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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) Gets It Right

    Recently, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) released a report called Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform.  Last week, I wrote about some problems with the report's methodology.  Since it's a new year, I wanted to do something more positive, so for today's post, I will discuss some recommendations in the report that I agree with. 
    The Cuban Adjustment Act
    The report recommends that the Cuban Adjustment Act be scrapped as a Cold War anachronism:
    The exemption of Cubans in the United States from being required to justify a well-founded fear of persecution if sent back to Cuba is a political rather than humanitarian provision that encourages illegal immigration from Cuba.  The Cuban Adjustment Act should be repealed and the "wet-foot-dry-foot" policy that paroles Cubans into the country should be rescinded by the president.
    While I oppose the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuba's loss has been our gain: Rapper Cuban Link
    This policy has never made much sense to me, especially since the end of the Cold War.  I've represented Cubans who gained their residency in the U.S. through the Cuban Adjustment Act, and they have all been very nice people.  But they were not political dissidents or people who faced persecution in Cuba.  Maybe the original idea behind the Act was to score a propaganda victory against Cuba, but after 50 years of the "Revolution," I don't know that it's done much good (on the other hand, all those Cubans coming to the U.S. have greatly enhanced our country).  Rather than allow any Cuban who reaches the U.S. to remain here, we would do better to require each person to prove that he has a well-founded fear of persecution in Cuba, just like asylum seekers from other countries.    
    Coercive Family Planning
    Congress has defined the term "refugee" to include victims of China's coercive family planning policies.  The FAIR report recommends that the "expansion of the definition of a refugee to include coercive family planning policies should be reversed."  "It deviates from international practice and encourages illegal immigration from China."  
    I have always felt that it is unfair to condemn China for its one-child policy.  That country faces a very real and very dangerous population crisis, and the government instituted a policy (however unpalatable) to avoid disaster.  The law that FAIR opposes is more narrowly written than the report indicates, but it is still over-broad.   INA § 101(a)(42)(B) defines "refugee" as follows:
    For purposes of determinations under this chapter, a person who has been forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or who has been persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control program, shall be deemed to have been persecuted on account of political opinion, and a person who has a well founded fear that he or she will be forced to undergo such a procedure or subject to persecution for such failure, refusal, or resistance shall be deemed to have a well founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion.
    The law appropriately defines "refugees" to include past victims and possible future victims of forced abortion and forced sterilization.  However, those who "resist" the family planning policy are also covered.  I would limit the definition of "refugee" to include only those who suffer from the coercive policies, not those who merely oppose such policies (though in my understanding, asylum is not given willy-nilly to anyone who expresses opposition to the one-child policy, and in this respect, I think FAIR's concern is a bit over-blown). 
    Asylum Fraud
    The FAIR report is concerned with "combating the documented fraud in the asylum system."  Fraud is a problem in the asylum system, and it is one I have written about before in a post creatively titled Fraud and Asylum.  I believe the most effective method to combat fraud-and I did not see this mentioned in the FAIR report-is to aggressively go after attorneys and notarios who engage in fraudulent practices.  To quote my own blog on this point:
    Another option is to identify attorneys and notarios who prepare claims deemed suspicious.  Such people should be investigated and, if evidence of fraud is uncovered, prosecuted.  This, to me, is the easiest and most effective solution.  The DHS attorneys generally know who is producing and/or facilitating fraudulent claims.  Why not send an undercover investigator posing as a client to the suspected attorney?  If the attorney suggests that the "client" engage in fraud, the attorney could be charged with a crime....  Such tactics would reduce fraud by eliminating the purveyors of fraud and by deterring others who might engage in such practices.
