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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. EOIR Bans Art in Immigration Court

    The Arlington Immigration Court recently relocated from Ballston to
    Crystal City, Virginia.* The new court is bigger and has public
    bathrooms (a BIG improvement for the bladder-impaired).* It is also
    totally devoid of art.


    One of many walls in the Arlington Immigration Court.



    For those of us who practice before the Arlington Court, the bare
    walls feel a bit strange.* The old court had portraits of the founding
    fathers, various presidents, and some of our founding documents.* You
    could also see busts and paintings of various presidents inside the
    courtrooms.* One IJ, now retired, was known for her husband's paintings
    (mostly flowers), which adorned her courtroom walls. *

    In stark contrast, you're lucky to find a light switch on the walls
    of the new court.* Now, you might be thinking, "The Court just opened,
    so they haven't yet had time to decorate."* Not so.* I asked around
    about the barren landscape.* The word on the street is that courtrooms
    and waiting areas can no longer be "personalized."* This means no art.* I
    contacted the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR" - the
    agency that administers the Immigration Courts) for clarification.*
    Their response:

    As EOIR is one adjudicative agency with
    59 immigration court locations throughout the nation, we strive to
    maintain uniform public spaces throughout our facilities.* As with other
    federal agencies, private spaces such as judges' chambers and
    individual office space may be personalized within reasonable
    boundaries.

    In this context, "uniform public spaces" means no wall art.* I
    suppose I understand the reasoning.* For one thing, if you allow any
    art, it is hard to control what ends up on the wall.* If EOIR allows a
    portrait of Abe Lincoln, must they also allow a portrait of anti-immigration president Warren G. Harding?* What about a portrait of presidential candidate (and anti-immigrant crusader) Pat Buchanan? *

    Also, what about images that might not be culturally sensitive to the
    aliens appearing before the Court?* Much as Attorney General John
    Ashcroft covered a bare-breasted statue in the Justice Department, might some playboy IJ seek to fill a courtroom with inappropriate images?

    Given all the potential pitfalls, it is easier to completely ban art
    in the courtroom than to allow art and then try to regulate it.

    All the same, I am not a fan of this policy.* I liked going into
    courtrooms filled with paintings and statues.* I prefer a "personalized"
    courtroom (and waiting room) to an antiseptic one.* There is something
    ennobling about practicing law in a room filled with historic and
    patriotic images.

    Also, while I see the need for IJs to avoid the appearance of
    impropriety, it is actual impropriety that concerns me.* If some IJ
    adores Warren G. Harding (and there are good reasons to), why not put up
    his photo?* I trust that the IJ will make a determination on the merits
    of each case, and that a picture of President Harding does not indicate
    an anti-immigration bias.* If we trust IJs to make decisions that will
    profoundly affect people's lives, we should trust them to use some
    common sense in their courtroom decor.

    I described the new courtroom ambiance to an asylee friend.* She
    feels that the bare walls and lack of art would be "intimidating."

    Maybe I am making too big a deal about this.* But there is a long
    history of art in courtrooms-it benefits the judges, the lawyers, and
    the litigants.* And while I sympathize with the reasons for EOIR's
    decision, I think that the benefits of allowing art in court greatly
    outweigh the dangers.* To quote George Bernard Shaw: "Without art, the
    crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable."

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

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:04 PM by JDzubow

  2. Somali Woman Wins Nansen Refugee Award

    The Nansen Refugee Award has been called
    the "Nobel Prize for refugee workers."* The award is bestowed annually
    on a person or group that has "provided extraordinary and dedicated
    service to the forcibly displaced."* Past honorees include Senator
    Edward Kennedy, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

    The award is named for Fridtjof Nansen,
    a polar explorer, diplomat, and the High Commissioner for Refugees for
    the League of Nations (the precursor to the UN) from 1920 to 1930.* Mr.
    Nansen helped hundreds of thousands of refugees return home or resettle
    in new countries after World War I.* He also organized a relief effort
    to help famine victims in Russia in 1921 and 1922.* For his efforts in
    Russia, Mr. Nansen received the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize.


    Funny how the people with the toughest jobs often have the biggest smiles.



    This year's honoree is Hawa Aden Mohamed, who has helped thousands of
    displaced women and girls in Somalia.* Ms. Mohamed, who is widely known
    as Mama Hawa, escaped violence in Somalia and was a refugee in Kenya,
    the U.S., and Canada.* She left the (relative) comfort of Canada in 1995
    and returned to Somalia, where she established the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development.*
    Through this organization, she has worked to secure women's rights and
    bring free schooling, health care, and skills training to nine
    communities in the Mudug region of Somalia.

    In the early days of the Education Centre, it was attacked with
    rocks, grenades and gunfire.* Its gate was bombed.* But Mama Hawa and
    her colleagues did not give up.* "We persevered," she recalled, "and
    slowly we convinced the elders and the women that what we were doing was
    for the benefit of the community."

