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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. How to Hire an Immigration Lawyer Who Won’t Rip You Off

    I've written previously about the poor state of the immigration bar.
    *And while there are-unfortunately-too many bad lawyers, there are many
    excellent ones. *The question is, for an immigrant unfamiliar with the
    American legal system, how can you distinguish between the good and bad?
    *In other words, how do you find a lawyer who will assist you, and not
    just take your money? *Below are some hints that might be helpful:

    If your lawyer wears a cape, that is probably a good sign.

    - Bar complaints: Complaints against lawyers are often a matter of public record.* So you can contact the local bar association
    (a mandatory organization for all lawyers) to ask whether a potential
    attorney is a member of the bar and whether she has any disciplinary
    actions.* You can also look on the list of disciplined attorneys
    provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR").*
    Sometimes, good attorneys are disciplined, but if an attorney has gotten
    into trouble withe the Bar, it would be helpful to know why.

    - Referral from non-profits: Most areas of the country have
    non-profit organizations that help immigrants (EOIR provides lists of
    such organizations here).
    *While these organizations are often unable to take cases (due to
    limited capacity), they usually have referral lists of attorneys. *I
    would generally trust the local non-profits for recommendations, as they
    know the lawyers and know their reputations.*

    - Referrals from friends: Most people who hire me were referred by an
    existing or former client. *However, from the immigrant's point of
    view, I do not think that this is the best way to find a lawyer. *They
    say that a million monkeys with a million typewriters, typing for a
    million years will eventually write a novel. *It is the same with bad
    immigration lawyers. *Once in a while, they actually win a case (usually
    through no fault of their own). *The lucky client then refers other
    people. *I suppose a recommendation from a friend is better than
    nothing, but it would not be my preferred way to find a lawyer.

    - Instinct: If you think your attorney is not doing a good job, he
    probably isn't. *Attorneys are busy people, and they may not be as
    responsive as you might like, but if your attorney never returns calls
    and is never available to meet with you, that is a problem. *Also, if
    your attorney seems unprepared in court, that is obviously a bad sign.*
    If you are having doubts about your attorney, nothing prevents you from
    consulting with a different lawyer for a second opinion.

    Hiring a lawyer can be tricky, especially for someone who is
    unfamiliar with the American legal system.* Given that the quality of
    lawyers varies so much, it is worth while to spend some time
    investigating a lawyer before you hire him.* That is the best way to
    protect yourself and (hopefully) ensure that you receive the legal
    assistance that you need.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 02:59 PM by JDzubow

  2. New Canadian Law Attempts to Block Bogus Refugees

    Canada is preparing to implement the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
    later this year.* The law is ostensibly designed to protect Canada's
    refugee law by weeding out false asylum claimants.* The provisions of
    the new law include the following:

    - The immigration minister would have the
    power to designate which countries are safe without a committee
    including human rights experts.

    - Rejected refugee claimants from "safe"
    countries would no longer be able to appeal the decision to the
    Immigration and Refugee Board (the administrative body that reviews
    asylum claims).

    - Claimants from countries on the safe
    country list would have limited appeals rights and limited ability to
    apply for compassionate or humanitarian relief.

    The law seems primarily targeted at the Roma (a/k/a Gypsies) who have been coming to Canada from Hungary in large numbers and requesting asylum.* According to the Canadian Immigration Minister, "almost 95 percent of Hungarian asylum claims [are] abandoned, withdrawn or rejected."* The Minister states
    that "Countries whose nationals have an acceptance rate of 25% or less,
    or where 60% or more of claimants from a country have abandoned or
    withdrawn their claims ... would be subject to designation" as a safe
    country, thus making it more difficult for them to successfully claim

    Under the new Canadian law, Mexico is "safe."

    My first question about this new law is whether it is necessary.
    *Under the current system, people who can return safely will presumably
    have their cases denied anyway. *The new law is designed to streamline
    the system to allow people from certain countries to be deported more
    quickly.* Also, if people from "safe" countries know that their claims
    will likely be denied, they may decide not to seek asylum in Canada in
    the first place.* Proponents of the law claim that all this will save
    government resources.* But I wonder how many people will actually be
    dissuaded from coming and-for those who do seek asylum-how much money
    the government will actually save under the new, streamlined system.*
    Currently, 95% of asylum claimants from Hungary are unsuccessful, yet
    Hungarians keep coming to Canada.* If the current (very high) denial
    rate does not dissuade people from coming, how will the new law?*
    Further, those who seek asylum from "safe" countries are still entitled
    to certain procedures and benefits.* It is unclear how much the Canadian
    government will save by marginally reducing the protections available
    to such asylum seekers.

