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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Olympic Athlete Seeks Asylum Prior to Opening Ceremony

    The torch has not yet been lit, but the first Olympic athlete has already requested asylum in Great Britain.* CBS News reports that a Sudanese runner scheduled to compete in the 800-meter race has appeared at a police station in Leeds and asked for political asylum.*

    If Omar Al Bashir is your "president," you better be able to run fast.

    It is not surprising that a Sudanese man would seek asylum-his country is run by an indicted war criminal, Omar Al Bashir, who is responsible for many thousands of deaths.* As the games continue, it will be interesting to see how many more Sudanese (and athletes from other countries) seek protection in Great Britain.* The New York Times has listed several noteworthy instances of athletes seeking asylum at previous Games:
    In August 1948, London was the scene of one of the earliest reported asylum requests by someone associated with the Olympic Games. Marie Provaznikova, 57, the leader of the Czechoslovakian women's gymnastics team and one of the most popular women in her country, sought asylum in the United States rather than support a purge in the Sokol national fitness organization, of which she was a leader.
    At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, an Iraqi weight lifter, Raed Ahmed, ran from the athletes' village into a waiting car and sought asylum from Saddam Hussein's government. He was allowed to stay in the United States after he cited a fear of execution upon his return. Persistent rumors from Iraq suggested that Mr. Hussein's son Uday used beatings and other torture to punish those who did not perform to his liking at international sporting events.
    Before the 2008 Olympics, seven members of the Cuban soccer team sought asylum after a qualifying game against the United States in Florida. At the time, one of them, Yenier Bermudez, told The Miami Herald that the players were "feeling hopeful about our new lives."
    The entire Eritrean national soccer team fled during a 2009 competition in Kenya. Only a coach and an official emerged from the team's plane when it returned home. It was the third time that players had failed to return, soccer officials said. Eritrean athletes are now asked to pay a bond before leaving the country for sporting events, the BBC reported.
    Frankly, I think it is wonderful when high-profile athletes defect from repressive regimes.* It serves as a visible repudiation of those regimes and perhaps provides some succor to the regimes' opponents.*
    While one athlete defecting from Sudan will probably not bring down the government, it does serve as a powerful reminder that the government of that country represses and murders its own people.* And sometimes the actions of one person capture the moment and cause great change.* Witness Mohamed Bouazizi, the fruit vendor whose suicide launched the Arab Spring.* I do not know whether the Sudanese athlete's defection will have any larger effect on his country, but we can always hope.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. When Service Centers Attack

    Asylum applications are initially submitted to one of the USCIS Service Centers.* After an initial review, the Service Center forwards the application to the appropriate Asylum Office for an interview.* Unfortunately, the Service Centers reject a fair number of applications and mail them back to the applicants (or their lawyers).* Based on my own experience, it seems that many of these rejections are frivolous or at least unwarranted, and this raises concerns about access to justice for asylum seekers.
    Where I live (in the civilized part of the country), we submit our asylum applications to the Texas Service Center.* Maybe I've just been on a losing streak, but in recent months, I have had three applications rejected and returned to me by the TSC.* Each one was rejected for an illegitimate reason (at least as far as I am concerned).* The first application was rejected because we failed to list the applicant's siblings on the form.* But the applicant has no siblings, so there was nothing for us to list.* After this rejection, I have taken to writing "n/a" in any space on the form that would otherwise be left blank.* The second rejection occurred because USCIS wanted additional information that the Alien number we listed belonged to the applicant.* However, the applicant's Alien number had been assigned to him by USCIS.* Why they simply couldn't look up the number that they previously assigned to the applicant is beyond me.* The most recent rejection was because the applicant purportedly failed to include an additional copy of the I-589 for her dependent child, whose application was attached to her's.* Also, supposedly, we did not include evidence (like a birth certificate) establishing the relationship between the parent and the child.* The only problem here is that we did include an extra copy of the I-589 form and a copy of a document showing that the applicant was the parent (there are no birth certificates in the applicant's country).* I even clearly listed these documents on the cover page.* For this one, I have no idea why the application was rejected.* Before mailing it back, I highlighted some documents in bright pink and attached some sticky notes.* I'll hope for the best.

    If only the Service Centers were this helpful.

