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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. How to Find a Free Asylum Attorney

    If you want to hire a lawyer to help you with your asylum case, you'll find that attorney fees are all over the map. Some lawyers charge tens of thousands of dollars for a case. The larger immigration firms typically charge in the five to ten thousand dollar range. "Low bono" lawyers--and I include myself in this group--charge a few thousand dollars for an asylum case.
    Remember, when you use a pro bono attorney instead of hiring me, you are taking food from the mouths of my children.
    But what if you do not have any money for a lawyer, and even a "low bono" fee is too much? The options then are to do the case yourself (usually not a great idea) or to find a pro bono attorney.

    Pro bono (short for "pro bono publico") is a Latin phrase meaning "for the public good." In the legal context, it basically means that the lawyer does the work without charging the client any money.


    There are different types of pro bono attorneys. The major categories are lawyers who work for charities, attorneys who work for law school clinics, and private attorneys who volunteer their time. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of pro bono attorney, and strategies for finding an attorney in each category are a bit different.


    I suspect that most asylum seekers who find a pro bono attorney do so through a charitable organization. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of such organizations on the Executive Office for Immigration Review website (EOIR is the government agency that administers the nation's Immigration Courts). The list is organized by state, which is helpful. If you do not see your location, click on a nearby state and you should find charities that serve your area. The American Immigration Lawyer's Association (an association of private and non-profit attorneys) maintains a similar, and probably more comprehensive, list. Many of the organizations on these lists are free. Some charge a nominal fee (though in certain instances, I have heard about "nominal fees" ranging into the thousands of dollars, but this is the exception, not the norm).
    Also, most such organizations will not take a case where they believe the asylum seeker has the ability to pay for a lawyer.

    The main disadvantage of using a charitable organization is that they are very busy, and they may not have the capacity to take your case. Also, if you need your case done in a hurry, they may not be able to accommodate you. Indeed, the reason lawyers like me exist is because the charitable organizations do not have the resources to help everyone. If you are able to obtain representation from a charity, they will either do the case in-house, or they will find you a volunteer attorney who will work under their supervision. Many of these volunteer attorneys do not specialize in asylum. However, the non-profits are adept at training and supervising their volunteer lawyers, and in most cases, you will get excellent representation.


    So how do you get one of these charities to take your case? It often is not easy, and you may need to call/email/visit a number of organizations before you find one that can help you. But if you are persistent, you may be able to obtain representation. If one organization cannot help you, ask whether they can recommend another to try. It can feel like a full-time job to find a pro bono lawyer, but those applicants who make the effort are often able to obtain representation.


    Another type of pro bono representation is the legal clinic. Many law schools have clinical programs where a law professor supervises law students in real-life cases. The students do the actual work on the case. I do not know of a comprehensive, updated list of law school immigration clinics, but this list (in Excel) from the Law Professors Blog Network should get you started. Also, you might try Googling "Law School Immigration Clinic" + the name of your city. Again, these clinics receive many requests for assistance and they have limited capacity, so it is often difficult to get one to represent you.


    If you are represented by a law school clinic, you will work mostly with the students--after all, the primary purpose of the clinic is to provide a learning experience for the students. The obvious question is whether law students have the ability to adequately represent asylum applicants in court or in the asylum office. My observation is that, what the students lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and energy. Also, the supervision at clinics (at least the ones I have seen) tends to be excellent. I do not know of any studies on this, but I expect that the success rate of clinical students is comparable to the success rate of practicing attorneys.
    One issue for clinics is that their cases must be scheduled according to the academic calendar, which can sometimes cause additional delays (though sometimes, it can make things faster instead).

    Finally, many law firms have pro bono programs where the firm will represent individuals free of charge. Most firms get their pro bono clients from charitable organizations, but they can take on individual cases directly. If you know someone at a law firm (or if you know someone who knows someone), you might want to ask about this. If the attorney is not familiar with asylum law, she can likely partner with a non-profit organization, which will supervise her (the non-profits usually love to get new volunteer attorneys and are happy to help).


    In truth, it is often difficult to find pro bono representation. Resources are stretched thin. But if you persevere, it is possible to find a free attorney. And having an attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.