    Today the Education Centre teaches girls and women to see themselves
    as full members of society who possess fundamental human rights.* It
    openly addresses the issues of female genital cutting, puberty, early
    marriage, sexual and gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS.* It prepares
    women to play an active role in achieving peace, reconciliation,
    democracy, and development in their country.

    Mama Hawa will receive the Nansen Award on October 1st in Geneva.* If you find yourself in the neighborhood, the ceremony
    looks to be worth attending.* If you would like to learn more about
    Mama Hawa and her organization, or if you would like to contribute to
    her worthy cause, you can do so here.

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

    Updated 07-16-2013 at 03:04 PM by JDzubow

  3. When Asylees Return Home

    In the old days, when a person immigrated to the United States, he
    would probably never return home or see his family again.* For example,
    when my Great-Grandfather David came to the U.S. from Russia in 1904, he
    left behind his parents and six siblings.* He never saw them again, and
    as far as we know, they and their families died in the Holocaust.*
    Today, it's a different story.* It's much easier to remain in contact
    with the homeland and to return for a visit.* However, for people who
    have received asylum in the United States, return to the home country
    may result in the termination of their status.*See*INA 208(c)(2).

    Sorry, asylees. Missing grandma's cooking is probably not a valid excuse for returning to your home country.

    Despite the possibility of termination, my clients who have received
    asylum sometimes need to return home.* There are different reasons for
    this-some want to visit sick relatives or help relatives who are in
    trouble.* Others are political activists or journalists, and they want
    to return home to continue their activities.* A few of my clients from
    Afghanistan wanted to return to their country as interpreters with the
    U.S. military.*
    In cases like these, I explain the legal consequences of returning to
    the home country so that the client can weigh the risk of losing asylum
    status against her desire to go home.
    The provision for termination of asylum, *INA 208(c)(2), states:
    Asylum... does not convey a right to remain
    permanently in the United States, and may be terminated if the Attorney
    General determines that... the alien has voluntarily availed himself or
    herself of the protection of the alien's country of nationality.
    It's clear from this provision that the AG does not have to terminate asylum if the alien returns to her country ("Asylum... may
    be terminated").* Also, return to the country in-and-of itself may not
    be a sufficient basis for termination if the alien has not "voluntarily
    availed himself or herself of the protection of the [home] country."*
    So in the above examples, there is room to argue that the clients
    have not voluntarily availed themselves of the protection of the home
    country.* In the case of an alien who returns home to help a relative,
    perhaps he entered the country surreptitiously and remained in hiding
    during his time there.* Evidence that the alien's journey home was
    clandestine might help to counter an attempt to terminate asylum (asylum
    may be terminated if DHS shows by a "preponderance of the evidence"
    that the alien voluntarily availed himself of the protection his country
    -*8 C.F.R. 208.24).
    In the example of a political activist who returns to her country to
    engage in political activity, she can argue that she did not avail
    herself of the protection of her country.* On the contrary, she
    challenged her country's government and put herself at risk to do so.
    In the case of an alien who returns to his country to work for (or
    serve in) the U.S. military, that alien has not availed himself of the
    protection of his country.* Rather, he is being protected by the U.S.
    military.
    In all these examples, the alien is able to argue that he or she has
    not "voluntarily availed himself or herself of the protection of the
    alien's country of nationality."* The alien in each case could also
    appeal to the Attorney General not to terminate asylum as a matter of
    discretion.* In these cases, the aliens have returned to their country
    for good reasons.* In some cases, the reason for returning might be in
    the interest of the U.S. government.* Under such circumstances, the AG
    might agree not to terminate asylum as a matter of discretion.
    Although asylees who return home can sometimes make decent arguments
    against termination, they put themselves at risk of losing their
    status.* For this reason, any asylee considering a return trip should
    think carefully about the potential consequences.* At a minimum, the
    alien should gather as much evidence as possible to show that she has
    not voluntarily availed herself of the protection of her country.* She
    would also do well to consult an attorney.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. Paralympic Athletes Seek Asylum

    The Paralympic Games wrapped up earlier this week in London, and like the Olympic Games, some athletes have decided to seek asylum rather than return home.*
    Two athletes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dedeline Mibamba Kimbata
    and Levy Kitambala Kinzito, have supposedly filed for asylum in the
    United Kingdom.* Ms. Kimbata seems to be the more well-known of the
    two.* She was a teenage basketball player from Kinshasa who lost both
    legs to a land mine when she was 18 years old. *"I thought my life was
    over," she said.* "People told me I had a new life now, but I thought:
    'How can you tell me this when you have legs and I do not?* Even if I
    accept this new life I do not have legs.'"* After two years in the
    hospital, where she often had to sleep in the corridor and borrow a
    wheelchair just to reach the bathroom, she received prosthetic legs from
    the Red Cross.*

    Ms. Kimbata (left) received a racing wheelchair from Anne Wafula Strike, a Kenyan-born British athlete.

