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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. Pennsylvania Man Sentenced for Asylum Fraud

    From a June 10, 2010 Department of Justicepress release:
    David Lynn, 35, of Holland, PA, was sentenced today to 40 months in prison for leading an asylum fraud scheme that netted him and five co-defendants millions of dollars in illegal profits, announced United States Attorney Zane David Memeger. Lynn pleaded guilty, in October 2008, to one count of conspiracy, one count of visa/asylum fraud, one count of money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Lynn, who was charged with five co-defendants, ran a business that filed at least 380 bogus asylum applications for clients, between January 2003 and March 2007, charging an average of $8,000 for an application.
    Investigators say Lynn posed as a lawyer.  According to an ABC News report, "only a handful of Lynn's 380 clients from around the country made it through the system by claiming they would face oppression if they returned home."  The majority of the aliens are in removal proceedings.  Some have already left the country knowing they were going to be deported.  According to another report, the perpetrators were Russian immigrants and most clients were from Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.
    Unfortunately, it is a common pattern for unscrupulous immigrants to exploit their countrymen, who are naive about the American system and are ready to trust their own kind.  What's most amazing to me is that a guy who lost the large majority of his cases and charged $8,000 per person--far more than most legitimate lawyers--seemed to maintain a booming business.  It's a sad testament to the gullibility and desperation of the clients, some of whom may have lost out on bona fide claims.  Other clients were likely complicit in the fraud, and it's harder to muster sympathy for them. 
    I believe the best way to stop fraud is to go after people like Mr. Lynn, who blatantly take advantage of a system that is designed to help the most vulnerable.  By stopping Mr. Lynn, the DOJ has helped to preserve the integrity of the asylum process.  Congratulations to those involved in the investigation, and keep up the good work.
  2. "Son of Hamas" Seeking Asylum in United States

    The son of a founder of Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, is scheduled to appear in Immigration Court in San Diego on June 30, 2010.  Mossad Hassan Yousef, son of Hamas founding member Sheikh Hassan Yousef, says that he "accepted Christ" in 2005.  He also claims to have worked as a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, and says he helped foil numerous terrorists attacks.  Apparently, his father disowned him, and he fears return to the Palestinian territory.  The younger Yousef has written a book about his experience, Son of Hamas, subtitled: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices.

       Hamasochist?
    Mr. Yousef has been blogging about his life and his asylum case.  He writes that despite his questionable pedigree, he entered the U.S. without difficulty in January 2007.  Seven months later, he applied for political asylum.  His application was rejected because the Asylum Office deemed him a danger to the security of the United States and a terrorist.  The case was referred to an Immigration Judge.  Mr. Yousef seems surprised by his situation:
    My concern is not about being deported. It is that I am being forced to stand and defend myself as a terrorist! This is ridiculous. And as long as this case is in the courts, I cannot leave the United States. If I do, I will never be able to return. For what? For risking my life fighting terrorism in the Middle East for ten years? For saving the lives of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans?
    Maybe so, but I can understand why the Asylum Office was hesitant to grant asylum.
    Mr. Yousef claims that DHS is relying on the work he did for Shin Bet-which involved "helping" members of Hamas in order to infiltrate the organization-to charge him with providing material support to terrorists.  He writes, "If Homeland Security cannot tell the difference between a terrorist and a man who spent his life fighting terrorism, how can they protect their own people?"  He continues:
    Exposing terrorist secrets and warning the world in my first book cost me everything. I am a traitor to my people, disowned by my family, a man without a country. And now the country I came to for sanctuary is turning its back.
    We'll see.  I imagine Mr. Yousef knows that the judge will review his asylum claim de novo, so the Asylum Office's conclusion should not be much of a factor.  He seems to have a strong asylum case, and his story about working for Shin Bet appears credible.  Maybe DHS believes that he is a double agent, or maybe they have evidence that we (and Mr. Yousef) does not know about.  Or maybe, as Mr. Yousef suggests, DHS is simply incapable of distinguishing between a terrorist and an anti-terrorist.  I don't know, but I wonder, if DHS is really so concerned about Mr. Yousef, why he is not currently detained pursuant to INA 236A (Mandatory detention of suspected terrorists)?
  3. Man Connected to Terror Plot Was Failed Asylee

