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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

FAIR Gets It Wrong

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The Federation for American Immigration Reform recently issued a report called Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform.  I already blogged about flaws in the report's methodology and some points in the report I agree with.  For today, I want to discuss some points that I disagree with (i.e., where FAIR got it wrong).


The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)



I wonder if this refugee family - reunited with help from HIAS - thinks the organization has outlived its purpose.


The FAIR report basically attacks HIAS:


A prime example of a refugee resettlement organization whose raison d'etre has become self-perpetuation is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). The venerable organization that has helped Jews fleeing pogroms, the Holocaust and, more recently, oppression in the Soviet Union, has been confronted with a situation that might otherwise be considered a positive development: There [are] remarkably few Jewish refugees in need of resettlement. Without a real mission, HIAS has resorted to inventing one rather than declaring its mission accomplished and closing its doors. By its own admission, only a small percentage of the people resettled by HIAS are the people whom the organization ostensibly exists to serve.


This statement is pretty ridiculous.  Today, there are over 14 million refugees in the world.  HIAS was created to help Jewish refugees.  Now that (thankfully) there are few Jewish refugees, HIAS uses its expertise to assist other people in need.  To anyone concerned about helping others, this seems like a no-brainer.  Apparently, though, FAIR doesn't get it. 


Particular Social Group


FAIR complains that the definition of "particular social group" has been expanded too far.  Specifically, the report mentions homosexuals, and argues that most cases of persecution based on sexual orientation involve persecution by private individuals where the government cannot or will not protect the individual from harm.  FAIR objects to this in principle:


In essence, decisions of this type put the United States in the position of a safety valve whenever foreign governments fail to exercise their responsibilities to protect their own citizens. That may be a noble objective, but it is an unreasonable burden.


First, while some cases of persecution of gays involve non-state actors, a number of countries persecute homosexuals, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, where the "offense" of homosexuality is punishable by death.  Second, protecting individuals who face harm or death is not an "unreasonable burden" (when is saving someone's life ever really an unreasonable burden?).  There are no statistics about the number of people granted asylum based on "particular social group," but my guess is that only a small percentage of asylum seekers fear persecution on account of their particular social group.  So even if we are concerned with the number of people winning asylum based on this protected ground, that number is fairly small.  Finally, the asylum law does not require state action-people who face persecution from non-state actors are eligible for asylum if their government cannot or will not protect them.  To the person who is persecuted or killed, it may not matter much whether he is killed due to government action or government inaction.  Dead, as they say, is dead.


Asylum Should Be Temporary


FAIR also believes that a grant of asylum should generally be temporary:


Asylum protection should be temporary, maintaining the focus of the individual on the need to return to the home country to work for positive change.


By this logic, we should have sent Einstein back to Nazi Germany to work for "positive change."  


The hope, of course, is that asylum seekers will return to their country if conditions improve, but the reality is that most will not-even if it becomes safe to go back.  For one thing, it usually takes a long time for country conditions to change.  I represent many asylum seekers from Ethiopia.  That country has had the same repressive government for almost 20 years, and it does not look to improve anytime soon.  Also, people need to feel that they are safe.  To grant someone asylum, only to deport her later, leaves her in a frightful limbo, unable to move forward with her life or to feel secure.  Finally, when helping another person, it is important to respect that person.  We should respect asylees enough to allow them to make their own decision about whether it is safe to return.


So I suppose that concludes my comments on FAIR's report.  While I disagree with many of the recommendations, the report raises points that are worth discussing, and I hope the conversation will continue.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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