The law requires that people who wish to seek asylum in the United States file their applications within one year of arriving here. See INA § 208(a)(2)(B). Those who fail to timely file are barred from asylum unless they meet an exception to the rule (they may still qualify for other—lesser—humanitarian benefits such as Withholding of Removal and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture).

If you arrived in the U.S. on this day, you are still eligible to apply for asylum, even if it seems like a hundred years ago.

So why do we have this rule? And what are the exceptions?

Congress created the one-year bar in 1996. Its ostensible purpose is to prevent fraud. If you really fear return to your home country, the theory goes, one year should be enough time to figure things out and get your application filed.

For most people, I suppose that this is true—they can ask questions, find help, and file for asylum within a year. But this is easier for some than for others. People who are less educated, people whose life experiences have taught them to mistrust and avoid authority, people who are isolated and socially disconnected, people who are depressed; such people might have a harder time with the one-year bar (and of course, many of these characteristics are common among asylum seekers). Others will have an easier time: Well-educated people, people who speak English, people who have a certain level of self-confidence, and people who are engaged with the community.

There are also certain populations that seem to have difficulty with the one-year rule. At least in my experience, many LGBT asylum cases were filed after the one-year period. I suspect there are several reasons for this. For one, an immigrant’s primary connection to mainstream America is her community in the U.S. But if she is afraid to reveal her sexuality to her countrymen living here, and she cannot get their help with the asylum process, she may be unable to file on time. Also, there is the coming-out process itself. People in certain countries may not have even conceptualized themselves as gay, and so the process of accepting their own sexuality, telling others, and then applying for asylum may be lengthy and difficult.

Asylum seekers like those discussed above are sometimes blocked by the one-year rule, but in these cases, the rule is not preventing fraud; it is harming bona fide applicants.

Where the rule seems more likely to achieve its intended purpose is the case of the alien who has spent years in the United States without seeking asylum, and now finds himself in removal proceedings. Such aliens often file for asylum as a last-ditch effort to remain in the U.S. (or at least delay their deportation). Many people from Mexico and Central America are in this position, and the one-year rule often blocks them from obtaining asylum (in addition, such applicants often fear harm from criminals; this type of harm does not fit easily within the asylum framework and contributes to the high denial rate for such cases).

Although there may be situations where the one-year bar prevents fraud, the vast majority of immigration lawyers—including this one—think it does little to block fake cases, and often times prevents legitimate asylum seekers from obtaining the protection they need. In short, we hate this rule, and if I ever become king, we will find other, more effective ways, to fight fraud. Until then, however, we have to live with it.

So for those who have missed the one-year filing deadline, what to do?

There are two exceptions to the one-year rule: Changed circumstances and extraordinary circumstances. See INA § 208(a)(2)(D). If you meet either of these exceptions, you may still be eligible for asylum. Federal regulations flesh out the meaning of these concepts. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 208.4(a)(4) & (5). First, changed circumstances–

(4)(i) The term “changed circumstances” … refer to circumstances materially affecting the applicant’s eligibility for asylum. They may include, but are not limited to: (A) Changes in conditions in the applicant’s country of nationality or, if the applicant is stateless, country of last habitual residence; (B) Changes in the applicant’s circumstances that materially affect the applicant’s eligibility for asylum, including changes in applicable U.S. law and activities the applicant becomes involved in outside the country of feared persecution that place the applicant at risk; or (C) In the case of an alien who had previously been included as a dependent in another alien’s pending asylum application, the loss of the spousal or parent-child relationship to the principal applicant through marriage, divorce, death, or attainment of age 21.

(ii) The applicant shall file an asylum application within a reasonable period given those “changed circumstances.” If the applicant can establish that he or she did not become aware of the changed circumstances until after they occurred, such delayed awareness shall be taken into account in determining what constitutes a “reasonable period.”

It is a bit unclear how long this “reasonable period” is. A few months is probably (but no guarantee) ok, but six months is probably too long. So if there are changed circumstances in your case, the sooner you file for asylum, the better.

The regulations also define extraordinary circumstances–

(5) The term “extraordinary circumstances” … shall refer to events or factors directly related to the failure to meet the 1-year deadline. Such circumstances may excuse the failure to file within the 1-year period as long as the alien filed the application within a reasonable period given those circumstances. The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish… that the circumstances were not intentionally created by the alien through his or her own action or inaction, that those circumstances were directly related to the alien’s failure to file the application within the 1-year period, and that the delay was reasonable under the circumstances. Those circumstances may include but are not limited to:

(i) Serious illness or mental or physical disability, including any effects of persecution or violent harm suffered in the past, during the 1-year period after arrival;

(ii) Legal disability (e.g., the applicant was an unaccompanied minor or suffered from a mental impairment) during the 1-year period after arrival;

(iii) Ineffective assistance of counsel….

