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For those of us involved with refugees, 2015 was not a great year. Never-ending turmoil in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have resulted in unprecedented numbers of people fleeing their homelands. The flow of asylum seekers arriving at the Southern border of the U.S. from Central American and Mexico has not let up. Our Asylum Offices and Immigration Courts are increasingly backlogged, and it's reached a point where the basic integrity of our humanitarian systems seem in jeopardy.
If you're on a sinking ship, you should celebrate when you can.
Sometimes I think that in order to continue working in this field, you have to be either freakishly optimistic or pathologically disassociated from reality. I'm not sure I fall into either category, yet I'm somehow still in the game.
In any event, one thing that helps is to remind ourselves of our successes. In that vein, I thought I'd look back at a few pieces of good news we've had in my office during the past year:
Particular Social Group (Sexual Orientation)/Rwanda - I've always had an interest in folklore and magic, and so when there is crossover with an asylum case, it peaks my interest. This year I worked on the case of a young gay man from Rwanda, who was kidnapped by his family members and subjected to a bizarre and terrifying exorcism ritual. Rwanda is not a safe place for LGBT people in the best cases, and when your family is out to get you, it's even worse. The asylum office recognized that my client suffered past persecution and granted him asylum.
Political Opinion/Haiti - My client was a political activist who had worked closely with Paul Farmer, a world-renown physician who founded Partners in Health and who is the subject of an award-winning biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Dr. Farmer wrote a two-page single-spaced letter describing my client's persecution. I figured that the letter--and a ton of other evidence, including photos with the former president of Haiti--would have been enough for a grant at the Asylum Office. But unfortunately, our Asylum Officer failed to question my client about his past persecution, and when we asked whether the client should discuss it, she told us that it was not necessary, as she read about it in the written statement. She then denied the case because we failed to demonstrate past persecution. Needless to say, I was not pleased. But earlier this year, we went to court where the DHS Trial Attorney did not understand why the case had been referred to the Immigration Judge. She and the Judge agreed that my client should get asylum, which he did. The court hearing took all of three minutes.
Refugee Waiver/Cameroon - My client had come to the U.S. and received asylum due to political persecution in Cameroon. Unfortunately, he fell in with the wrong crowd and got involved in a fraudulent check cashing scheme. As a result, he went to jail for two years and was then put into ICE custody for deportation. Fortunately for my client, there is a waiver available for refugees under INA § 209(c), which is very effective (a waiver is a legal mechanism for requesting forgiveness from the U.S. government in order to avoid deportation). The Immigration Judge granted relief, and after almost three year in detention, my client walked free that afternoon.
Political Opinion/Nepal - My client had been a local activist with his political party. As a result, Maoists guerrillas attacked him in his home and sent him to the hospital. He came to the U.S., but did not seek asylum within one year (as is required). After having spent half-a-dozen years in the U.S., the Maoists resurfaced and threatened his wife. We applied for asylum and claimed that the new threat constituted "changed circumstances," which is an exception to the one-year filing rule. Luckily for us, the Trial Attorney agreed that my client was entitled to an exception and asylum was granted.
Imputed Political Opinion/Syria - My client was affiliated with a man who the Syrian government deemed an enemy, and this was enough to cause him to fear return to his country. The problem was, he had to leave his wife and young child in a Gulf country because they could not get visas to the United States. After a long ordeal (thanks to the backlog) during which the child could not attend school or get medical treatment (thanks to the inhumane policies of the Gulf countries), we were finally able to get his case expedited. He was granted asylum and--after three years--he finally reunited with his family earlier this month.
Particular Social Group (Family)/El Salvador - My client was a young girl whose mother had testified against her former boyfriend, a member of the MS-13 gang. The ex-boyfriend and other gang members had been threatening the mother and my client from jail. My client's family feared that she would be harmed once the ex-boyfriend was free, and so they sent her North. Because she was a minor, the Asylum Office (rather than the court) had jurisdiction over her case, and she was granted asylum. Now we're waiting for her mother's case, but since the daughter already received asylum on the same facts, we're optimistic about the mother's chances.
Religion/Afghanistan - My client was a well-known singer in his country. But since the Taliban are not fans of music and believe musicians are infidels, he ran into trouble. The Taliban threatened to kill him, and so he came to the U.S. for asylum. After a long delay, and a difficult separation from his family, the case was granted. We are now waiting for his family members to join him in the United States.