    I imagine that if the Service Centers regularly reject applications prepared by someone familiar with the process, they must reject a good portion of the applications they receive.* For pro se asylum seekers, this creates a barrier that might prevent them from presenting their cases.* So what's to be done?*
    The basic problem, I think, is that the criteria for rejecting asylum applications is too stringent.* Forget to check the box indicating whether you received a list of attorneys who can represent you at low or no cost?* Rejected.* Fail to indicate whether you are fluent in English?* Rejected.* Forget an extra copy of the I-589 for the dependent?* Rejected.*
    I recognize that the Service Centers are bureaucracies with limited resources.* However, in some cases, it would seem easier to either contact the applicant and ask for an explanation of the problem or let the Asylum Officer deal with the problem at the interview.* In cases of minor errors, these solutions would be easier and less expensive than reviewing the application, deciding to reject it, addressing the return envelope, paying for the return envelope, and repeating the process once the application is re-submitted.* It would also be less frustrating for attorneys (i.e., me) and it would better ensure access to justice for pro se applicants.
    On September 13, 2012, two Service Centers will hold their Fall Asylum and Refugee Conference to discuss issues related to asylum:
    The TSC is partnering with the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) to provide an opportunity to meet staff and share information on asylum- and refugee-related topics through presentation and open dialogue. The conference will include a panel discussion with representatives from the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations (RAIO) and Service Center Operations (SCOPS) directorates, the director of the National Visa Center (tentative), as well as TSC and NSC employees. Immigration Services Officers will also be available in the afternoon to answer your case-specific questions.
    I certainly hope that one topic of conversation will be how to reduce the rejection rate for asylum applications.*
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. The Asylum Affidavit, Part 1: The Passive Tense Should Not Be Used

    The heart of an asylum case is the applicant's affidavit.* There, she tells her story and explains why she needs the protection of asylum.* Because affidavits are so important, I thought it might be helpful to do a short series about preparing a decent affidavit.
    One of the most common problems in affidavits is the overuse of the passive voice.* Not to be all English teacher-y, but I've seen too many affidavits where I have no idea who is doing what to whom, and one reason for this confusion is the use of passive voice.* I imagine that if an affidavit is confusing for me as an attorney reviewing the case, it is quite possibly fatal to the applicant's chances for success with an Asylum Officer or an Immigration Judge.
    Of course, most asylum seekers are not native English speakers, and the overuse of passive voice stems as much from linguistic and cultural differences as it does from poor English grammar.* The problem is not confined to pro se applicants, however, but extends to cases prepared by notarios and attorneys as well--people who should know better.
    Here is a made-up, but close-to-real-life example of an affidavit written in the passive voice:
    On June 10, 2005, I was arrested at my house.* I was taken to the police detention center.* There, I was interrogated and beaten.

    For her opposition to passive voice, Dorothy Parker was honored by the Postal Service.

    If I have inherited this case (perhaps because the applicant was referred to Court by the Asylum Office), each of these sentences is more annoying than the last.* I want to know who arrested the applicant and whether anyone witnessed the arrest.* Also, who took the applicant to the detention center?* How did he get there? Who interrogated the applicant?* How many times was he interrogated?* Who beat him?* How many times was the applicant beaten?* What injuries did he sustain?* Did he say anything during the beating?* Did the interrogator(s) say anything?* Here is an (abbreviated) example of how the above statement might be re-written:
    On June 10, 2005, three soldiers came to my house.* My father answered the door.* The leader of the group ordered my father to bring me to the door.* When I came to the door, the soldiers handcuffed me and drove me to the Central Police Station.* At the station, they put me in a holding cell with ten other prisoners.* After an hour, a guard brought me to a small office.* There were two soldiers standing in the room and a security agent sitting at a desk.* The agent ordered me to sit down.* He asked me why I participated in an opposition demonstration.* When I denied that I participated in any demonstration, he slapped me hard across my face.* My nose was bleeding.
    You get the idea.* By reducing or eliminating passive voice from the passage, we have a much better idea about what happened.* I also added more detail, something that I will discuss in a future post.
    The problem with passive voice is that it makes it more difficult to understand what is happening in the story.* If the fact finder cannot understand what is happening, he cannot compare the applicant's testimony to her written affidavit.* Comparing the written and oral statements is one method for determining credibility.* Therefore, overuse of passive voice makes credibility determinations more difficult, and makes it more likely your client's case will be denied.* Thus, in the words of Dorothy Parker, "The passive tense should not be used."
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. North Koreans Find Refuge in the United States

    The United States accepted five North Korean refugees in June, bringing the total for FY 2012 to 11, and the total since 2006 to 135, according to Yonhap News Agency.
    The refugees entered the country under the North Korean Human Rights Act, which Congress passed in 2004.* The Act calls for the provision of financial aid to help improve North Korea's human rights situation and acceptance of North Korean defectors into the United States.* According to DHS (see Table 14), 2006 was the first year we accepted North Korean refugees, and we have accepted between eight and 37 refugees from North Korea each year since then.

    Kim Jong Un: If Adolf Hitler and the Pillsbury Doughboy had a child.

