law—that requires an act of Congress.

    Assuming that Congress does not act (usually a safe assumption), some measure of due process will remain for all asylum seekers—even those at the border. But of course, reducing due process means increasing the likelihood that legitimate claims will be denied, and that some aliens will be returned to face harm.

    Dupe Process of Law.

    All this brings us back to Pastor Neimöller. I have little hope that President Trump’s supporters or Republicans in Congress will have a sudden change of heart, or recognize that when due process protections are reduced for some, those protections are reduced for us all. They seem to believe that while the government might come for non-citizens, it will not come for them. Or in the case of our elected officials, they may know better, but are cowed by the President’s Twitter account. Either way, we can’t expect much help here.

    So where does that leave us? Who will speak out?

    The primary decision-makers in asylum cases—the people on the front line—are Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers. There are other players, of course: The federal courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and USCIS Officers, but in most cases, it will be the IJs and Asylum Officers who determine the applicant’s fate. Here, I do have hope. Despite seeming efforts (probably illegal) by the Justice Department to exclude politically undesirable candidates, most IJs and Asylum Officers are serious people who recognize their duty to the rule of law. They were not hired to rubber stamp the President's agenda, and most will not do so.

    And while I can't say I am a fan of Pastor Neimöller's famous quote, I do think he is correct in this sense: When we weaken the legal mechanisms and institutions that protect us from excessive government power, we all become more vulnerable. Perhaps non-citizens are the canaries in the coal mine. As the government seeks to reduce due process protections for them, we should all be concerned. Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers stand on the front line of this fight, and when they do their duty, they protect us all.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. Magna Carta and the Rights of Refugees

    June 15, 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, a document signed by King John, which granted certain rights to English noblemen. Although the Magna Carta was executed under duress and was nullified by the Pope a month later (at John's request), it has become a foundational document of the American Constitutional system (our system, of course, derives from the English system).
    The Magna Carta brought us Due Process of Law, and this lovely commemorative mug. Available wherever finer mugs are sold.

    What is important about the Magna Carta is not so much the document itself, with its checkered history and its very limited application. Rather, it is the idea of the document that matters: The idea that even the king himself is subject to law and that the People can assert their rights against the sovereign. Indeed, the Magna Carta states--

    No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

    In other words, the sovereign will not act against the subject without due process of law.

    While apparently the idea of due process did not gain much traction at the time, it was later elevated to importance in England and the United States, and it is now fundamental to our system of justice. We are all (theoretically) entitled to a fair procedure before the government can assert its power against us.

    Of course, it was not always this way. When our country was founded, most people did not enjoy many basic legal rights: Women, minorities, slaves, Native Americans, foreigners, indentured servants, to name the most obvious. Over time, and with much struggle, such individuals gained more legal protections.

    But one area where the State retains great power vis-à-vis the individual is in immigration law: The sovereign state determines who will be admitted into the country and who will be excluded. The United States government is allowed to discriminate against arriving aliens. If we don't want to admit people from China into our country, we don't have to. If we decide to exclude Muslims, we can do that too. There is no Equal Protection clause for foreigners seeking admission to the U.S.

    There are more Constitutional protections available to aliens physically present in the U.S. and in removal (deportation) proceedings, but even these protections are far less than those accorded to criminal defendants. Aliens in removal proceedings do not have a right to an attorney (unless they can afford to hire one). They do not have Miranda rights. They have no right to a jury trial or to see all the evidence against them. They have more limited Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) and Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) protections than criminal defendants.

    But one Constitution right that applies to aliens in removal proceedings is the Due Process clause: Aliens are entitled to a fair procedure, and--if that procedure is violated--they can petition the federal courts for redress. As the Supreme Court has held:

    [T]he Due Process Clause applies to all "persons" within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.

    Because it is one of the few arrows in our quiver, immigration lawyers rely heavily on the Due Process clause, particularly in federal court litigation. The sovereign state has tremendous power to remove non-citizens from U.S. territory, but in doings so, it must comport with due process of law.

    In some ways, modern-day immigration law mirrors the early days of domestic law in Great Britain. At the time of the Magna Carta, the king had great power compared to his subjects. Over the centuries, the power of the State has eroded in favor of granting more rights to the People. But this evolution has been far less dramatic in the area of international law and immigration law, where--in the United States--the Executive Branch largely retains plenary power. Perhaps in some more-civilized future, there will exist a system of international law that grants more power to individual immigrants and less power to sovereign nations. I can't help but think that that would be a good thing.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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