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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. KIND Helps Unaccompanied Children, but Are There Unintended Consequences?

    Every year, about 8,000 unaccompanied children enter the United States and are placed in removal proceedings.  Many of those children are helped by KIND-Kids in Need of Defense, a non-profit organization begun in January 2009 with a $3 million grant from Microsoft (and help from refugee maven Angelina Jolie).  Pleased with the success of the organization, which has offices in eight cities, Microsoft last month committed to another $3 million over the next three years.
    According to a press release:
    Since KIND became operational in January 2009, almost 1,900 children have been referred to KIND for help finding a pro bono attorney; the children range in age from two to 18 years old, and come from more than 35 countries.  KIND's model is an innovative public-private partnership in which lawyers from firms, corporations, or private practice volunteer to represent children in immigration proceedings.
    According to KIND Executive Director Wendy Young:
    Many of these children are escaping severe abuse or persecution; others have been abandoned or have been trafficked to the United States.  Some are hoping to reunite with their parents.  They need and deserve representation to help them make their claim for U.S. protection.  Without representation, children with viable claims are often unable to make them and can be sent back to their home countries, where their well-being, or even their lives, may be in danger.
    There is an argument to be made that granting benefits to children who cross the border illegally creates an incentive for others to follow them and make the risky journey to the United States.  And it is a dangerous trip-a group that tracks border deaths, No More Deaths, reports that over 250 people have died along the Arizona border during the last year.  Hundreds more have died trying to enter through New Mexico, Texas, and California, or at other locations on the refugee route from Central America.  I knew a prominent DHS attorney who routinely (and passionately) opposed relief for children who crossed the border illegally because he did not want to create incentives for other children.
    After pedaling for many days, a border crosser gets ready to jump the fence.
    While I agree that we don't want to create incentives for children to risk their lives by crossing illegally into the United States, I doubt that assisting children with their cases does much to create such an incentive.  For one thing, many of the children are leaving pretty awful circumstances-if they were safe and happy, they would stay home.  In this context, the border crossing may be one of the least dangerous things they have to do to survive.  Also, given the large flow of people across the border (in both directions), it seems unlikely that allowing those with meritorious cases to remain here would do much to incentivize people outside the U.S.  Finally, young people are less likely to know about or be influenced by government policies.  Even if we were deported all children who enter the U.S. without inspection, I think it would do little to dissuade others who are fleeing abuse or persecution in their homelands.
    If children with legitimate claims are denied-perhaps because they are unrepresented and cannot present their cases effectively-it would mean returning them to dangerous circumstances in their home countries.  Unaccompanied children who have fled to the U.S. seeking safety need help from KIND and other similar organizations.  Without KIND's help, many of those with legitimate claims would be sent back to their countries, where they would face abuse or worse. 
    With the most recent grant from Microsoft, it seems KIND will continue its life-saving work for some time to come.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  2. The Unbearable Lightness of BIA-ing