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

    Updated 09-23-2016 at 08:18 AM by JDzubow

  2. Refugee in Iconic WWII Photo Dies at Age 92

    On the afternoon of August 14, 1945, George Mendonsa was sitting in a movie theater with his date in New York City. Home from the Pacific Theater, where he served in the navy, Mr. Mendonsa was expecting to return to war and to the long-anticipated (and dreaded) invasion of Japan. Suddenly, the movie stopped, the lights came on, and someone announced that the war was over.
    This is how it looks when a war ends (from the days when wars actually ended).
    The theater goers spilled out into the street. Mr. Mendonsa and his date Rita Petri went to a bar where they imbibed maybe a bit too much. They then returned to the celebration in Times Square.


    The 20-year old Mendonsa had witnessed some horrible sights during his time in the navy. Most recently, he saw two Kamikaze planes destroy an American ship. Over 300 servicemen were killed. Many others were horribly wounded. Mr. Mendonsa assisted at the scene, and witnessed the American nurses tending to the injured.


    As he walked through the square, Mr. Mendonsa caught sight of a woman in a nurse's uniform. In an instant, he grabbed her, swooped her down, and kissed her. The moment was captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt and his photo came to symbolize the relief and exuberance that our country felt at the end of World War II (though the continued glorification of Mr. Mendonsa's non-consensual kiss is a bit creepy).


    Although the photo itself became famous, for many years, the people in the photo were unknown. A number of men and women came forward, claiming that they were the ones in the picture. Only in recent years has the mystery been solved (probably).


    It turns out that the woman in the photo (the kissee, if you will) was not a nurse; she was a 21-year old dental assistant from Queens named Greta Zimmer. Ms. Zimmer was also a refugee from Nazi-controlled Austria.


    Margarete "Greta" Zimmer was born on June 5, 1924 in eastern Austria. Her parents, Max and Ida, and her two sisters were Jewish. In the years leading up to World War II, Austria drifted into the orbit of Nazi Germany, and conditions for Jews deteriorated. Then, in March 1938, Austrian Nazis took control of the government. In the same month, German troops occupied the country. Despite the overt anti-Semitism and the increasing danger, the Zimmer family tried to remain in their homeland.


    By 1939, the family's thinking had changed. The danger was mounting and opportunities to leave were disappearing. Max and Ida decided to send their daughters out of Austria, even if they had not secured passage for themselves. One daughter was sent to Palestine. Greta, then 15 years old, and her sister Jo came to the United States (lucky for them, given the strict quota laws in place at the time). The girls hoped that the separation from their parents would be only temporary.


    Relatives in New York welcomed Greta and Jo to the United States. Greta volunteered as an air-raid warden during the war. She took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology.


    On the day of the photo, Greta Zimmer was working in a dental office near Times Square. All morning, they had been hearing rumors that the war had ended, and after lunch, she went over to Times Square, where she saw a lighted billboard declaring "V-J Day!" As for the kiss, Ms. Zimmer remembered it in a 2005 interview--

    Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn't that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn't have to go back. I found out later he was so happy that he didn't have to go back to the Pacific where [he] had already been through the war. The reason he grabbed somebody dressed like a nurse [was because] he felt so very grateful to the nurses who took care of the wounded.

    I'm not sure about the kiss... it was just somebody celebrating. It wasn't a romantic event. It was just an event of "Thank God the war is over."

    After the war, Ms. Zimmer married Dr. Mischa Friedman and had two children. She studied and later worked at Hood College in Maryland. It wasn't until years later that Ms. Zimmer saw the photo and recognized herself in it. She also eventually met George Mendonsa, who by then had married Rita Petri, his date on V-J Day.


    Ms. Zimmer never saw her parents again. They died in Auschwitz. She also lost many other family members during the Holocaust. In all, of 181,000 Jews in Austria in 1938, approximately 65,000 were murdered by the Nazis. Most of the remainder fled the country. Only a few thousand Jews remained in Austria by the end of the war.


    Greta Zimmer Friedman died on September 8, 2016. She was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, next to her late husband, who was a military veteran. She was 92. May her memory be a blessing.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. The Asylum Interview

    After you file affirmatively for asylum, you will wait for months or years, and then finally, you will have an interview. What happens at this interview? And how do you prepare for it?