    Pir Khan, a 43-year-old taxi driver from Watertown, Massachusetts was arrested May 13, along with his cousin, Aftab Khan, 27, on immigration charges as part of the investigation into the May 1 car bombing attempt in Times Square.  Pir Khan allegedly gave money to the failed Times Square bomber, though Mr. Khan and his cousin deny any connection with the would-be bomber.
    Pir Khan came to the U.S. from Pakistan and applied for asylum in 1994.  Apparently, his case was not denied until 2007 (13 years later!), by which time he had married a U.S. citizen.  Apparently, he is now pursuing alternative relief based on the marriage (depending on the posture of the case, this may or may not be possible). 
    Mr. Khan's case raises some important points.  First, why did the asylum case take so long?  In the 1990s there were large numbers of asylum and NACARA claims from Central America (NACARA was an act that allowed certain Central Americans and others to remain in the U.S.; such cases are processed by the Asylum Office).  That, combined with a less efficient adjudication system led to long delays, and many cases lingered for a decade or more.  Today, asylum cases are resolved more quickly, though between the Asylum Office, the Immigration Court, and the appeals process, a case could easily take three or four years.     

    There has got to be a better way to identify terrorists.
    This raises a second, more important point.  Could a potential terrorist use the asylum system to gain entry into the U.S. to commit a crime?  The answer is a qualified yes.  Qualified, because asylum is probably one of the worst ways for a criminal to gain access to our country.  Asylum applicants are repeatedly fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed.  They probably have more contact with "the system" than any other category of alien save those that have committed a crime.  None of the September 11th terrorists were asylum seekers-they all entered the country through other means.  This does not mean that a terrorist could not make a false claim for asylum, or that he could not delay his removal by appealing a denied asylum claim.  However, by subjecting himself to the biometric background check, any potential terrorist could have his cover blown and his plot foiled.  This does not mean that the system is perfect, but it may be less vulnerable to such breaches than other applications.  (In an aside, a UK report from some years ago found that one in four terrorist suspects was an asylum seeker.   The term "asylum seeker" has a broader meaning in the UK than here, but nevertheless, the report reminds us to be vigilant for this type of threat.)
    A related problem is the high rate of denied asylum seekers (and other aliens denied relief) who fail to depart the United States.  That was Mr. Khan-he was denied asylum, but he remained in the U.S. anyway.  One solution is to simply detain all asylum seekers (and all illegal immigrants) until their cases are decided.  Not only would this be inhumane, it would be prohibitively expensive.  Moreover, it is unclear whether the increased security gained from such an approach would be cost effective.  Couldn't the money be better spent on more targeted methods of protecting us?  Another solution might be to detain aliens at the end of their cases if relief is denied.  This would have many of the same problems as detaining all illegal immigrants, but at a slightly lower cost.  To me, the better approach involves alternatives to detention-bond, ankle bracelets, monitoring and reporting.  Such an approach is more humane (though it can still be coercive and scary for the alien) and less expensive.  In addition, Asylum Officers and DHS attorneys should be trained to ask questions that could help reveal whether a person has any terrorist connection (aside from the very lame and very useless-but also very common-"Have you ever supported any terrorist organization?").  Such (admittedly controversial) techniques are employed by some airlines like El Al. 
    As usual, we walk a fine line between living up to our ideals and fulfilling our humanitarian obligations on the one hand, and defending against terrorism on the other.  Those who care about the asylum system should be concerned with this dilemma: If one terrorist gains entry via the asylum process, all future asylum seekers will pay the price.
  4. Refugees Have a Harder Time Attaining Self Sufficiency

    Officials from the State Department, USCIS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and others have begun the process of recommending the refugee numbers-i.e., the number of refugees our country will accept-for Fiscal Year 2011.  The annual ceiling has been 80,000 refugees per year for the last three years, though we have never actually reached the ceiling: In FY 2008, we admitted 60,191 refugees and in FY 2009, we admitted 74,654 refugees.  Officials expect to admit about 73,000 refugees in FY 2010.
    Because of the troubled economy, those refugees who are resettled in the United States are having a more difficult time achieving self sufficiency.  Government Executive reports:
    Every refugee arriving in the country is provided with a sponsor affiliated with one of 10 national volunteer agencies that work to help refugees adjust to life in the United States. They provide a litany of services, including help finding work, enrolling children in schools and adults in English language classes, and finding medical care.  Refugees are eligible for public assistance and medical care for at least eight months, and sometimes longer, depending on family status and the state they live in.  They also receive about $1,100 in direct financial assistance after they arrive in the country.