    Despite its extreme insularity, it is quite clear that the human rights situation in North Korea is an utter disaster.* The recent book Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden tells the story of one man's escape from the most notorious prison in the enormous gulag that is North Korea's political prison system.* The Washington Post review describes the prison:
    In Camp 14, children are punished for the political sins of their fathers. Hunger is so omnipotent that every prisoner behaves like "a panicked animal" at mealtimes. Teachers at the camp school beat students to death for minor infractions. Medieval torture devices are employed in ****eon-like underground cells. And human relationships are so degraded that prisoners inform on family members.
    Also, according to the Post: "The U.S. government and human rights groups estimate that 150,000 to 200,000 people are now being held in the North's prison camps."* "Many of the camps can be seen in satellite images, but North Korea denies their existence."
    Most North Korean refugees go to China, where, until recently, they faced repatriation and (probable) torture or execution.* However, according to the Shanghaiist website, a few months ago, China announced that it would stop returning North Korean refugees to their country.* Assuming this information is correct, it represents a significant step forward for human rights in China and it is obviously good news for the refugees themselves.* Between 20,000 and 30,000 North Korean refugees live in China.
    The North Korean Human Rights Act was reauthorized in 2008 for four years, and will again need to be reauthorized this fall.* Despite all the partisan nonsense on Capitol Hill these days, I suspect that the Act will have support from both parties.* Given the mass torture and mass murder perpetrated by the regime in Pyongyang, we should continue to do everything we can to aid those who escape from North Korea.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. Asylum and Shari’ah Law

    I recently finished a book about the Quran, and it got me wondering about what Islamic Law (or Shari'ah) has to say about asylum.*

    Forget the Asylum Primer...

    With the help of the mighty Google, I found an interesting paper on the subject from 2009: The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari'ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study.* The study is by Prof. Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, chief of the department of public international law at Cairo University, and was written for the United Nations.* The study was meant to begin a conversation and get feedback from various experts in preparation for publishing the second edition of the study.* This conversation is apparently on-going.
    Obviously, I am no expert in Shari'ah law, but I reviewed the initial study and I thought I would mention a few highlights.* The document begins with a quote from the Quran:
    Those who believed and emigrated, and strove in the cause of God, as well as those who hosted them and gave them refuge, and supported them, these are the true believers.* They have deserved forgiveness and a generous recompense. (Quranic Surat al-Anfal, "The Spoils of War" [Chapter 8 verse 74]).

    Try the Quran instead.

    From there, the study sets forth the conditions for granting asylum under Islamic law.* For one thing,*refugees should be "warmly welcomed... and well treated."* "This is clear from the divine phrase [in the Quran that] those who 'show their affection to such as came to them for refuge...' and consequently [they] should not be expelled to the borders (refouled) or denied admission."* Indeed, asylum seekers "should not be rejected , even if the inhabitants of the territory of asylum are in dire poverty... as the [Quran] says, '... even though poverty was their (own lot).'"* The study further states that "Islam categorically disallows that a refugee be returned to a place where there are fears for his basic freedoms and rights (such as being subjected to persecution, torture, degrading or other treatment)."*
    Most of the examples in the study involve granting asylum to Muslims, but the law of asylum also extends to non-Muslims who are seeking protection.* This is based on a "well-known Islamic principle, i.e. 'Before the world's calamities, all sons of Adam (human beings) are equal.'"
    The study also discusses the case of a person who enters Muslim territory without permission for the purpose of seeking asylum.* While non-Muslims are generally not permitted to enter Muslim lands without permission (and may be severely punished if they do), people who enter for the purpose of seeking asylum are not subject to penalties and should be offered protection.*
    Interestingly, as in international law, Islamic law lists certain people who are ineligible for asylum.* One group that is not eligible are criminals, "particularly those who have committed acts warranting prescribed penalties (hodoud, e.g. willful murder)."* Also, people who have committed "grievances" in their home country are ineligible.* Here, Islamic law distinguishes between offering asylum and sheltering offenders.* The latter is not allowed.* Further, a grant of asylum to a specific person "may be coupled with an agreement concluded with him."* Failure to abide by the agreement can have "grave consequences."
    The report concludes that "Observance of this right [to asylum] as enshrined by Islam is a duty for every zealous Muslim."
    While the concept of asylum exists under Shari'ah law, many Islamic countries, including the wealthy Gulf states, have not signed on to international treaties concerning refugees and do not offer asylum to people fleeing persecution.* I hope Professor Ahmed's study reaches those Islamic governments that do not offer protection to refugees.* Not only do such governments fail to fulfill the duties incumbent upon all nations; it seems they also fail to fulfill their obligations under Islamic law.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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