I rarely take time (or have time) to look back on completed cases, and it is encouraging to think about the people who have succeeded. I'll try to keep some of these happy thoughts in mind as we move on to new challenges in 2016. Happy New Year!
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Refugees--especially Muslim refugees--are big news these days. Are they a threat? Should we ban them from our country? Can they ever integrate into American society?
"A refugee from Palestine with his wife and child? They must be terrorists!"
Despite our collective amnesia on this point, the fact is, we've been asking these same questions about refugees for at least a hundred years. And I suspect that people around the world have been asking such questions ever since the first stranger arrived at a door seeking shelter. Since it's almost Christmas, I thought it might be a good time to look back at one of the world's oldest refugee stories--of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, who fled from Palestine to Egypt.
Mathew tells us that around the time of Jesus's birth, three wise men came from the East. They went to King Herod and asked, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Herod was "troubled" by the question. Who was this child who was king of the Jews, and thus a threat to Herod's throne?
Herod consulted his prophets, who predicted that the baby would be found in Bethlehem. The wily king told the three wise men. He also ordered the men to tell him when they found Jesus, so he (Herod) could "worship" the new king. Of course, this was a ploy--Herod wanted to find Jesus in order to kill him and eliminate the threat to his throne. The wise men (being wise) understood Herod's plan. They found Jesus, but never told the king.
Because the wise men foiled his plan, Herod was unable to locate the newborn Jesus. He still wanted to protect himself from the perceived threat, so he ordered all the babies born in Bethlehem murdered. This event became known as the Massacre of the Innocents.
Luckily for Jesus and his family, an angel came to his father Joseph and warned him about the danger. Joseph took the family and fled to Egypt, where they received asylum. The family remained in Egypt until Herod died a few years later. They then moved to a different part of Palestine (Nazareth), to avoid living under the rule of Herod's son, who was no better than his father.
The Book of Mathew contains nothing about Jesus's time in Egypt, but there are many interesting Coptic traditions associated with this period (the Coptic church originated in Egypt). In many parts of Egypt, it is possible to visit places where Jesus and his family sojourned. There are churches and other holy sites, like healing springs, caves, and sacred trees. One tree was possessed by an evil spirit, but when Jesus approached, the spirit fled. The tree then bent down to worship him.
Another ancient story says that as Jesus and his family entered Heliopolis, "the noise of a rushing mighty wind was heard, the earth trembled [and] the idols crashed from their pedestals."
There is also a legend about how the Holy Family was traveling down the Nile River in a boat. At one point, they were sailing past a mountain when a large boulder appeared ready to fall on their boat. Jesus extended his hand and prevented the boulder from falling. The imprint of his hand appeared on the rock.
Another story tells of two robbers who surprised Jesus's family on the road and tried to steal Joseph's donkey. One of the robbers saw the baby Jesus and was astonished by his unusual beauty. He said, "If God were to take upon Himself the flesh of man, He would not be more beautiful than this child!" The robber then ordered his companions to take nothing from the travelers. Filled with gratitude toward this generous robber, Mary told him, "Know that this child will repay you because you protected him today." Thirty-three years later, this same thief hung on the cross for his crimes, crucified on the right side of Jesus's cross. His name was Dismas. On the cross, he repented for all the evil of his life and declared that Jesus was innocent and wrongly crucified. The Gospel of Luke records that Dismas was the wise thief. The man who spared Jesus in his childhood was granted entry into paradise.
Coptic tradition holds that "Egyptian conversion to Christianity two thousand years ago can be attributed to the historic visit of the Christ Child" and that "Egypt was chosen by God as a place of refuge; truly the people abiding there were richly blessed." The people of Egypt were blessed because they offered refuge to Jesus and his family when they fled persecution. Perhaps this should remind us of our moral responsibility to help one another, and that the helper often receives as much (or more) of a benefit than the person who is helped.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
I was in court recently for an asylum case where the DHS attorney offered my clients Withholding of Removal as a “courtesy” in lieu of asylum. DHS did not believe that my clients were legally eligible for asylum, but made the offer in order to settle the case. I negotiated as best I could for asylum, and I think the DHS attorney listened carefully, but ultimately, he was unmoved. When the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) learned that DHS would agree to Withholding, he remarked that the offer was “generous,” which I took as a sign that he wanted us to accept it. In the end, my clients did not agree to Withholding of Removal, and so the IJ reserved decision. We shall see what happens.