    Under a new government employment program, all refugees entering the U.S. will receive a free t-shirt.
    The agencies are finding it more difficult to place refugees in jobs.  The State Department even claims to be informing refugees overseas about the difficult economy in the U.S., so they can make an informed decision about whether to resettle here or in another country.
    Before I went to law school, I worked as a job developer at an agency that helped resettle refugees in Philadelphia.  I would travel around the city visiting employers, looking for job openings for my clients.  The jobs were often less than exciting.  I remember one man who worked as a parking lot attendant.  He had been the Minister of Finance for the Ethiopian army.  Another man had designed complex radar systems in the Soviet Union.  In America, he worked in a machine shop.  Such people have fled their countries to save their lives and their families' lives.  The transition to a new culture often sets them back in ways that can never be overcome.  The plight of such refugees is not easy.  I am proud that my country accepts them and tries to help them live better lives.
  5. Remembering the Golden Venture

    It's been 17 years since the Golden Venture ran aground off New York.  The Epoch Times remembers that fateful day in an interview with a Chinese fisherman who survived the ordeal, gained political asylum, and built a life for himself and his family in the United States:
    "Jump! Jump! Hurry Up! Jump into the sea! You are in America. Or they will send you back to China," a man shouted hastily. Hundreds of Chinese men and women jumped from a rusty freighter into the cold water, swimming, struggling, crying, and gasping.

        Liu Ping
    Ten people died as they struggled to swim to shore. After getting so close to the American dream, chased so painstakingly, they hit America's shoreline at the end of their lives.
    "The water was freezing and my body was weak. I didn't know whether I could make it. I thought I was dying. I asked 'God help me'," recalled Liu Ping, 44, one of the survivors of 298 passengers on the Golden Venture that ran aground off New York at 2:00 a.m. on June 6, 1993.
    Liu was one of the lucky survivors, and he was among the dozens who were granted asylum. Of the 298 people, 110 were deported to China, 53 were detained until 1997 when they were pardoned under a bill signed by President Clinton.
    Now a permanent resident, Liu leads a peaceful and content life in Philadelphia with his wife and three children. Two of his children are U.S. born citizens. His other child was born in China and later became a naturalized American citizen. His wife, whom he married before coming to the U.S., also became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
    A Survivor's Story
    He'll never forgets how he made it - the Golden Venture experience.
    Speaking with a thick Fujianese accent, Liu was emotional when recalling his 26-month journey from China to America. It was over land, mountains, across rivers, through a jungle, and finally over the ocean, using all possible method of travel imaginable.
    The first words that he uttered on U.S. soil were "Thank you" to an American police officer.

