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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Moscow in the Hawkeye State

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The Iowa Press-Citizen reports on a Moscow couple who moved to Iowa, and applied for political asylum in the United States.  Irakliy Surguladze and Elena Boryuk came to Iowa with their children in 2007 to escape growing tension in Russia: she is Russian and he is Georgian.  Their two countries have had a history of problems, including the deportation of several hundred Georgians from Russia in 2006 and awar in 2008.

Now, the couple is waiting for a hearing in their asylum case, which is scheduled for January 2011 in the Omaha, Nebraska Immigration Court--a court that opened its doors in October 2008 and hears cases from Nebraska and Iowa.

According to an interview with the couple by the Press-Citizen:

Life had been good for the growing family in Moscow, they said.  Both having earned advanced college degrees, Surguladze had been working as an engineer, while Boryuk had a good job with an Italian company.  He had obtained dual Russian-Georgian citizenship.  However, as tensions grew between their native countries, the family began looking for a way out, and in October 2006, they applied for political asylum at the United States Embassy in Moscow.

They learned at the Embassy that they would have to travel to the U.S. to apply for asylum, so they obtained tourist visas and came to the United States.

The Press-Citizen article does not make it clear, but apparently, the couple applied for asylum after they arrived, and their case was referred to an Immigration Judge (either that, or they were somehow placed in removal proceedings and filed a defensive asylum application). 

One issue that the couple faces is that Mr. Surguladze has dual Russian-Georgian citizenship.  This means that he would need to prove that he cannot return to Russia or Georgia.  To get around this problem, perhaps Ms. Boryuk could serve as the lead respondent (it seems she has only Russian citizenship)--if she wins, her husband will receive asylum as her dependent.  Of course, this assumes that her case is as strong as her husband's.  

Another problem they might face is proving that they cannot relocate within Russia (it's a big place).  If the IJ finds that they can live safely in some other part of Russia, they may be denied relief.  I once represented a Russian human rights worker from North Ossetia, a very troubled region.  We faced this same problem, but overcame it when we demonstrated that he could not obtain a propiska--a kind of residence permit--for any other part of Russia.

It sounds like their case might be difficult, and I wish them good luck.

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