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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Beautiful People Seeking Asylum

    Two Cuban actors who star in an award winning movie, Una Noche, have defected and will be seeking political asylum in the United States.* Coincidentally, the movie tells the story of three Cuban teenagers who try to escape Cuba on a raft in order to start a new life in America.*

    America's newest asylum seekers are also some of its most glamorous.

    Una Noche was a low budget film directed by Lucy Mulloy, a 32-year-old Brit who shot the movie in Havana.* She says that she was inspired by a tale she heard on a trip to the island nation 10 years ago.
    The film achieved unexpected success, and the three stars of the movie-all of whom are non-professional actors-traveled to Germany and later to the U.S. for film festivals.* In the U.S., the trio was scheduled to attend the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, where Una Noche won multiple awards.* However, two of the actors, Analin de la Rua and Javier Nuñez Florian, disappeared after they arrived in the United States and missed the festival (where Mr. Nuñez Florian shared an award for Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film with the third co-star, Dariel Arrechada).
    Ms. de la Rua and Mr. Nuñez Florian played brother and sister in the movie, and (in a Brady Bunch-esque twist) fell in love in real life and decided to defect together.* They recently re-appeared in Miami, represented by attorney Wilfredo Allen, who indicated that they would file for political asylum "based on possible persecution if they return to Cuba."
    Although the couple seems not to have had problems in Cuba prior to their trip to the U.S. (and indeed, they returned to Cuba after a trip to Germany), the public nature of their defection possibly puts them in danger if they return and likely qualifies them for asylum.* Of course, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, even if they do not receive asylum, they would be eligible to apply for residency after one year of physical presence in the United States.* So either way, the couple should be able to remain in the United States.* We will be looking for them in Hollywood.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. Victory Is Fleeting, But Losing Lasts Forever

    It feels good to win an asylum case, particularly a case where the client faces a real danger in the home country, or where winning seemed unlikely.* But one thing I've noticed about winning - that good feeling doesn't last long.

    The typical scene at my office after an asylum win.

    It's better for court cases, when you are actually present to hear the decision.* Since you're not in the office, the win can be savored for a while; at least until you return to work.* With most Asylum Office victories, you receive the result by mail, so you might have a good couple minutes when you call the client to congratulate her.* After that, it's back to the grind stone.
    Losing, on the other hand, is a different story.* When you lose an asylum case, you need to explain to the client what went wrong.* If you've screwed up, you need to explain that too, and hopefully in a way that doesn't generate a bar complaint.* If it's the client's fault, you need to be diplomatic-why add insult to injury? And even if you have done everything right, it's hard not to feel guilty when a client loses his case.* Maybe you could have done more?* Of course, you can always do more, and since you lost the case, you clearly should have.
    You also need to explain the appeals process, and how much you charge.* You have to discuss the chances for success on appeal.* For most clients, this is a conversation that you will have more than once.
    And then, of course, you actually have to do the appeal.* These are a lot of work.* If the appeal is with the BIA, you won't receive a decision for a year or two.* During that time, the client will call repeatedly to ask why there is no decision.* If you lose an appeal with the BIA, you then have to explain the process in the federal circuit courts and start the whole process again.*
    So what's the lesson here?* According to a recent survey of asylum advocates in the U.S. and the UK, we need to take time to celebrate our successes.* Many advocates report that there are moments of great joy in their work.* For these advocates, seeing individuals that they have supported win asylum is a strong source of motivation.* Even though we are busy, we should take time to savor our wins.* We help make people's lives better.* If we take some time to appreciate our successes, it will help us enjoy our work more, and that will make us better advocates for our clients.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  3. Letter to a Young Immigration Lawyer