    Ms. Kimbata is now a wheelchair racer.* She states that the DRC
    received money for her to pay for a racing wheelchair, but she never
    received the chair.* She arrived in the UK with her orthopedic chair
    (which is designed to be pushed by someone else) and only received a
    racing wheelchair when another athlete generously helped her out.
    In the United Kingdom, she decided to seek asylum.* Ms. Kimbata told the press
    that she saw her neighbors shot dead by government troops on election
    day and that 95% of people in her area voted against President Kabila.*
    While these events probably would not qualify Ms. Kimbata for asylum (at
    least under U.S. law), the fact that she is a high-profile athlete
    speaking out against her government may put her at risk, particularly
    given the repressive nature of the regime in her country.* For these
    reasons, she likely has a good chance for success in her asylum claim.
    It seems that all together, at least six Congolese athletes and
    coaches (from the Olympics and the Paralympics) have requested
    protection in the UK.* As I have written before, such high-profile
    defections are a powerful repudiation of the home government, and
    hopefully they will help bring about some desperately needed changes.
    Finally, having assisted many asylum seekers in the United States, I
    have witnessed how difficult it is to leave everyone and everything
    behind to seek refuge in a foreign land.* It must be even more daunting
    for someone like Ms. Kimbata, who will have to live with her serious
    disability in a new place and (presumably) without family support.* She
    is obviously a very courageous woman, and I hope that she will find
    safety and success in her new country.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. The Party Platforms and Refugees

    The platforms of the various political parties are basically
    statements about what those parties believe and what they intend to do
    if elected.  Since it is now election season (the joy), I thought it
    might be interesting to see what the party platforms have to say about
    refugees, so here we go:
    Republicans
    The Republican Party Platform is the only platform that directly references our country's commitment to refugees.  The Platform states:
    We affirm our country's historic
    tradition of welcoming refugees from troubled lands.  In some cases,
    they are people who stood with us during dangerous times, and they have
    first call on our hospitality.

    "My wife owns a couple of refugees."

    This is a positive statement, and it is encouraging.  As an asylum
    attorney, I particularly like the second sentence, which acknowledges
    that some refugees are people who stood with the United States and now
    face persecution in their homelands.  I represent many people from Iraq,
    Afghanistan, and elsewhere who assisted the U.S., often at great risk
    to themselves.  My clients include law enforcement officers,
    journalists, interpreters, human rights workers, and others.  Given that
    they risked their lives to help us in our mission, we should offer them
    refuge when needed.
    Unfortunately, of late, we have heard many anti-Muslim statements
    from prominent members of the Republican party.  It seems that such
    bigotry is inapposite to the Party Platform, which recognizes people
    like my Muslim clients who "stood with us during dangerous times."  I
    hope that the spirit of the Platform-rather than the hatefulness of some
    Republican officials-will prevail in the Grand Old Party.
    Democrats
    The Democratic Party Platform
    does not specifically mention refugees.  It does discuss immigration,
    and endorses comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and the
    new Deferred Action program.  However, it is disappointing that the
    Platform is silent on refugee issues. 

    "If you're a refugee and you live in a tent, you didn't build that."

    Since President Obama has been in office for several years, we can
    safely assume that his policy on refugees and asylees will continue
    forward if he is re-elected.  The Obama Administration has capped the
    number of refugees admitted into the U.S. at 80,000 per year.  However,
    we have never reached the cap.  In 2009, we admitted 74,602 refugees; in
    2010, we admitted 73,293; and in 2011, we admitted 56,384 refugees.  As
    for asylees, we admitted 22,219 in 2009; in 2010, we admitted 21,056;
    and in 2011, we admitted 24,988 (all of this is courtesy of the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics).
    President Obama's policies have been comparable with his
    predecessors, and I think we can expect similar policies if he has a
    second term.
    Libertarian Party
    Since I have an affinity for third parties, I thought I would mention two.  The first is the Libertarian Party.  The party's Platform
    is silent on refugee issues.  The only mention of human rights is in
    the context of property law: "Property rights are entitled to the same
    protection as all other human rights."  The Platforms mentions
    immigration and states:
    Sexual orientation, preference, gender,
    or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment
    of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption,
    immigration or military service laws.
    Given the general Libertarian philosophy ("We would end the current
    U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and
    economic aid"), I'd imagine that they would leave refugee assistance up
    to private individuals and agencies, such as churches or humanitarian
    NGOs.  Like much of Libertarianism, this is nice in theory, but has
    problems in practice.  For various reasons, refugees impact national
    security and relationships between nations.  For this reason,
    governments cannot always leave refugee policy in the hands of private
    organizations.
    Green Party
    Finally, the Green Party Platform
    mentions refugees several times, but always in the context of the
    Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "We reaffirm the right and feasibility of
    Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel."
    While I support the rights of Palestinian refugees, this is pretty
    ridiculous.  Why single out Palestinians among all the world's refugees
    while at the same time completely ignoring refugees from other
    countries, including many who are living (and dying) under worse
    conditions than the Palestinians?  It seems to me that this is not a
    serious party platform, which is unfortunate, as we could certainly use a
    strong, articulate liberal voice on this and other issues.
    OK, so there you have it.  To judge solely by party platform, I'd say
    that the Republicans win on the refugee issue, though I suppose the win
    is mostly by default.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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