    "They [American police] got me out of the water, wrapped me in blanket. I was lying in the sand face down. The sand was warm and dry to me. I gained my consciousness."
    "I opened my eyes, saw two white American policemen standing beside me. Looking into their eyes, not knowing what they would do to me, I said 'thank you'."
    Making headline news on international media through an AP photo, Liu looked like an injured eagle captured in a cage severely fatigued.
    The front-page stories in the media quickly reached his hometown, a fishing village on a remote island called Tsoo Loo in Fujian province. The news brought excitement, tears and hope to Liu's entire family, which hadn't heard from him nor had Liu means to contact them for more than 26 months since he left home for America.
    Liu's father, a fisherman, had scraped together every penny he could possibly find to fund his son's journey to the U.S. - using his savings, borrowing from families and friends. He paid $30,000 upfront to the smuggler - an astronomical figure for an average Chinese villager, whose annual income was a few hundred dollars at the time.
    Liu's wife, two years younger than Liu, is a fisherman's daughter from the same village. The couple had a 2-year-old son when Liu left home for U.S. In Liu's absence, his wife worked day in and day out repairing fishing nets to support the family, caring for the young child and old parents from both sides of the family with a meager income.
    The smuggler promised Liu and his family, "We'll get you to America in three months." Liu's voyage to America turned out to be 26 months.
    From Tsoo Loo Island to Queens, New York
    One afternoon this February, in a small cafe in Philadelphia Chinatown's Galleria, Liu walked me through his long haul from the Tsoo Loo Island in Fujian province China to Queens, New York.
    It started on Oct. 10, 1991. Liu was flown to the city of Kunming, capital of Yunan province, located on the far southwest of China bordering Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. He was put into a local motel to wait for more people to join. After 3 weeks of waiting, he was loaded into a military vehicle together with 46 other people, mostly from his home province of Fujian. Fully covered with army green canvas, the vehicle took the passengers on bumpy mountainous road to Yunnan and the Burmese border.
    Then they began to hike a forestry mountain to enter Burma. After getting lost in the jungle, a local villager found them and turned them into local police. The police took them into custody and took their money and other valuables. They made phone calls asking local smugglers to bail them out. Liu quickly realized that the local police were part of a lucrative underground business.
    The captives escaped police custody while the police were asleep. They ran to the banks of the Malika River at the Sino-Burmese border. They desperately waved hands and shouted to people across the river for help. A boat came and they were taken in by soldiers of Burma's military government.
    A Burmese military officer said to them, "We have a profitable business if you are interested. You can get 100,000 Chinese Yuan (equivalent of $15,000) upfront. Then you get a share of the profit every time a transaction is successfully completed." It was a heroin business.
    Some passengers were tempted. Liu refused. "I didn't want to do bad things." Liu was a Christian, as his grandmother was. As a devout Christian, she took Liu and other family members with her to a private home every weekend, to a place known as "house church" or "underground church," which operates independently of the Chinese communist government-run churches. Members and leaders of underground churches are main targets of the Chinese regime's religious persecution.
    Liu and friends managed to escape from the Burmese military base. They crossed the Burmese-Thai border and arrived in Thailand three months later. They were quickly connected with Thailand-based smugglers who can put people on a boat to America. "Those who have cash on hand can get on the boat almost immediately. People like myself, who did not have money had to wait," Liu said.
    After about 6 months of waiting, Liu was finally put on a freighter setting out for America. About 290 people were on the freighter. Most of them were men, in their 20s, 30s, and some 40s from Fujian province.
    The passengers elected leaders based on seniority, likeability, and public trust. The elected "officials" were responsible for safeguarding and distributing food, water, and medicines. There was theft of these "public goods" on the freighter, and fights erupted over them. The leaders had guns to maintain order among the passengers.
    "There were often fights amidst the endless boredom. Besides lying down, eating, you had nothing to do. Any small dispute or quarrel could turn into a gang-style fight," Liu recalled.
    A few months later, passengers were routed to Kenya to change vessels. They ended up staying in Kenya for 8 months waiting for the smuggler to dispatch another freighter to pick them up. Baking in Kenya's scorching sun and drought, the Chinese visitors' only pastime was to play Chinese gambling games.
    Finally, a rusty freighter came. It was the Golden Venture. Some 300 people rushed in and began the sea journey to America. The passengers lived in the lower bottom of the freighter. It was like a dim sum bamboo steamer - human bodies were stacked on top of each other on the wooden beds. Rotten food smell, human waste, body odor all mixed together in the air. Due to malnutrition and lack of hygiene, passengers became pale and weak. Dysentery, diarrhea, vomiting, fever were common among the passengers. Liu remembered a 26-year-old man, a college graduate, died of septicemia.
    Among other life-threatening events, a storm at the Cape of Good Hope while on the freighter was most unforgettable to Liu. The confluence of currents from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans create the world's most dangerous sailing waters. Unpredictable and rough swells, stormy tides, and freak waves have claimed countless lives in marine disasters.
    When water started creeping into the lower bottom of the vessel, sinking the body of the ship, people were crying. "We were scared to death," Liu said. Amidst the chaos, the captain was seen preparing to abandon the freighter. The leaders quickly surrounded him and held a gun to his back demanding that he remain at his job.
