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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. President Obama's Aunt Granted Asylum

    An Immigration Judge in Boston granted asylum to President Obama's aunt Zeituni Onyango, a Kenyan national who has been in the U.S. since 2000.  Ms. Onyango first applied for asylum in 2002.  She was initially denied, but then either appealed or reopened her case (I have found nothing definitive about the course of the litigation).  Yesterday, the IJ granted her application for asylum. 
    At least as far as I can tell, the basis for Ms. Onyango's claim has not been made public.  My guess is that after Obama was elected president (or at least after he became nationally and internationally known), Ms. Onyango filed a motion to reopen her case and asserted that she would face persecution from people who wished to harm her family (the Obama family).  Given the various threats to our country, this seems a reasonably claim.  Although perhaps the possibility of her facing harm in Kenya is remote (Obama's grandmother is living there peacefully), it's easy to understand why an IJ would be reluctant to send her back.  She would make a tempting target for extremists, and it would be a blow to the U.S. if she were harmed.  Under these circumstances-and given the fairly low threshold for asylum-it's not a surprise that the IJ granted Ms. Onyango's claim.
    Professional Obama-hater Michelle Malkin and others have raised the question of whether Ms. Onyango received special treatment because of her relationship with the President.  Of course, I have no idea (and neither do they), but special treatment hardly seems necessary in a case like Ms. Onyango's.  I once represented an Afghani woman who received a fellowship to study in the United States.  A university brought her here and supported her, and the local press covered her progress for four years.  Towards the end of her fellowship, extremists in her country threatened her, and we applied for asylum.  I argued that she was a prime target for anti-American extremists because of her relationship with the our country-had she been harmed in Afghanistan, it would have been seen as a major victory for our enemies.  The Asylum Office granted her application.  Ms. Onyango's situation was similar to my client's, in that our enemies would view an attack against her as an attack against the United States.  Not surprisingly, the IJ was not willing to take that risk.
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  2. Senate Hearing on the Refugee Protection Act

    The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing on "Renewing America's Commitment to the Refugee Convention: The Refugee Protection Act of 2010" for Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.  The scheduled witnesses are: (1) The Honorable Dan Glickman, President, Refugees International; (2) Patrick Giantonio, Executive Director, Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates; and (3) Igor V. Timofeyev, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP
  3. Laotian Asylum Seeker Just Wants to Go Home

    An 88-year-old Hmong man from Laos who requested political asylum in 2007 has filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security seeking to have DHS return his passport so he can go home.  According to KMPH News in Fresno, California, Mr. Xiong-who has not revealed his full name in order to protect his identity-is a veteran who fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War:
    Xiong's attorney describes his client as a war hero.  He says the Hmong veteran can't return to his native country without his passport.  It was confiscated when he filed for political asylum in the U.S. and until the process is complete he won't be able to go home. "He's an old man," Attorney Ken Seeger said.  "He's been in poor health over the past year or so."
    The veteran filed for political asylum in 2007.  "But, he's changed his mind and he's willing to take a risk back in Laos just because he's really old and in bad health and thinks the end is near and he wants to die in his homeland," Seeger said.
    DHS has refused to return the passport, so Mr. Xiong filed suit to get it back.  DHS routinely keeps travel documents (and other original documents) that belong to asylum seekers.  Even after a case is completed, it is often difficult or impossible to retrieve documents.  In Mr. Xiong's case, it would seem that DHS has every incentive to return the passport.  Let's hope that they do.
  4. USCIS Asylum Division Stakeholders Meeting

    USCIS Asylum Division will hold its quarterly stakeholders meeting in Washington, DC on June 8, 2010 at 2:00 PM.  For details about attending the meeting, RSVP information, and how to submit questions, view the USCIS Memo.  Questions are due by close of business on May 21, 2010, and RSVPs are due by close of busines on June 4, 2010.
  5. Introductory Post

    My name is Jason Dzubow.  I am an immigration attorney who specializes in political asylum cases.  I recently started a blog about asylum (The Asylumist), and now ILW has invited me to blog for them.  I am very excited and honored by this opportunity.  To learn more about me, you can visit my website, Mensah & Dzubow, PLLC.
    This will be a blog about political asylum in the United States.  I hope it will serve as a forum for discussion about the law, policy, and politics of asylum.  I'll cover issues related to asylees' mental health, their experience in the asylum system, and their adjustment to life in the United States.  I hope to hear from different people involved in the asylum process: asylum seekers, lawyers and advocates, academics, policy-types, health professionals, and activists.  I hope this website will contribute to a better understanding of the asylum system in the United States.
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