So what is Withholding of Removal? Why did the IJ view an offer of Withholding as generous? And why did my clients refuse this offer?
Stop complaining - You're lucky we give you anything to eat at all.
Withholding of Removal under INA § 241(b)(3) is a lesser form of relief than asylum. If a person has asylum, he can remain permanently in the U.S., obtain a travel document, petition to bring immediate relatives here, and become a lawful permanent resident and then a U.S. citizen.
A person with Withholding of Removal, on the other hand, has technically been ordered deported, but the deportation is “withheld” vis-à-vis the country of feared persecution. This means that the person cannot be deported to that country, but she could (theoretically) be deported to a third country. A person with Withholding of Removal is eligible for an employment authorization document (“EAD”), which must be renewed each year. However, unlike with asylum, she cannot leave the U.S. and return, she is not eligible to become a resident or citizen, and she cannot petition for family members. In addition, on occasion, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) attempts to deport the person to a third country. Normally, this consists of ICE ordering the person to apply to various countries for residency. This is essentially a futile exercise, and it usually involves hours of wasted time preparing applications and sitting around the ICE office. Maybe it is designed to intimidate the person into leaving, but at a minimum, it is another stressful hassle that the Withholding-of-Removal recipient must endure.
The bottom line for Withholding of Removal is that those who have it are never truly settled here. They risk losing their jobs and drivers’ licenses if their EAD renewal is delayed (which it often is). They cannot qualify for certain jobs or certain government benefits. They usually cannot get in-state tuition for school. They can never travel outside the U.S. to visit relatives or friends, even those who are gravely ill. They are here, but not really here.
For me, Withholding of Removal is more appropriate for some recipients than others: One reason a person gets Withholding instead of asylum is that he has criminal convictions that make him ineligible for asylum. In the case of a convicted criminal, it is easier to justify denying the benefit of asylum, even if we do not want to send the person back to a country where he could be persecuted.
In other cases, it is more difficult to justify Withholding. If a person fails to file for asylum within one year of his arrival in the United States, he generally becomes ineligible for asylum. He remains eligible for Withholding, but downgrading his status from asylum to Withholding because he failed to file on time seems a harsh consequence for a relatively minor infraction. Other people—like my clients mentioned above—might be ineligible for asylum because the government believes they were resettled in a third country before they came to the U.S. “Firm resettlement” is a legal construct and it does not necessarily mean that the person can live in the third country now (my clients cannot).
Despite the limitations of Withholding of Removal, many IJs (and DHS attorneys) seem to view it as a generous benefit, and they encourage asylum applicants to accept Withholding as a way to settle removal cases. They also tend to take a dim view of applicants who refuse an offer of Withholding: If the person is so afraid of persecution in the home country, why won’t she accept Withholding and avoid deportation to the place of feared persecution? I understand their perspective, but I think it fails to account for the very basic desire of people like my clients to make the U.S. their home. They don’t want to live forever unsettled and uncertain. Having escaped danger, they want to live somewhere where they can make a life for themselves and—more importantly—for their children. Withholding does not give them that.
Frankly, I think that most IJs and DHS attorneys underestimate the difficulty of living in the U.S. with Withholding of Removal. And these difficulties are not limited to practical problems related to jobs and driver’s licenses, attending and paying for school, and the indefinite separation from family members. For my clients at least, Withholding of Removal does not alleviate the stress of their situation. They have fled uncertainty only to find more uncertainty. Will they be deported to a third country? Will they lose their job if the EAD renewal is delayed? If their driver’s license expires and they must drive anyway, will they be arrested? Can their children afford college? If they buy property and invest in life here, will they ultimately lose it all? Such uncertainty would be bad enough for the average person, but we are talking here about people who have already had to flee their homelands. Asylum is a balm to this wound; Withholding of Removal, in many cases, is an aggravating factor.
Perhaps if IJs and DHS attorneys knew more about the consequences of Withholding of Removal, they would be more understanding of asylum applicants who are reluctant to accept that form of relief, and they would be more generous about interpreting the law to allow for a grant of asylum whenever possible.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
The recent attacks in Paris have opened the floodgates of anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in the U.S. Language that was once the province of white-supremacist screeds has become part of our mainstream dialogue. For me, however, what's worse than the xenophobia and the hate, are the lies.