    So, I am pleased to have found a few points of agreement with the FAIR report.  In a future post, I will discuss some areas of disagreement.  Happy New Year.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. FAIR’s Report on Asylees and Refugees Offers a Distorted Picture

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently released a report calling for reform of our country's refugee and asylum policies.  The report, titled Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform, was authored by FAIR's Director of Special Projects, Jack Martin.  The report covers a wide range of topics, from refugee admissions, to Temporary Protected States (TPS), to Chinese family planning asylum.  In general-and as expected-it calls for restricting humanitarian benefits for people seeking protection in the United States.  Concerning asylum, the report states:
    Our country's asylum law has been expanded by legislation and by court decisions to the extent that it has grown from a small program intended for unusual situations, where the return to a home country would constitute exposure to persecution, to become a major component of immigrant admissions. It too, by the absence of evidentiary standards, is open to fraud by persons who have no other basis for entry as immigrants.   
    Having reviewed the report, there are some points I agree with, more points that I disagree with, and a few questions I have about the report's methodology.  The report is fairly long (36 pages), and there are a number of points worth discussing, so I will devote a couple blog posts to my response.  For today's post, I want to raise a few questions about the report's methodology. 
    The report, p. 5, states that "combined refugee and asylee admissions have hit new levels in recent years, exceeding 200,000 in 2006," but it is not clear where FAIR gets its numbers.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2006, 41,150 people were admitted into the United States as refugees, 12,873 were granted asylum affirmatively, and 13,240 were granted asylum defensively.  By my calculation, the total number of refugee and asylee admissions for 2006 was 67,263 people.  The figure of 200,000 likely refers to the number of asylees and refugees who adjusted status to lawful permanent residents in 2006.  These are not new admissions.  Rather, these are people who have been in the United States-in some cases for many years-who were able to adjust status after the cap on refugee adjustments was lifted in 2005. 
    Does anyone really trust statistics?
    Also on page 5 of the report, there is a chart showing how many refugees and asylees were admitted into the U.S. from 1990 to 2009.  The data on the chart purportedly comes from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.  But even a casual comparison of the Yearbook to FAIR's chart reveals major discrepancies.  For example, FAIR's chart shows that over 100,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in 2009.  However, the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 13) states that 74,602 refugees were admitted in 2009.  The chart also shows over 100,000 refugee admissions in 2002, but the Yearbook (Table 13) indicates that only 26,765 refugees were admitted in 2002.  Again, FAIR's numbers appear to be the number of refugees who adjusted status (i.e., obtained their green card) in a given year, not the number of refugees who actually entered the United States in the specified year.
    Page 6 of the report refers to refugees from the Soviet Block.  The report notes that the number of refugees has "nosedived" since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but states: "It is significant, however, that the admission of refugees from Russia and the Ukraine has not ended."  Next to this statement is a chart, purportedly showing the number of refugees from the "Soviet Union/Ukraine."  The chart shows that about 4,000 refugees came from the "Soviet Union/Ukraine" in 2009.  A review of the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 14) shows that in 2009, 495 refugees came from Russia and 601 came from the Ukraine, for a total of 1,096, far short of the 4,000 refugees listed on FAIR's chart.  Again, FAIR seems to be listing the number of refugees from the former Soviet Union who are adjusting status, not the number of new admissions.  Some of these refugees may have lived in the U.S. for decades before adjusting status.
    Page 14 of the report unfairly represents the proportion of refugees accepted by the United States.  The report states:
    [The] United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR)... states that the United States accepted of 62,000 refugees out of 84,000 who were identified as needing permanent resettlement by that agency in 2009 -- nearly three-fourths of the total.
    In fact, footnote 23 of the FAIR report states that: "In 2009, UNHCR submitted 129,000 refugees for resettlement.... 84,000 refugees were actually resettled last year."  So it seems to me a bit misleading to say that the U.S. accepted "62,000 refugees out of 84,000 who were identified as needing permanent resettlement," when, in reality, the UN identified 129,000 refugees in need of permanent resettlement (and when there are about 15 million refugees worldwide).  This means that the U.S. accepted less than half of the refugees identified for resettlement, not three-fourths as stated in FAIR's report. 