    One of the perks of working in an area of the law (asylum) that interests law students and young lawyers is that I periodically get to meet people seeking advice about starting a practice or finding a job doing asylum cases.* It's never easy to advise people about their careers, but there are a few pieces of wisdom I've picked up over the years that I try to pass on.* So for what it's worth, here are some thoughts for up-and-coming immigration lawyers:
    - You can do it.* This one sounds trite, so I probably should not have put it first, but I think it is the most important piece of advice I can give.* It may seem difficult (or impossible) to get started in the field of asylum law, but people who persist almost always succeed.* In my case, I could not find the job I wanted, so I worked at another job for a few years, put most of my income towards paying off my student loans, and then opened my own practice.* I kept expecting it to fail, but so far-eight years later-I'm still here.* And once you get your first job in the field, it is easier to move around.* I've seen many friends move between public interests jobs, private firms, and academia.* In other words, once you're in, you're in.
    - Experience in the field prior to and during law school is more important than grades, law school rankings or law journal.* If you are thinking of a career in asylum law, try to gain as much experience as possible while in law school.* There are many opportunities to volunteer, including at the Immigration Court or DHS, for non-profit organizations, and even for private attorneys.* Also, publishing in law school journals or other journals (or writing a blog!) is a good way to get some experience and attention.
    - Try to get a clerkship.* A clerkship or an internship with a court is a great way to learn how judges decide cases.* And if you know what judges want, it will help you throughout your career.* I clerked for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia (greatest city on Earth) and for the Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia.* Both jobs taught me a lot and made me a better lawyer.

    Advice from fortune cookies and immigration lawyers should be taken with a grain of salt.

    - Volunteer.* One way to get your foot in the door is to volunteer with an organization that represents asylum seekers.* There are many, and they are often in need of free labor.* Volunteering for one of these organizations will allow you to meet people in the field, learn about paying job opportunities, and learn the skills needed to effectively represent people in court and at the asylum office.* I know several people whose volunteer positions led to full time employment.* I would suggest that you think strategically about where you volunteer-some organizations are better than others for purposes of networking, learning the ropes, and getting hired.
    - Keep salary expectations realistic.* Your clients are refugees for Pete's sake.*
    - Consider opening your own practice.* However, I would encourage you not to do this anywhere near Washington, DC.* If I am giving you free advice, the least you can do is not compete with me.* Starting a practice of your own may seem daunting, but it really is do-able.* In fact, most private immigration attorneys are solo or work for small firms.* There is a lot of support available from bar associations, organizations (like AILA), and other attorneys.* In fact, many bar associations have a person dedicated to helping lawyers start law firms.* Call your bar association and ask about the resources they can offer you.
    If you are thinking about a career in immigration law and asylum, I hope you will be encouraged to give it a go.* It's a rewarding area of the law where you will have an opportunity to make a real difference in your clients' lives.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  4. Asylum Seeker Commits Suicide to Help His Children

    In the last few years, we've seen a rash of politically motivated suicides.* The most well-known case is that of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose suicide to protest mistreatment by a Tunisian government official began the Arab Spring.* There have also been a number of incidents where Tibetan Buddhist monks set themselves on fire to draw attention to the brutal Chinese occupation of their homeland.* Most recently, a Moroccan woman trapped in a forced marriage killed herself with rat poison.* The incident sparked protests against Islamic marriage laws in Morocco.

    Van Gogh's painting anticipates the pain of many asylum seekers.

    Now, the Irish Times is reporting the suicide of an asylum seeker from Burundi.* The incident occurred in the Netherlands, and supposedly the man killed himself in an effort to increase the chances that his children would be permitted to stay:
    Alain Hatungimana lost his wife during the Burundian civil war, in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2005. Then, five years ago, he managed to escape to the Netherlands with his son, Abdillah, and daughter, Maimuna - hoping, given the political circumstances, to be granted asylum and allowed to start anew.
    Unfortunately for Mr. Hatungimana, the government rejected his claim and was planning to deport the family to Burundi.* This despite strong support for the family from local government officials.*
    Mr. Hatungimana became depressed and, the day before he and his children were scheduled to be deported, he took his own life.* "Those who treated him [for depression] say they have no doubt the act was a final desperate attempt to prevent his children from being sent back to Burundi - though it remains uncertain whether he's achieved even that."
    The government has a somewhat different take on the incident: "The immigration ministry in The Hague said it 'regretted' the suicide, noting Mr. Hatungimana had had 'psychiatric problems.'"* The government also claimed that Mr. Hatungimana's deportation was not imminent.
    Whether the motivation was depression or a selfless (if misconceived) desire to help his children, Mr. Hatungimana's story serves as a cautionary tale.* While I would not advocate changing law or policy based on the fear that an asylum seeker might commit suicide, Mr. Hatungimana's example reminds us how serious these cases are.* We must do our best to ensure that legitimate asylum seekers receive the protection to which they are entitled under international law.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  5. UNHCR: Number of Asylum Applications Up Sharply in 2011