The New York Times recently editorialized about Donald Trump's repeated and vile mendacity: "it’s become a full-time job just running down [his] falsehoods.... It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one."
What if cheating at politics was as dangerous as cheating at poker?
Mr. Trump is a presidential contender, and thus subject to some scrutiny. But the internet abounds with lies, and given the atomized nature of social media, it's easy to immerse yourself in this fictitious and paranoid world. It's also easy and, in a way, comforting to have your own world view go unchallenged, and to believe that you are among the privileged few who knows The Truth. The Lame-stream media be damned!
There are, of course, websites devoted to correcting inaccurate internet rumors, but how can they possibly keep up with the torrent of falsehoods that daily flood our in-boxes? And even if they could respond to each phony news story, the people who accept such stories are unlikely to read—or believe—the fact-checkers.
Given the futility of the task, there’s probably little point in posting a few internet rumors here and then debunking them. But one of my two favorite fictional heroes is Don Quixote, and so I thought I might tilt at a couple of wind mills (if you must know, my other favorite fictional hero is Rocky Balboa - Yo). Anyway, here are a few "news" stories that arrived in my in-box post-Paris, and some thoughts on their veracity:
- From Brian Hayes at Right Side News: "BREAKING: They're Here! First Load of 10,000 Syrian Refugees Has Arrived in New Orleans..." Accompanying the article is a photo showing dozens of swarthy young men, looking vaguely dangerous. Have these young jihadists landed in New Orleans? Are 10,000 Muslims invading the Big Easy? No, in fact, the photo of the young men was taken in Hungary in September 2015 and has nothing to do with refugees in New Orleans. Also, while President Obama has committed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, very few have arrived in the U.S. What we know is that over the last four years, the U.S. has resettled a total of 2,070 Syrian refugees as part of the regular refugee admissions process. As for New Orleans, it appears that two Syrian families have arrived and one more family is expected. So much for the 10,000 young jihadists.
- From Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the World Tribune: "Obama welcomes an Islamist Trojan horse: Consider who is selecting our refugees." This article claims that under the President's plan "millions [of refugees] could be allowed to flood our country" and that "the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees... in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation... selects which refugees can be settled within our country." It also states that "Mr. Obama now poses a clear and present danger to America [because of his] stubborn insistence on resettling so-called 'refugees' from Syria." Where to even begin with this nonsense? First, 10,000 ≠ 1,000,000. Mr. Obama has been president for almost seven years. Until the recent announcement about the 10,000 Syrian refugees, he has continued the same refugee policy as President Bush. So don't try to tell me that all of sudden, in his final year in office, somehow "millions" of refugees will arrive on our shores. Second, while refugees are often referred to the U.S. by UNHCR, the United States (through the State Department, DHS, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement) conducts the background checks and decides which refugees to accept. Neither the Organization of Islamic Cooperation nor the UN decides which refugees will be allowed to resettle in our country. Finally, what the hell is a "so-called" refugee? I suppose the implication is that the people fleeing the Syrian civil war are not really refugees. Maybe the whole "so-called" civil war in Syria is just a farce to send jihadists to the West. They sure put on a good show, those Syrians.
- From Andrew C. McCarthy in the National Review: "Refugee 'Religious Test' Is 'Shameful' and 'Not American' ... Except that Federal Law Requires It." Mr. McCarthy writes--
Under federal law, the executive branch is expressly required to take religion into account in determining who is granted asylum. Under the provision governing asylum (section 1158 of Title 8, U.S. Code), an alien applying for admission must establish that … religion [among other things] … was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.
In reality, 8 U.S.C. § 1158 states that, in order to qualify as a refugee, a person must establish that she faces persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, particular social group or political opinion. It is not a religious test at all. If you fear persecution on account of religion (any religion-including Islam), or any other protected ground, you can qualify for asylum. Either Mr. McCarthy has no understanding of the Immigration law or--more likely--he is twisting the language of the law into something it is not. Either way, he has no business writing about this subject.
Professional liars like Mr.Hayes, Mr. Kuhner, and Mr. McCarthy clearly have an agenda--to inflame passions against Muslim refugees. They create an alternate reality where President Obama is "willing to potentially sacrifice countless Americans on the altar of liberal multiculturalism [and] is gambling with our lives." Well then, it sounds like he must be stopped--by any means necessary.