    In an average year, the  Board of Immigration Appeals decides over 35,000 cases, but publishes less than 40 decisions.  The small number of published decisions provides insufficient guidance to the nation's Immigration Judges and results in inconsistent rulings between judges.  The lack of guidance has also contributed to the dramatic increase in immigration cases heard by the federal courts of appeals.  So instead of the law being settled by the BIA-which specializes in immigration-the various appeals courts have been interpreting the law, not always consistent with their sister circuits.
    Here is how the numbers break down for the last few years: In 2009, the BIA decided 33,103 cases and published 34 decisions.  In 2008, it decided 38,369 cases and published 33 decisions.  In 2007, it decided 35,394 cases with 45 published decisions, and in 2006, it decided 41,476 cases and published 26 decisions.  So far this year, the Board has published 31 decisions.
    Maybe Harry Truman could lend the BIA his famous sign.
    When I was at the AILA conference last summer, we heard that published decisions require far more time and resources than unpublished decisions, but I just don't buy it.  The BIA is authorized to have up to 15 Board Members.  It has a staff of well over 100 attorneys.  So even during their most prolific year (2007, when they published 45 decisions), each Board Member was required to write only three decisions, and each staff attorney wrote less than half of one decision.   
    According to the BIA Practice Manual:
    Decisions selected for publication meet one or more of several criteria, including but not limited to: the resolution of an issue of first impression; alteration, modification, or clarification of an existing rule of law; reaffirmation of an existing rule of law; resolution of a conflict of authority; and discussion of an issue of significant public interest.
    It's hard to believe that of the 30 to 40 thousand cases the Board reviews each year, only about 0.1% (one in one thousand) contain an issue that meets the above criteria.  I've had several cases before the BIA that involved issues of first impression, none of which were published (though two of them were published decisions by federal circuit courts).  Why is the Board passing the buck on decisions to the federal courts of appeals?
    Although it might be more work over the short term, if the Board published more frequently, IJ decisions would become more consistent-creating less work for the BIA over the long term.  It would also make life easier for the federal courts of appeals, saving government resources.  Finally-and most important from my point of view-it would create more certainty and predictability for immigrants and their families. 
    The BIA should embrace its role as "the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws" and publish more decisions.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  3. Do Immigration Lawyers Suck?

    According to the EOIR website's List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners, almost 400 immigration attorneys (397 by my count) have been seriously disciplined since 2000.  What I mean by "seriously disciplined" is suspended or expelled from the practice of law.  The list does not include attorneys who have been subjected to lesser punishments, such as "reprimands" or "admonishments," whatever those are.
    Last I heard, there were around 10,000 attorney-members of AILA, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, but it is unclear how many other attorneys practice immigration law.  Assuming (and it is a big assumption) that AILA represents 50% of all immigration attorneys; there are about 20,000 immigration attorneys nationwide.  If 400 of them had been suspended, that means that about 2% of all immigration attorneys have been seriously disciplined. 

    Even these guys would have a hard time getting suspended.

    Depending on your point of view, maybe 2% is a lot, or maybe it is a little.  Call me a pessimist, but if I hire someone to assist me with one of the most important endeavors in my life, and there is a 2% chance that that person is a crook, I would feel a bit uneasy.  If 2% of pilots were incompetent, I doubt many people would fly.
    But my guess is that the problems are worse than the numbers reveal.  For one thing, it's not easy to get suspended or expelled from the practice of law.  I once filed a bar complaint against an attorney for lying to my client, stealing his money, and getting him ordered deported (the complaint was a required part of the process to get the case reopened).  We had all sorts of documentation proving this attorney's incompetence and maliciousness.  The Bar Association found that she had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, but declined to punish her because there were "special circumstances."  Ironically, the "special circumstances" were that she had already been punished for destroying the cases of two other people.  So, in other words, she was saved from punishment by her own prior bad acts.  It's ridiculous, but it helps illustrate how difficult it is to get suspended.  Nevertheless, 400 of my fellow immigration attorneys have managed to do so.
    Another problem is that immigrants-particularly illegal immigrants-are unlikely to report bad attorneys.  Many immigrants do not speak English and are not familiar with their rights.  They do not know how to report attorneys.  Also, they might be afraid to report attorneys. 
    For these reasons, my guess is that the 400 attorneys on the EOIR list represents only a fraction of the incompetent and/or dishonest immigration attorneys who are practicing law today. 
    Of course, the vast majority of immigration attorneys are caring, competent, and honest.  Most (if not all) attorneys I know have worked long hours for little or no pay to help clients in need.  Immigration law is usually not the most lucrative field, and most attorneys practice in this area because we want to help people fleeing persecution or reuniting with family or making a better life.  I do think we have a responsibility to report bad conduct when we see it, and to encourage people who have been harmed to file complaints where appropriate.  Bar associations should also be more aggressive in enforcing the rules.  In this way, we can protect our clients and improve the profession. 
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  4. Amicus Brief on Sexual Violence as Torture in Argentine Case