    When the Golden Venture survived the storm, passengers were exalted, jumping and dancing with the sound made of bowls and plates using chopsticks. When the ship approached America, they turned off the radar on the freighter. "We feared being discovered by the American border patrol," Liu said. But the precaution as to no avail, U.S. border patrol was prepared to receive them.
    Landing in America
    Golden Venture passengers were greeted with helicopters, border patrol police and TV camera cars at about 2 a.m. on June 6, 1991.
    After being detained by U.S. Immigration for five months, Liu was granted asylum by a Virginia court in Nov. 1991. The asylum program provides protection to qualified individuals who are already in the U.S. or who are seeking entry at a port of entry. Individuals must establish past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution by the home country's government.
    As the world's largest totalitarian society, under the Chinese Communist Party, China is the largest exporter of political asylums to U.S. Based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security's 2008 report, more than 20 percent of those who were granted asylum in the U.S. were from China. A distant second place is Columbia.
    On the other hand, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data showed China accounts for only 0.2 percent of the total apprehension of illegal immigrants by Department of Homeland Security, far behind Mexico, which accounts for about 88 percent of the total apprehension. The gap can be well attributed to the much higher cost, greater risk, and far longer distance that Chinese have to travel.
    It is reported that illegal immigrants from Mexico pay smugglers up to $3,000. According to Liu, the price for Chinese is now $80,000.
    When asked if he would want to do it again, knowing the great risks and ordeal that he had gone through, Liu said yes. He enjoys living in the U.S., even though he speaks no more than 50 words of English. (His children read letters, bills, and paperwork for him.)
    As a fisherman who didn't have Guan Xi (connections) with local Communist Party officials, Liu said he would never have a chance for a decent life in China.
    When he was in China, he worked 14 to 18 hours a day, catching fish and earned about $300 per year. The first month he worked in a Philadelphia Chinatown restaurant, he earned more than $700.
    Within five years of his landing in the U.S., he had two small businesses, a restaurant and one dry-cleaner. Liu said as a fisherman without connection, he would never have dreamed owning his own business in China.
    He couldn't have had a second child in China. Forced sterilization, having the house torn down, and paying huge fines are part of what Chinese people go through for attempting to have a second child. He and his wife had two more children in the US: a girl and a boy, now 12 and 10 years old, respectively.
    Liu is most grateful for his eldest son Michael. Michael lost his hearings to high fever and infection at the age of two when he was in China. The hospital refused to treat him because the family didn't have money to pay for the medical treatment.
    "He is 20 and attends college in South New Jersey on a government subsidy. A son of a fisherman, he would never have the chance in China, let alone being deaf," Liu said.
    Liu said he often told his countrymen, "I'd pay you $100,000 to go back to China if they complain [about the US]." He said, "I like America. If you are willing to work hard, you can have a happy life." He worked ten plus hours a day, seven days a week in the first several years in Chinatown restaurants, doing everything from dish washing, cooking to delivery. He saved every penny and brought his wife and his son to the U.S. in 1996.
    "They all passed the [citizenship] tests and are now American citizens," Liu said happily and proudly, "except me. I failed the test the first time and haven't tried again ... But as long as they are Americans, I am happy."
    When speaking about his wife, his Tsoo Loo Island sweetheart, Liu is proud. "She works at the Philadelphia International Airport. It is the Asian Chao restaurant, at Terminal F. You can't miss it. Many people eat there."
    Living the American Dream
    Stories like Liu's are hardly reported by the state-run media in China.
    The Chinese government detests people like Liu, a Chinese with political asylum, and regards them as "sheer shame" that dishonor China and disgrace the Chinese people. The Golden Venture story is no doubt an embarrassment, a PR fiasco that run counter to Chinese government's propaganda: "A promising economy, world's super power, China is in its best shape on human rights and condition throughout the history."
    After Golden Ventures news broke, Liu's hometown village began seeing large posters in the streets and public venues. The government sent a clear message: "With pride and honor, you obey the law and can become rich here. With shame and disgust, your being smuggled brings disgrace to the country."
    The Chinese government promotes nationalism and wants people to feel proud of China's super power status. Yet it seems hard to reconcile a super power image with miserable stories of lawful citizens willing to take life-threatening risks, prohibitively high cost, grave human consequences and tremendous ordeals just to pursue a life that millions in the West have taken for granted.
    "I just want my family to have good life and my kids to have education and a future."
    Liu sends his children to Philadelphia Chinatown Church School every weekend. He wants his offspring to inherit his family's tradition in Christian faith and Chinese culture.
    "Can you please give me a copy of the newspaper once it's published in English? I want to show to my American neighbors and friends." Speaking little English, Liu hopes to share his life and his American dream with others.
    Liu said he was happy to hear what his children told him one day about American history that they studied at school: "America was actually founded by people like dad who was unhappy with his home country and decided to take a boat to come to America."
    Then Liu said, "I heard their boat was called the May Flower. Mine was called Golden Venture."
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