    The interview is a (supposedly) non-confrontational conversation between the asylum applicant and an Asylum Officer. It takes place in an office; not a courtroom. You can bring an attorney and/or an interpreter with you to the interview. And sometimes, an Asylum Office supervisor or trainee is also present.

    A typical Asylum Office interrogation chamber... er, interview room.

    Before the interview, when you arrives at the Asylum Office, you need to check in. This consists of giving the interview notice to a receptionist, who will take your photo and fingerprints, and give you a paper to read. The paper reminds you of your obligation to tell the truth and lets you know that you can bring an interpreter with you to the interview. Do not sign the paper—you will sign it once you are with the Asylum Officer in the interview room.


    The interview itself is divided into a few parts.


    First, the Asylum Officer will explain and administer the oath, during which you will promise to tell the truth. If you have an interpreter, the Asylum Officer will also make her take an oath. For people using an interpreter, the Asylum Officer will call another interpreter on the phone, and this person will monitor the accuracy of the interpretation. If the interpreter you bring makes a mistake, the telephone interpreter will correct it (remember to speak loudly and clearly, so the person on the phone can hear you).


    After the oath, the Officer will review your form I-589 and give you an opportunity to make any corrections or updates. It is important to review the form yourself before you go to the interview, so you are ready to make corrections and updates when the time comes.


    Once the form is corrected, you will reach the heart of the interview, where the Officer will ask about why you need asylum in the United States. A few points to keep in mind here: First, if the Officer asks you a question that you do not understand, do not answer the question. Instead, ask for clarification. The Officer is typing what you say, thinking about his next question, and reading your file, all at the same time, so he may well ask you a poorly-worded question. It is not a problem—and indeed, it is common—for an applicant to ask the Officer to clarify a question. Do not be afraid to do that. Second, if you do not know the answer to a question, or do not remember the answer, do not guess. Just say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” If you guess, and your answer is different from your documents (or different from other information that the Asylum Officer has), it may cause the Asylum Officer to believe you are not telling the truth, which could result in your case being denied. Obviously, it is better if you know and remember the facts of your case, so make sure to review your statement before the interview.


    There are certain questions that the Officers usually ask, and you should be prepared for them: Why do you fear returning to your country? If you or a family member have been harmed in the past, describe what happened. If you face harm from a terrorist group or other non-governmental actor, can your home government protect you? Is there somewhere in your country where you can live safely? If you are a member of a political party, the Officer might test your knowledge of the party by asking about its leaders or history. If you are seeking asylum based on religious persecution, the Officer might ask you about the tenets of your religion. For people who served in the military or police, the Officer might ask about the nature of your service, and whether you might have engaged in persecution of others. If you ever had any interactions with a terrorist or insurgent group, the Officer will ask about that. The Officer will also want to know about other countries you have lived in, or traveled through. If you left your country and then returned, the Officer may want to know why you returned home then, but do not want to go back now. Also, the Officer will have a copy of any prior visa applications (possibly including applications made to other countries or the United Nations) or any other documentation you submitted in an immigration matter, so you should be prepared for questions about prior applications. Of course, depending on your case, the questions will vary, and that is why it is so important to review your case before the interview and think about the types of issues that might come up (and if you have a lawyer, she should think about and work through these issues with you).


    Usually near the end of the interview, the Officer will ask you the "bar questions," which everyone must answer: Have you committed a crime or been arrested? Are you a terrorist? Did you ever have military training? etc.


    Sometimes at the end of the interview, the Officer will ask whether you have anything else to add. If the Officer covered all the major issues, I recommend to my clients that they simply thank the officer and end the interview. Some people want to give a long statement about their desperate situation or their family members' problems. In my opinion, such statements are not helpful, and could end up causing more problems than they solve.


    Finally, the Officer will instruct you about the next steps--the Officer will not give you a decision on the day of the interview. Either you will be required to return to the Asylum Office to pick up your decision (usually in two weeks), or they will send the decision by mail (which could take days, months or years). I always caution my clients, even if the Officer tells you to return in two weeks, it is very common for pick-up decisions to be canceled and turned into mail-out decisions. In other words, until you have the decision in your hand, you have to remain patient, and you cannot make any plans.


    The whole interview process can take an hour, but more often, it takes a few hours. On occasion, it takes many hours, and sometimes the Officer will ask you to return another day for more questions.


