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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

In Defense of Muslim Asylum Seekers

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Since the Boston bombing, we've*heard much talk about restricting access to asylum (and immigration) for Muslims. Opponents of reform have wondered aloud
how the Tsarnaev brothers entered the U.S. and why their father
received asylum in the first place (the brothers obtained derivative
asylum based on their father's application). One commentator called for a halt to student visas for Muslims; another for an end to all Muslim immigration.*

As Ben Franklin said, "We must all hang together or assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

The common belief among such people is that Muslims coming to America
pose a threat. And even if only a small percentage of Muslims actually
present a threat, we're better off excluding all Muslims, just to be on
the safe side.

Of course I disagree with this viewpoint. In my practice, I have
represented many Muslim asylum seekers-from countries such as
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Somalia, and Syria. These are people who
have devoted their lives-and often risked their lives-to promote
democracy, women's rights, and human rights. Many have served
shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers from the U.S. military in places like
Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not uncommon for my clients to have letters
of recommendation from members of the military, including high-ranking
officers like Generals McChrystal and Petraeus.
Indeed, I suspect that my Muslim clients have risked and sacrificed far
more in the defense of liberty and in support of the U.S. than the
commentators who routinely disparage them.

To illustrate the point, here is a sampling of a few of my recent
cases involving Muslim asylum seekers (I have changed the names to
protect my clients' confidentiality):

Daoud is an Afghan man who worked as an
interpreter for a private contractor. He served directly with soldiers
from the United States military*in Afghanistan and was several times in
combat situations. His main job was to provide interpretation between
the U.S. military and local people. He also provided cultural training
to the soldiers. In a counterinsurgency operation, gaining the trust of
local people is crucial for identifying and eliminating insurgents.
Daoud's role in his unit's missions was indispensable. Along with
Daoud's application for asylum, we included letters attesting to his
service from many members of the United States military. The letters
came from soldiers who served with Daoud and from a two star general
familiar with his work. We are currently waiting for a decision in his
asylum case.

Fatima is a woman's rights activist who
founded an NGO to educate girls in Afghanistan. The NGO received support
from USAID and other international donors, and expanded its work into
many Afghan provinces. The Taliban learned of Fatima's activities and
repeatedly threatened her. At some point, the threats became too much,
and she decided it was unsafe for her to return to Afghanistan. Her
asylum application is pending.

Brahim is an Egyptian activist for gay
rights and women's rights. After the Egyptian revolution, he faced
increasing harassment from government officials. He was attacked on
several occasions and the police refused to help (once, they actually
detained him, even though he was the victim of an assault).
With the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood, he felt unable to remain
safely in Egypt. His application for asylum has received preliminary

Abdul is a journalist and peace activist
from Iran. He is also related to an important Iranian opposition leader
who lives in exile. Abdul assisted that leader by providing on-the-scene
reporting from Tehran during the Green Revolution. After he went to
study abroad, the Iranian authorities arrested Abdul's girlfriend and
threatened to arrest him. Rather than return to Iran, Abdul filed for
political asylum. His application was granted earlier this year.

These cases are typical of the Muslim asylum seekers that I have
represented. They--and thousands like them--have fought and sacrificed and
bled in the war against Islamic extremism.

In the aftermath of the Boston attack, perpetrated by two brothers
who received asylum in the United States, I understand the desire to
examine security procedures for asylum seekers. When you extend a
helping hand and then get bit, it's only natural to hesitate before
helping again. But as we think about changing the asylum system in
response to the terrorist attack, we should keep in mind people like my
clients and the many Muslims who have demonstrated their fealty to us in
our fight against extremism.

We should not allow the evil deed of the Tsarnaev brothers to cause
us to retreat from our humanitarian obligations, which would compromise
our principles, or to weaken our commitment to our Muslim allies, who
are crucial in our battle against Islamic terrorists. When making changes
to our asylum system, we should be guided by our highest ideals, not by
the dark vision of the Tsarnaev brothers.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

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Updated 07-16-2013 at 01:22 PM by JDzubow

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