    A new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ("UNHCR") shows that asylum claims in industrialized countries have increased 20% from 2010 to 2011. The United States continued to receive the most asylum seekers among the countries surveyed: approximately 74,000 asylum seekers in 2011. This compares to approximately 55,500 asylum seekers for 2010, a 33% increase (among all countries, South Africa received the most asylum seekers).
    The increase in asylum seekers to the U.S. is due largely to higher numbers from three countries: China (+20%), Mexico (+94%), and India (+241%).

    With all the new refugees, we should at least get some interesting food joints.

    The U.S. receives more asylum seekers from China than from any other country. In 2010, we received 12,850 asylum seekers from China. In 2011, we received 15,450 asylum seekers from China, an increase of 2,600 people or about 20%. The large numbers are probably due to special provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that provide for asylum for victims of forced family planning-these provisions were created specifically to assist people from China, and they certainly seem to have encouraged Chinese nationals to seek asylum here. Indeed, of the 24,400 Chinese asylum seekers worldwide, the U.S. received about 63% of all cases. This is a very high number, given our physical distance from China. If these numbers continue to rise, I wonder whether it will cause us to re-think our decision to grant asylum to victims of forced family planning.
    The biggest numerical increase was among Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S. In 2010, there were 4,225 asylum seekers from Mexico. In 2011, we received 8,186 asylum seekers from Mexico. I recently wrote a post where I expressed doubt about the reported increase in Mexican asylum claims. If the UNHCR report is correct, I was wrong and the number of asylum seekers has increased dramatically in the last year. We will see whether the grant rate for Mexicans-which has been about 2%-will increase with the new crop of asylum seekers. If this trend continues, it will certainly place a burden on our asylum system, and we might need to re-evaluate how we deal with the new influx.
    In terms of relative increases, India had the largest increase: Up 241% from last year (the U.S. received 720 Indian asylum seekers in 2010 and 2,457 in 2011). As far as I can tell, Indian cases are very diverse: political persecution, religious persecution, and sexual orientation, among other basis. Why the dramatic increase in India asylum seekers? I have no idea. One "push factor" that seems inapplicable to Indian cases is the economy-India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. One year does not make a trend, so we will have to wait and see how many Indian nationals seek asylum in the U.S. in 2012.
    Aside from the "big three," there were major increases from El Salvador (2010-2,703; 2011-4,011) and Guatemala (2010-2,235; 2011-3,363), and smaller increases from Honduras, Haiti, and Nepal. Rounding out the top 10 source countries for asylum seekers in the U.S. were Ethiopia (which saw a small drop in numbers) and Egypt, which appeared on the U.S. top ten list for the first time, perhaps as a result of difficulties related to the Arab Spring.
    Worldwide, the top source countries for asylum seekers were Afghanistan (approximately 35,700 asylum seekers, up 34% from 2010), China (24,400; up 13% from 2010), Iraq (23,500; up 14% from 2010, but significantly down from 2008 when there were 40,400 claims), Serbia (21,200; down 28% from 2010), and Pakistan (18,100; up 66% from last year).
    Given world population growth (there are a lot more people than there used to be), general economic malaise, and the dismal state of human rights in many countries, it is not surprising that the number of asylum seekers is increasing. How we address these problems and how we treat people who come to us for help are some of the defining issues of our time.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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