(iv) The applicant maintained Temporary Protected Status, lawful immigrant or nonimmigrant status, or was given parole, until a reasonable period before the filing of the asylum application;

(v) The applicant filed an asylum application prior to the expiration of the 1-year deadline, but that application was rejected by the Service as not properly filed, was returned to the applicant for corrections, and was refiled within a reasonable period thereafter; and

(vi) The death or serious illness or incapacity of the applicant’s legal representative or a member of the applicant’s immediate family.

Again, if you have extraordinary circumstances, you must file within a “reasonable period.” How long you have to file has not been clearly defined, so the sooner you file, the safer you will be in terms of the one-year bar.

When it comes to asylum, the best bet is to file within one year of arrival. But if you have missed that deadline, there are exceptions to the rule. These exceptions can be tricky, and so it would probably be wise to talk to a lawyer if you are filing late. It is always a shame when a strong asylum case is ruined by a one-year issue. Keep this deadline (emphasis on “dead”) in mind, and file on time if you can.

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Waiting Is the Hardest Part

by Jason Dzubow on January 9, 2018

The asylum backlog–both in court and at the asylum office–is years long. Hundreds of thousands of applicants are waiting, seemingly forever, to present their cases and to receive decisions. Many of these people are separated from children and spouses. Even for those who are not separated from family, the lengthy waits and uncertain outcome can have a serious psychological impact. Indeed, the human tragedy of the asylum backlog is apparent to anyone involved with the system.

Some liminal spaces are more fun than others.

A recent article by Professor Bridget M. Haas, Citizens-in-Waiting, Deportees-in-Waiting, Power, Temporality, and Suffering in the U.S. Asylum System, helps quantify the psychological suffering of those who wait. Prof. Haas followed 26 asylum seekers from seven countries between 2009 and 2012. Only four of the study participants received asylum from the Asylum Office. Twenty-two were referred to court, and the majority of those had their asylum cases denied. Seven of Prof. Haas’s subjects left the U.S. or were deported during the period of her study.

The Professor’s findings largely comport with what you might expect–

For asylum seekers, my data demonstrate that the liminality associated with asylum—of being “betwixt and between” a particular status or identity—is best understood not as a time of transition but rather as a time of rupture, as “a discontinuity of subjective time, in which powerful forces operate to change perceptions of time, space, and personal values.” The discontinuity wrought by asylum-seeking manifests as suspended life.

In other words, the uncertainty of the waiting period leaves asylum applicants unable to move forward with their lives. They are literally stuck waiting. The problem seems to be compounded by the disconnect between asylum seekers’ expectations and the reality of the asylum process—

Most participants had expected the asylum process to last “a couple of days” or “a matter of weeks.” That the process… would be such an arduous and protracted one was beyond their imaginations. Before filing an asylum application… participants had not conceived of a scenario in which their stories and personal histories would be denied credibility or be deemed undeserving of protection…. Ultimately, the disjuncture between expectations of treatment in the United States and the reality they faced was a source of confusion and distress for asylum seekers.

Prof. Haas characterizes the asylum waiting period as one of “existential limbo” where “the very viability of their lives [is] in a state of profound uncertainty.” This manifests in different ways, including “extreme anxiety,” “powerlessness,” and even suicidal thoughts. Asylum applicants had a “sense of being beaten down” by the process. They felt “hopelessness, despair, and futility.” Many felt traumatized by the wait, and “experienced waiting itself… as a form of violence,” which “inflict[ed] enduring psychic distress.” Also, “waiting in limbo was understood as traumatic because of the life-and-death stakes it inhered for asylum seekers and the profound anxiety this produced.”

The state of limbo often prevents asylum seekers from “taking future-oriented actions,” such as furthering their education, because of a “sense that these actions would be done in vain if [they] were to be deported.”

All this rings true for me. I observe my clients’ suffering first hand, and in some cases–especially for those separated from young children–the damage caused by the asylum process can be worse than the harm caused by the persecution.

Prof. Haas writes about her subjects’ coping methods. She notes that “asylum seekers often engaged in activities that offered a distraction from the pain of waiting.” “Other asylum seekers attempted to resist suffering through the refusal to acknowledge the present state of limbo.” Still others turn to their religion for a sense of hope.

These observations align with how I see my clients coping. I also think it is helpful to try to exert some control over the situation. For example, asylum seekers can attempt to expedite their cases. Even if this does not succeed, it provides an avenue for action, which may be better than passively waiting. Asylum seekers can also try to overcome the inertia of limbo by “taking future-oriented actions,” even if that is difficult: Take a class, go to therapy, buy a house, start a family. In a case of giving advice that I probably could not accept myself, I advise my clients to live as if they will be staying here permanently. It’s not easy, but it beats the alternative (of going insane).

Finally, Prof. Haas’s article has prompted me to think about the concept of “liminality” in asylum. The word “liminal” derives from the Latin “limen,” meaning “threshold” or doorway. It refers to the in-between times and places in life.