But of course the "alternate reality" described above is not reality. It is a false story, planted to paint Mr. Obama as a "clear and present danger" to our republic. Had Mssrs. Hayes, Kuhner, and McCarthy bothered with the facts, they would have found a much more nuanced situation, where reasonable people can disagree on policy, and where no one is evil.
The danger of all this should be obvious. When we falsely label other Americans as the enemy, when we use inflammatory and divisive language, and when we forgo efforts at understanding those who disagree with us, we damage our democracy and impoverish our national debate. In the black-and-white world of the fear-mongers, it makes sense to open fire on a Planned Parenthood Clinic. And if "so-called refugees" are actually disguised jihadists, wouldn't it make sense to subject them to the same treatment?
Reality is complicated and messy. The straw men we create to comfort and enrage ourselves rarely comport with reality. There are legitimate grounds to oppose refugee resettlement, and the more rationale opponents of refugees rely on such arguments. But that is not what we are talking about here. There are far too many liars and charlatans involved in the refugee debate. Their false alarms are designed to turn Americans against each other. And that is a real threat.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Since the vicious attack last week by Muslim extremists in Paris, attention in the U.S. has focused on our country’s refugee policy and President Obama’s decision earlier this year to admit an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees (above the normal refugee ceiling of 70,000). More than half of the nation’s governors have indicated that Syria refugees are unwelcome in their states. Paul Ryan, the new Speaker of the House, is pushing legislation to hinder the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. And most Republican presidential candidates have expressed their opposition to resettling Syrian or Muslim refugees in our country. Senator Ted Cruz has called the plan “absolute lunacy.”
When we say "no" to a refugee, what does it say about us?As an immigration attorney who specializes in political asylum, I represent clients whose lives have been profoundly disrupted by war and terrorism, who have been threatened or harmed by extremists, and who have lost loved ones to terrorist attacks. Many of my clients come from Muslim countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. These are people who have devoted their lives--and often risked their lives--to promote democracy, women's rights, and human rights. Many have served shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers from the U.S. military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, I suspect that many of my Muslim clients have risked and sacrificed far more in the defense of liberty and in support of U.S. policy than the American commentators who routinely disparage them.
In the face of barbarism from ISIS and other extremists, we as Americans should not abandon our friends or shrink from our humanitarian commitments. As the leader of the Free World, we must lead not only with the sword. We must also lead by demonstrating our values, and by showing the world that we do not abandon those values in difficult times.
During the refugee crisis that followed World War II, the U.S. committed itself to assisting displaced persons. Since then, we’ve absorbed—and been enriched by—tens of thousands of refugees from Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Indochina, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. We are, to a great extent, defined by our generosity towards the dispossessed: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Allowing ourselves to be intimidated into compromising these humanitarian values would be a victory for the terrorists. It would mean that we gave in to our fears. Great nations are not bullied by ignorant thugs. We already have strong safeguards in place to identify potential terrorists and criminals, and prevent them from coming to our country. Indeed, our asylum and refugee programs are probably more secure than any other aspect of our immigration system.
Also, many of the Muslims who have sought sanctuary in the U.S. are people who worked with the United States military or government, or who worked for international NGOs and companies in concert with our efforts (however imperfect) at nation-building. Such people risked their lives and trusted us. To abandon them would send a message that America does not stand by its friends. This is a message that we cannot afford to send. If we are not trustworthy, no one will cooperate with us going forward.
Finally, allowing terrorists to drive a wedge between our country and moderate Muslims would make the world more dangerous. There will be fewer bridges, not more. We need to keep strengthening ties between the West and the Muslim World. The terrorists want to cut those ties; we cannot let them.
In the aftermath of the Paris attack and the claim by ISIS that it will send infiltrators to the West disguised as asylum seekers, the desire to re-examine security procedures is understandable. But as we evaluate our humanitarian policies, we should keep in mind people like my clients and the many Muslims who have demonstrated their fealty to us in our fight against extremism.
We should not allow the evil deeds in France to cause us to retreat from our humanitarian obligations, which would compromise our principles, or to weaken our commitment to our Muslim allies, who are crucial in our battle against Islamic terrorists. Many people in the Muslim World want change. We saw that in the Arab Spring. We need to align ourselves with such people and give them our support. We need to stay engaged with the world and not retreat. When considering Muslim refugees and asylum seekers, we should be guided by our highest ideals, not by the dark vision of our enemies.
Updated 11-19-2015 at 02:31 PM by JDzubow