    So what do you do to prepare for the interview? First, make sure you have submitted all your documents and evidence in advance, according to the rules of your local Asylum Office (in my local office—Virginia—for example, we are required to submit all documents at least one week in advance, but local rules may vary). Second, review your statement and evidence prior to the interview. Think about what issues may come up, and how you want to respond to those issues. Bring with you to the interview your passport(s) and any original documents you have. If you have dependent family members as part of your application, they need to attend the interview too (though usually they will not be asked many questions by the Officer). Dress in a respectful manner. Be on time or early.


    The interview is a key part of your asylum case. If you know what to expect and are prepared to address the issues--especially any difficult issues--you will greatly improve your chances for a successful outcome.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
    Tags: asylum, interview Add / Edit Tags
  4. The Most Important Question on the I-589 Asylum Form

    If you're reading this blog, you're probably already familiar with the form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal. Whether your case is in Immigration Court or the Asylum Office, this is the form that you use to apply for asylum, withholding of removal under INA § 241(b)(3), and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
    "You should have listed all your names on the immigration form, Superman. Or should I say, Clark Kent, Kal El, or Man of Steel?"

    At the beginning of the asylum interview or the court case, the applicant has an opportunity to make corrections to the I-589. It's not a problem to make corrections, and generally, correcting errors on the original form does not reduce the likelihood that the application will be granted. In the worst case, the applicant will need to explain the mistake(s), but even this is fairly rare.


    You might think that the most important questions on the I-589 are the ones on page 5 related to why you need asylum. It makes sense, since that is the whole point of the form. But, au contraire, in asylum world, things that make sense are rarely the correct answer. The questions about asylum are generally easy to answer on the form, and you have ample opportunity to elaborate on your answer in an affidavit or at the interview.


    So what is the most important question on the form? It's the question that appears on page 1, near the very beginning of the form, in Part A.I., question 6: "What other names have you used (include maiden name and aliases)?" What's so important about this question, you ask. I will endeavor to explain. But first, a bit of background.


    Every asylum applicant must undergo a background check. The check is a bit of a mystery, but it involves a biometrics check and a name check. The background check also involves multiple data bases, and it can be quite time consuming--some people wait years for the completion of their checks. Theoretically--and hopefully--the background check will be completed before the interview or the court case. That way, the applicant can receive a decision shortly after being interviewed. If the check is not complete, or if new information arises at the interview and the check must be augmented, the case will be delayed--possibly for a very long time.


    In my office, for example, we have dozens of clients who have been interviewed, but are still waiting for decisions in their cases. Some have been waiting for weeks or months; the longest delayed applicants have been waiting over two years! Most of these delays seem to be because the security background checks are not complete. For people who are single, or whose spouse and children are with them in the United States, the wait may be tolerable (stressful and unpleasant, but tolerable). For people who are separated from their spouse and children, the wait is horrific. How can a mother or father be apart from small children for months or years? Yet this is what many applicants are enduring today.


    Which brings us back to the question about "other names used." If you fail to include every name you have used in your life, the Asylum Office may have to start the security background check all over again for any names that you add to the form during your asylum interview or your court case. So while it is not a problem to correct this question, adding a new name to the form could cause months (or more) of delay. For this reason, it is important to include any and all names you have used when you first submit the form.


    Your name on the I-589 (Part A.I., questions 3, 4, and 5) is generally your name as it appears on your passport. So what "other names" should be listed on the form? You should include the name on your U.S. visa, including the notorious "FNU" or "first name unknown," which often appears on US visas for people who have only one name. If you have a maiden name, include that. Also, list any different spellings of your name that you (or others) have used. If you have nicknames, pseudonyms or aliases, list those too. Of course, if you have ever changed your name, list all previous names you have used. If you ever list your name as "son of" or "daughter of," include that. Finally, different countries and cultures have different naming conventions. Sometimes, a person's name is the given name, followed by the father and grandfather's name, or a tribal name. You should list all iterations of your name.


    It is important to answer all questions on the I-589 form as completely and as accurately as possible. But the question about "other names used" is particularly important. If you forget to include all the names you have used, it could cause additional long delays in your case. To paraphrase the immortal Dr. Seuss, "Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray, or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea, make sure to include all your names on the I-589 form. Then you'll be off to great places. So, get on your way!"