    In sum, FAIR's report gives a distorted impression of the number of refugees and asylees coming to the U.S.  The report should have relied on the number of new arrivals-not the number of refugees and asylees who are already here and who are applying for residency-to make its points.  Perhaps this would have made FAIR's points somewhat less compelling, since the number of refugees and asylees arriving in the U.S. is less than what the report represents, but it would have had the virtue of being less misleading.
    In future posts, I will discuss some points of agreement and disagreement with FAIR's policy recommendations.
    Originally published on the Asylumist:
  3. Strange Bedfellows: Pro-Immigrant Organizations Join with Hate Group to Support Refugee Reforms

    A recent article in the Baptist Press illustrates just how diverse the refugee advocacy community really is-and now, some pro-immigrant organizations have joined forces with an anti-Moslem, anti-gay hate group.  The issue that has brought together this "coalition of religious, conservative, and human rights leaders" is the material support bar and the Obama Administration's failure to adopt reforms to prevent innocent refugees from being classified as terrorists (I touched on this problem in a previous post). 
    Among the groups that joined together to call for reform are the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Human Rights First, Concerned Women for America, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
    The group that really stands out to me is Concerned Women for America.  Here are some quotes from their website:
    In a time when families are struggling to pay their mortgages and utility bills, much less buy Christmas presents for their loved ones, the Smithsonian Institution, which is partly funded by American taxpayers, is promoting an exhibit that degrades Christianity and exalts homosexuality....  I urge Congress to swiftly take steps to defund the Smithsonian Institution for their reckless and inexcusable judgment in funding such a project.
    On September 15, 2011, CWA will present an in-depth discussion with experts on America's most important policy issue. This issue affects foreign policy, human rights and perhaps even our own system of law in the future. Come join us and our panel as we expose underlying tenets of Sharia Law and how it threatens our nation and your family.
    Another measure that failed during the lame duck session was the DREAM Act, a back door amnesty bill that would grant automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, with "children" defined as anyone up to the age of 35.
    So, CWA hates Moslems and DREAM Act children.  They also hate gay people: the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the organization's founder "has blamed gay people for a 'radical leftist crusade' in America and, over the years, has occasionally equated homosexuality with pedophilia."  But the CWA supports reforming the material support bar for refugees, and is thus part of the broader coalition.  
    What's surprising to me is that mainstream groups such as HIAS and Human Rights First-groups that I strongly support-would join together with a group like CWA.  Maybe I am naive to think that reform can occur without a broad coalition, but it seems to me that some groups are simply beyond the pale.  Don't get me wrong-I greatly respect most of the groups that have joined together to call for reforming the material support bar.  But I respectfully suggest that they should be more careful about who they partner with in the future.  To me at least, the ends simply do not justify the means.
    Originally published in the Asylumist:
  4. Funding Shortfall for Refugee Resettlement

    The Senate's recent decision to fund the government through a continuing resolution instead of an omnibus appropriations bill will have major implications for refugee resettlement agencies in the United States, reports the Huffington Post. 
    Maybe the Spirits of Christmas will convince the Senate to save the "surplus population."
    The President's proposed budget for FY 2011 had included an 18.5% increase in funding for refugee programs, an increase that is desperately needed.  However, the continuing resolution keeps funding at FY 2010 levels.  This means that refugee resettlement agencies do not have the resources to do their jobs, and that refugees are unable to meet short term needs-such as grocery bills and rent, and long term needs-such as moving towards self sufficiency. 
    There is some bipartisan support for increasing funding for resettlement.  The Huffington Post reports:
    Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a report in July stating that funding for refugee programs is too low, and that that, in turn, puts strain on local communities stepping in to fill the void. Lugar argued the government should either accept fewer refugees, or give more funding to programs designed to help those that are allowed into the country.