    Assuming the law is needed, how effective will it be? *The idea of
    determining in advance whether a country is safe seems antithetical to
    international refugee law. *Someone once said that no country is safe
    for everyone all the time. *If 95% of Roma claims are denied, what type
    of harm do the remaining 5% face?* Also, just because a country has a
    low overall denial rate for asylum claims does not mean that it is
    safe.* To cite an example from our side of the border, the denial rate
    for Mexicans is quite high (about 98%),
    but certain people from Mexico-journalists and human rights
    activists-face real danger there.* Another example-while the overall
    asylum grant rate for Jamaicans is low, the grant for Jamaicans claiming
    asylum based on sexual orientation is relatively high.* My point is
    that designating a country "safe" just because the overall grant rate is
    low will likely result in legitimate asylum seekers being rejected and
    returned to face persecution.*

    Despite these (and other) doubts, the Protecting Canada's Immigration
    System Act will go into effect shortly.* We will then start to get a
    clearer idea of whether the law will save resources and how it will
    affect asylum seekers.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:00 PM by JDzubow

  3. Failed Asylum Seeker Stuck in Samoa

    Mikhail Sebastian is an Armenian from Azerbaijan who came to the United States on a Soviet passport in 1995.* After the break-up of the U.S.S.R., neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan would take him, and Mr. Sebastian ended up stateless.

    While in Samoa, beware the Wild Samoans (shown here with the late, great Cap't Lou)!

    He filed for asylum in the U.S., but his claim was ultimately denied (in 2002) and he was ordered removed.* The U.S. immigration authorities took Mr. Sebastian into custody, but after six months, he was released because there was no country that would accept him.* As with other people who cannot be deported, DHS issued Mr. Sebastian a work permit.* He was allowed to remain in the United States, but he did not have permission to travel abroad and then return.

    According to a recent article in Salon, Mr. Sebastian has attempted to satisfy his urge to travel by visiting the most exotic American destinations he can find, including Guam, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.* To facilitate his travels, he has a* "World Passport" from the World Service Authority, which purports to be a global-governmental organization.* A World Passport is a document that is supposed to confer world citizenship and allow travel.* I have some limited experience with the World Passport, and while I think it's a nice idea, I would not feel confident to use it as a travel document.* Worse, I think their website is a bit misleading.* They claim that many countries accept the World Passport.* While many countries may have accepted the passport once or twice (possibly by mistake), most countries do not generally accept the passport for immigration purposes.

    In any case, as part of his overseas travel in U.S. territory, Mr. Sebastian took a vacation to American Samoa, an unincorporated territory (whatever that means) of the United States.* His big mistake seems to have been flying over to plain old Samoa, which is an independent country.* Even if he had not traveled to Samoa, the trip to American Samoa required passing through customs, and when immigration authorities checked him before allowing him to return to the mainland (and saw the World Passport), they found that he had an old removal order.* As a result, he was not permitted to board the return flight, and he has been stranded in American Samoa ever since.

    The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement about Mr. Sebastian:

    In 2002, an immigration judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) ordered Sebastian to depart the United States. At that time, he was not in ICE custody as the agency had deferred action on his removal. In the meantime, he had been granted employment authorization. In December 2011 when Mr. Sebastian traveled to American Samoa and Samoa, he was prohibited from returning to the United States due to the immigration judge's order.

    So for the last 10 months, Mr. Sebastian has been stuck waiting for DHS to allow him to return to the mainland, and there is no end to his ordeal in sight.* Mr. Sebastian has been writing about his predicament, and you can read more about him in his own words here.* It seems he spends most of his time at the local McDonald's, which has air conditioning and internet access.

    His case is particularly strange in that he is actually in U.S.-controlled territory, but he is not allowed to return to the mainland.* If nothing else, Mr. Sebastian's story serves as a cautionary tale.* If you have some type of deferred action, withholding of removal or Torture Convention relief, you are better off not pushing the limits by traveling to American "territories."* It seems that Mr. Sebastian's case is receiving some high-level attention, so likely it will be resolved at some point.* But I am quite certain that after 10 months in Samoa, he wishes he had never taken his vacation in the first place.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:02 PM by JDzubow

  4. The Asylum Affidavit, Part 3: TMI

    This is the final (and much delayed)* installment in a series about
    preparing a client's asylum affidavit.* I previously wrote about the
    importance of including enough detail
    to support a claim.* Today I want to discuss how to provide details
    about sensitive topics, like rape or the murder of a loved one.

    Immigration Judges love reading well crafted affidavits.

    obvious reasons, most asylum applications involving discussing
    unpleasant events.* However, some events are more unpleasant than
    others.* For example, I worked on a case where my client witnessed the
    murder of her mother and siblings during a genocide in her country.* At
    the time of these murders, my client was just 11 years old.* In another
    case, a client was arrested while returning from a political rally.*
    While she was in custody, two policemen raped her.* In a third case, my
    client quit his political party and, in a revenge attack, he was shot
    six times and left for dead.