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. The Muslim Immigrant's Guide to a Donald Trump Presidency

    Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to bar Muslim foreigners from the United States. More recently, he’s called for “extreme vetting” of such people. Given his pronouncements, it’s not surprising that Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers are worried. But fear not – there is an easy solution for people affected by the ban: Convert to Judaism.
    When Trumpette first converted, we were kvelling. Now, we're verbissen.
    “What!!??! How can I change my religion? I don’t know anything about Judaism,” you say. Do not fret; I am here to help. I will explain to you how to be Jewish. It’s really not that hard. Jews and Muslims are already a lot alike. We both hate pork and love hummus. We're both perpetuating the War on Christmas by wishing others, "Happy holidays." And we both really want to own Jerusalem. See, we're practically cousins.

    Besides, converting to Judaism is the perfect cover. Donald Trump's own daughter converted, and he hasn't tried to ban her from anything.


    So how do you “pass” as Jewish?


    The first thing to know is that a Jewish person never answers a question. Instead, he responds with a question of his own, often followed by a complaint. So for example, if someone asks you, “How are you doing today?,” you don’t say, “I’m fine.” Instead, you say something like, “How should I be doing? What with my bad stomach. My fakakta doctor prescribed me some pills, but they do bubkis.” Get it? Let’s try an example in the immigration context. Here’s a common question that you might encounter:

    Immigration Officer: “How many children do you have?”

    Non-Jewish Answer: “Three.”

    Jewish Answer: “How should I know? They never call, they never write. My youngest is running around with some shiksa. And my oldest! Don’t even get me started. I told her, ‘Go to medical school, like your cousin Herbie,’ but what does she do? Majors in Liberal Arts. Feh! Her father and I spend $50,000 a year on college so she can work as a barista. Oy, what tsuress. Just thinking about it, I'm verklempt already.

    You see – It’s easy. Here’s another one. Let’s say that someone asks you a question that you want to avoid answering. One way to do that is by minimizing the importance of the question, and then making the questioner feel guilty about asking it. We Jews do that by taking the most important word in the question, replacing the first letter in the word with “schm” and then repeating it back. Often, this is followed by a reference to the Nazis. Here’s an example in the immigration context to help clarify what I mean:

    Immigration Officer: “Hello sir, may I please see your visa?”

    Non-Jewish Answer: “Here is my visa.”

    Jewish Answer: “Visa, schmisa! Do you think I’ve been sitting on a plane squished up like a sardine for the last 12 hours just so some Himmler-wanna-be can ask for my papers? My family didn’t survive the Holocaust, not to mention the pogroms, just to have some shmendrick treat me like a gonif. Next thing you know, you’ll be deporting me to a camp. The whole thing makes me want to plotz.”

    At that point, your interrogator will likely let you pass through customs just to get rid of you, which is another advantage of converting to Judaism.


    OK, I think you’ve got it. But here’s one last example. This one's a bit more advanced, so pay attention. If you can master it, no one will ever question your newfound Judaism. In English, most sentences are constructed with a noun, followed by a verb. We Jews often reverse that construction. So we wouldn't say, "She is a fast driver." Instead, we might say, "Fast, she drives." But typically, we'd try to be a bit more colorful: "Fast, shmast. Like Marrio Andretti, she drives." And here it is in the immigration context:
    Immigration Officer: “The fee for your green card is $1,070.”

    Non-Jewish Answer: “Here is $1,070.”

    Jewish Answer: “Nu? One thousand and seventy?! What am I, a Rothschild? Why don't you take my first born son while your at it. Maybe you can get some schlemiel to pony up that kind of money, but not me. Anyway, gelt like this, I don't have. Maybe the big machers can afford your fees, but not us little pishers. Now, be a mensch and hand to me your brochures about moving to Canada?"

    So that's it. Look, it isn't pretty to have to convert (or pretend to convert) to survive. We Jews have done it before (remember the Spanish Inquisition and the crypto-Jews?), but I suppose it beats the alternative. Anyway, in four years, when Michelle Obama becomes president, you can always convert back.

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

    Updated 08-25-2016 at 10:34 AM by JDzubow

    Tags: jewish, muslim, trump Add / Edit Tags
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