    In tough economic times, there is a temptation to reduce the number of refugees we admit into the United States (the admissions ceiling for FY 2011 is 80,000 refugees, which is similar to previous years).  However, if the U.S. reduces its refugee numbers, other countries will likely follow suit.  This means that thousands of refugees will be left to linger, and sometimes die, in refugee camps.  The U.S. has been-and should continue to be-the leader in assisting refugees.  Further, we bear a particular responsibility since many of the refugees come from Iraq and Afghanistan, collateral damage from our efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.
    Protecting and resettling refugees helps the United States maintain its moral leadership in the world.  As they say, the U.S. is great when it is good.  We should fully fund our refugee resettlement programs to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our community get the assistance they need.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  5. Witnesses: The Triumph or Tragedy of an Asylum Case

    I finished my last asylum trial of the year earlier this month, and I almost lost the case, thanks to a witness who had flown in from Cameroon especially for the occasion. 
    I felt that our case was pretty strong-my client was a political activist who had been arrested several times in his country.  The case was well documented, and my client seemed credible.  Even the government attorney indicated that we should get it over with quickly-a sure sign that she anticipated a grant.  Then, basically out of nowhere, the witness starts babbling about the time he and my client were arrested together in Cameroon.  My client had never mentioned this arrest to me, nor had the witness told me about it during our preparation session.  In Immigration Court, attorneys are not permitted to strangle their own witnesses, so there was nothing I could do but watch my case go down the drain.  Fortunately, during re-direct, I was able to elicit some explanation from the witness.  Then we had my client return to the stand to further clarify.  In the end, the Judge granted relief, but a strong case was nearly sunk by a witness with a big mouth.
    The Rules of Professional Conduct do not allow an attorney to strangle a witness, even when it seems justified.
    All this raises the question: Do the benefits of witnesses outweigh the risks?  It's a question I have thought a lot about.  On the one hand, the REAL ID Act requires us to submit reasonably available evidence, so if a witness is available and we do not bring her to Court, the IJ could use that to support a denial.  On the other hand, it is difficult to hold the respondent responsible for a witness who fails to appear, and a well-supported case will likely be granted even when there is no witness. 
    Nevertheless, I tend to bring witnesses to Court if I have them.  For one thing (and perhaps this is naive), I feel a certain duty to present my case, for better or worse.  If the IJ sees that we are presenting everything we have, and being as open as possible, I believe that we are more likely to win the case.  Also, I feel it makes me a more credible lawyer, and thus helps my clients over the long run.  In addition (and again, possibly naively), I believe I can usually prepare the witness for cross examination and anticipate questions that the DHS attorney might ask.  When the respondent and her witness testify consistently about details of an event (especially when those details have not been presented previously in the written statements), it is strong evidence of their veracity.  Finally, I tend to believe (maybe yet again naively) that my clients are telling me the truth when they describe the basis for their asylum claim.  If the client is telling the truth, a well-prepared witness should only help the case.  If the client is lying about his claim, and inconsistent testimony exposes the lie, the client really only has himself to blame. 
    Of course, even in a completely bona fide case, an ill-prepared or foolish witness can tank an asylum claim.  That is why I am very wary of witnesses who can corroborate large tracts of a respondent's story.  The more the witness knows about a respondent's story, the more opportunities exist for the DHS attorney (or the IJ) to ask detailed question about information not in the written statement and that we did not discuss during trial preparation (the idea is to ask questions that the witnesses are not prepared for, and then compare the answers to make sure the testimony is consistent).  Such questions can be confusing to witnesses who-despite repeated reminders not to do so-sometimes guess at the answers.  A better witness is a person with first-hand knowledge of one small part of the case.  Such a person is less likely to face a broad range of questions from the DHS attorney.
    Despite the risks, I feel that a well-prepared witness can go a long way towards winning an asylum case.  I can think of several cases that were won by credible witnesses.  Each case is different, and there are good arguments for avoiding the risks inherent in using a witness.  Despite the risks, I will continue to favor the use of witnesses in my cases. 
    Originally published on the Asylumist:
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