    This is pretty horrific stuff, so how
    do you present these event in a credible manner without forcing the
    clients to re-live their trauma?

    First, I think it is helpful if the client understands why
    he needs to explain the painful aspects of his case.* I am no expert,
    but I believe that when a client is educated about the requirements for
    asylum, he feels more in control of his case and this might make it
    easier for him to talk about past trauma.*

    Second, it is important
    to establish a rapport with the client so she feels comfortable and
    safe discussing difficult issues.* While this may seem like a
    no-brainer, it is often difficult for busy attorneys to spend the extra
    time our clients need to make sure they are comfortable.

    Third, it
    is often not necessary to provide a lot of detail about a traumatic
    event in order to establish past persecution.* For example, in my
    case--where the political activist was raped by the police while
    returning from a demonstration--we provided details about her political
    involvement, the demonstration, and her detention.* When it came to the
    actual rape, we stated that the police raped her, but we provided no
    further details about the incident.* If she has established her
    credibility and the fact finder believes that she has been raped, that
    is enough to prove past persecution.* USCIS has some good training materials for Asylum Officers, which discuss this point:

    asylum officer can elicit sufficient detail to establish credibility
    and gain an understanding of the basis of the claim without probing too
    deeply into all the details of a painful experience.

    This is a key
    point--it is not necessary to provide all the details about an event
    like a rape.* The fact that the person was raped is, in-and-of-itself,
    sufficient to show past persecution.

    Finally, and to their credit,
    Asylum Officers, DHS Trial Attorneys, and Immigration Judges tend to be
    very sensitive to an alien's trauma.* I tell my clients about this, as I
    believe it helps reduce the level of intimidation and makes it easier
    for them to discuss their history.

    While it is probably not
    possible to prepare a case without discussing traumatic events to some
    extent, it is possible--and important--to minimize the secondary trauma
    our clients suffer while preparing their asylum applications.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:03 PM by JDzubow

  5. Former U.S. Marine Seeks Asylum in Russia

    A former Marine who claims to have exposed clandestine U.S. support for the Republic of Georgia in its 2008 war
    with Russia has requested political asylum in Russia.* U.S. citizen Patrick Downey
    first sought asylum in Ireland, where his case was denied-as he puts
    it-by Ireland's first ever Jewish Minister for Justice, Equality and
    Defense.* He then "fled" to Russia (after visiting the U.S. for his
    brother's wedding), where his asylum case is currently pending.

    Patrick Downey (right) is seeking asylum in Russia.

    Pravda reports that while living in Georgia in 2007 and teaching English to Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili,
    Mr. Downey "obtained documents" indicating that a U.S.-controlled bank
    transferred $12 million to Mr. Ivanishvili.* Mr. Ivanishvili, in turn,
    used the money to fund "anti-Russian activities" prior to and during the
    Russian-Georgian war.* Mr. Downey tried to publicize this "sensational
    material" in the U.S., but no one was interested.* However, his
    activities supposedly brought him to the attention of the U.S.
    government, which gave him the code name "Trouble Man" and tried to
    "neutralize" him.* Mr. Downey told Pravda, "I began to feel that it was
    simply dangerous for me to be in the U.S."

    Hence, he fled to Ireland and now Russia.

    While I must admit that I am skeptical of Mr. Downey's claims (and I
    am not thrilled by his antisemitism), the fact that he is currently
    receiving publicity from a Russian newspaper is significant.* On October
    1st, Mr. Ivanishvili's political party won parliamentary elections in
    Georgia, and he is likely to become the country's new Prime Minister.*
    As such, the timing of the article about Mr. Downey-and his claims of a
    secret anti-Russian alliance between the U.S. and Georgia-has broader

    Is Russia trying to intimidate Georgia?* Is it trying to send a
    signal to the United States to keep away?* Is Pravda simply writing an
    interesting story about an American seeking asylum in Russia?* I have no
    idea.* But it seems to me, if the Russian government is trying to send
    some type of message by publicizing Mr. Downey's case, the message is
    not a friendly one. *

    It will be interesting to see what the Russian government does with Mr. Downey.* Russia grants less than 5%
    of asylum cases, so if his case is approved, it might indicate more
    trouble ahead for Russian-Georgian and Russian-U.S. relations.* As for
    Mr. Downey, if his case is granted, his hopes are the same as those of
    other asylum seekers around the world: "I will live!* I will get
    married.* I do not want to fight, do not want to constantly be afraid.* I
    want a family and a home.* I hope that this is what I will get."

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:03 PM by JDzubow

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