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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Some Good News from Asylum-Land

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For those of us involved with refugees, 2015 was not a great year. Never-ending turmoil in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have resulted in unprecedented numbers of people fleeing their homelands. The flow of asylum seekers arriving at the Southern border of the U.S. from Central American and Mexico has not let up. Our Asylum Offices and Immigration Courts are increasingly backlogged, and it's reached a point where the basic integrity of our humanitarian systems seem in jeopardy.
If you're on a sinking ship, you should celebrate when you can.


Sometimes I think that in order to continue working in this field, you have to be either freakishly optimistic or pathologically disassociated from reality. I'm not sure I fall into either category, yet I'm somehow still in the game.


In any event, one thing that helps is to remind ourselves of our successes. In that vein, I thought I'd look back at a few pieces of good news we've had in my office during the past year:


Particular Social Group (Sexual Orientation)/Rwanda - I've always had an interest in folklore and magic, and so when there is crossover with an asylum case, it peaks my interest. This year I worked on the case of a young gay man from Rwanda, who was kidnapped by his family members and subjected to a bizarre and terrifying exorcism ritual. Rwanda is not a safe place for LGBT people in the best cases, and when your family is out to get you, it's even worse. The asylum office recognized that my client suffered past persecution and granted him asylum.


Political Opinion/Haiti - My client was a political activist who had worked closely with Paul Farmer, a world-renown physician who founded Partners in Health and who is the subject of an award-winning biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Dr. Farmer wrote a two-page single-spaced letter describing my client's persecution. I figured that the letter--and a ton of other evidence, including photos with the former president of Haiti--would have been enough for a grant at the Asylum Office. But unfortunately, our Asylum Officer failed to question my client about his past persecution, and when we asked whether the client should discuss it, she told us that it was not necessary, as she read about it in the written statement. She then denied the case because we failed to demonstrate past persecution. Needless to say, I was not pleased. But earlier this year, we went to court where the DHS Trial Attorney did not understand why the case had been referred to the Immigration Judge. She and the Judge agreed that my client should get asylum, which he did. The court hearing took all of three minutes.


Refugee Waiver/Cameroon - My client had come to the U.S. and received asylum due to political persecution in Cameroon. Unfortunately, he fell in with the wrong crowd and got involved in a fraudulent check cashing scheme. As a result, he went to jail for two years and was then put into ICE custody for deportation. Fortunately for my client, there is a waiver available for refugees under INA § 209(c), which is very effective (a waiver is a legal mechanism for requesting forgiveness from the U.S. government in order to avoid deportation). The Immigration Judge granted relief, and after almost three year in detention, my client walked free that afternoon.


Political Opinion/Nepal - My client had been a local activist with his political party. As a result, Maoists guerrillas attacked him in his home and sent him to the hospital. He came to the U.S., but did not seek asylum within one year (as is required). After having spent half-a-dozen years in the U.S., the Maoists resurfaced and threatened his wife. We applied for asylum and claimed that the new threat constituted "changed circumstances," which is an exception to the one-year filing rule. Luckily for us, the Trial Attorney agreed that my client was entitled to an exception and asylum was granted.


Imputed Political Opinion/Syria - My client was affiliated with a man who the Syrian government deemed an enemy, and this was enough to cause him to fear return to his country. The problem was, he had to leave his wife and young child in a Gulf country because they could not get visas to the United States. After a long ordeal (thanks to the backlog) during which the child could not attend school or get medical treatment (thanks to the inhumane policies of the Gulf countries), we were finally able to get his case expedited. He was granted asylum and--after three years--he finally reunited with his family earlier this month.


Particular Social Group (Family)/El Salvador - My client was a young girl whose mother had testified against her former boyfriend, a member of the MS-13 gang. The ex-boyfriend and other gang members had been threatening the mother and my client from jail. My client's family feared that she would be harmed once the ex-boyfriend was free, and so they sent her North. Because she was a minor, the Asylum Office (rather than the court) had jurisdiction over her case, and she was granted asylum. Now we're waiting for her mother's case, but since the daughter already received asylum on the same facts, we're optimistic about the mother's chances.


Religion/Afghanistan - My client was a well-known singer in his country. But since the Taliban are not fans of music and believe musicians are infidels, he ran into trouble. The Taliban threatened to kill him, and so he came to the U.S. for asylum. After a long delay, and a difficult separation from his family, the case was granted. We are now waiting for his family members to join him in the United States.


I rarely take time (or have time) to look back on completed cases, and it is encouraging to think about the people who have succeeded. I'll try to keep some of these happy thoughts in mind as we move on to new challenges in 2016. Happy New Year!

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

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Comments

  1. atifkhan's Avatar
    I must say Asylum is the only option for some people in the world
    Fireboy and Watergirl
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