    Earlier this month, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights submitted an Amicus Brief titled Sexual Violence as Torture in several cases stemming from the military dictatorship in Argentina.
    In a 1976 coup, the Argentine military seized power and ruled until 1983.  During those years, the government violently suppressed dissent.  As part of the repression, government officers committed sexual violence against women (and men).  These crimes were generally committed in clandestine detention centers as part of a systematic and deliberate plan, orchestrated within the highest government levels.  The Amicus Brief argues that these actions are crimes against humanity.  From the brief:
    This amicus curiae brief is submitted in order to call the Court's attention to the universal acceptance of sexual violence and rape - as a special form of it - as torture when committed by state agents in the context of military repression, when those actions are perpetrated as a part of an orchestrated plan of repression.  It is also important to note that an interpretation and application of the crime of torture excluding the gender perspective, and in this case, excluding the sexual violence would be discriminatory and would have a substantially negative impact on international law and international human rights law.
    The brief states that in the present case, Argentina has the opportunity to "develop model case law that can assist the international community and other countries undergoing similar historical proceedings, based on the notion of state sponsored sexual violence against women as torture."
    The brief notes that international law concerning sexual violence is a relatively recent development: "When the International Criminal Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda began their work, they encountered a lack of definition of sexual violence under international treaty and customary law and accordingly made great efforts to build a definition in accordance with international standards defining these crimes in such a way that they cover acts which were previously considered lesser offences, sexual assaults or indecent actions under national laws."
    The following principles have emerged from international humanitarian law: (1) Sexual violence is not limited to the sexual act of penetration, but could include other behaviors; (2) Rape may be understood as a serious crime of sexual violence; (3) Women as well as men can be victim of these crimes given that the established elements are gender neutral; (4) Coercion should be interpreted broadly, and not only in regard to physical strength, because there may be coercive circumstances in situations of abuse of power or psychological oppression, where it is not necessary to mediate physical strength; and (5) Coercion presumes a lack of consent on the part of the victim, thereby rendering the conduct illegal.
    While the ECCHR Amicus Brief has been filed in a criminal case, the principles could be applied to asylum and Convention Against Torture claims, and help to establish that sexual violence is a form of torture. 
    I have a copy of the brief (English version), but it is not available on-line.  Feel free to contact me if you would like a copy.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  5. Actor Randy Quaid Seeks Asylum in Canada

    Carl Jung said, "There are no coincidences." 
    Yesterday, I wrote about American citizens who seek asylum overseas (American Citizens Seek Asylum in Great Britain).  Now, we learn that Randy Quaid and his wife Evi are seeking asylum in Canada. 

     Randy Quaid in Independence Day - Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

    It seems that the couple had legal trouble in the U.S., stemming from a property dispute.  As a result of the dispute, the couple was arrested in California and released on $50,000.00 bond each.  They then traveled to Canada where Mr. Quaid was scheduled to receive an award from a Canadian film critics group.  When they failed to appear at a hearing in California, they were arrested in Canada.  Rather than quietly returning to the U.S., the couple has sought refugee status in Canada.
    The basis for the claim is not entirely clear.  Mrs. Quaid says that eight of their friends, including actors David Carradine and Heath Ledger, have been "murdered" under mysterious circumstances and she's worried something will happen to her husband next.  "We feel our lives are in danger," she said.
    According to my favorite website, TMZ, the Quaids have had a troubled history and have made some pretty outrageous claims involving different conspiracies against them.  Although the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has released them, they are being kept on a pretty tight leash, and will have to appear again for a hearing later this week.  Whether they follow through with their asylum claim, we will have to wait to see.  If they succeed on the claim, they will become two of the handful of U.S. citizens who have successfully claimed asylum in another country. 
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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