In Judaism, and I imagine in many other religions, liminal spaces are often viewed as holy. We place a mezuzah (a decorative case containing verses from the Torah) in the doorway of our home. We get married under a chuppah (a temporary canopy that symbolizes the new home the couple will create). We Jews spent 40 years wandering the dessert in order to transform from slaves to free people. And of course, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah marks the traditional transition from child to adult.

Who are these rituals for? And how do they help? Prior to the Exodus, when G-d decided to kill the first born sons of Egypt, G-d instructed the Jews to place blood on their door posts, so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes. One rabbinic discourse explores whether the blood was on the outside or the inside of the doors. Was it meant for G-d, the Egyptians or the Jews? I like the idea that the blood was on the inside of the door, that it was meant to remind the Jewish people of why we were being spared, and of the sacrifice that all Egyptians were making for our freedom. I think there is value in such reminders.

Perhaps by specifically noting these liminal times as transitory, and by recognizing their transformative nature, we can more easily endure the waiting. Whether it is even possible to view the asylum wait time in these terms, I do not know. But one way or another, this period will end. Each of us has only so much control over our own destinies. For asylum seekers, the future is more uncertain than for many others. We are all left to do our best in the time that we have. Put another way, we are all precarious fiddlers on the roof, and so we might as well play the best song that we can.

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Arrested and Charged with Lying in an Asylum Case

by Jason Dzubow on January 3, 2018

Last month, my client was arrested by the FBI and charged with visa fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He stands accused of lying on his I-589 asylum application and at his asylum interview. The client was held for a day or two and then released with instructions to appear in federal court.

If rich white guys can (theoretically) get into trouble for lying, you can too. So tell the truth!

My client’s case is both a cautionary tale and a sign of the times, so I wanted to discuss it here. But I am somewhat limited in what I can say, given that he has an active criminal case (not to mention a pending asylum case).

The charging documents in the criminal case allege that my client traveled from his home country, Country A, to a third country, Country B, and registered with the United Nations using a UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Form (“RRF”) in 2010. The RRF allegedly includes a photo of my client and contact information for him in Country B. The United Nations tried several times to reach the client in 2014 and 2015, but when he could not be reached, the UN closed his refugee resettlement case.

The documents also allege that my client applied for a non-immigrant visa to the United States, and then came to this country in 2013. After arriving in the U.S., my client applied for asylum using form I-589.

The asylum form, Part C, Question 2.B., asks whether “you, your spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings ever applied for or received any lawful status in any country other than the one from which you are now claiming asylum?” If the answer is “yes,” the applicant must provide “the name of each country and the length of stay, the person’s status while there, the reason for leaving, whether or not the person is entitled to return for lawful residence purposes, and whether the person applied for refugee status or for asylum while there, and if not, why he or she did not do so.” According to the charging document, my client did not inform USCIS that he applied for refugee status while in Country B. The FBI charges that he deliberately omitted this information in order to conceal his past travels or possible legal status in Country B.

The charging documents also refer to my client’s interview at the asylum office. According to the documents, the Asylum Officer asked whether my client had been in Country B, and he denied having ever been there.

Based on the information on the form and his testimony at the interview, the charging documents allege that my client lied under oath, and that his lies constitute visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a).

Whether or not the government has a strong case against my client, and my own opinion of his case (and his veracity) are not issues I can discuss here. Instead, I want to talk about two other points. First, what this charge means for asylum seekers in general, and second, whether my client’s criminal case represents a new trend from the Trump Administration or is simply business as usual.

First, what does it mean that an asylum seeker can be charged with a crime for allegedly lying on his application? In fact, this is nothing new. The signature page of the asylum form clearly indicates (in language that no one ever bothers to read) that lying on the form carries criminal and immigration consequences, including possible imprisonment of up to 25 years.

Frankly, I am not all that sympathetic to people who lie to obtain immigration status in the United States. Our asylum system was created to help people fleeing persecution. Asylum seekers who lie damage the integrity of that system and erode public confidence in the asylum process. Worst of all, they harm legitimate asylum applicants by causing their cases to move more slowly and by making asylum more difficult to win. Coming to a new country and requesting asylum comes with certain obligations, such as learning the rules of the new country and following those rules, and that is what asylum seekers must do.

On the other hand, I do understand why some people lie. Many asylum seekers come from countries where the government is little more than a criminal institution. They have no faith in government because their life experience teaches them otherwise. To survive in such places, people must regularly lie to their governments or pay bribes to get things done. It’s not surprising that when such people reach the U.S., they have little compunction about lying on their immigration forms.

Further, many people coming to the United States are at the mercy of the community members they know who are already here. If such people are honest, informed, and willing to help, asylum seekers will get good advice. But if the community members happen to be dishonest or ill-informed, or if they are trying to take advantage of their countrymen (as happens all too often), the asylum seekers may be convinced to lie, even when it is against their own best interests. In many cases, the “lies” are grounded in naivete rather than mendacity. They are more a product of bad luck than moral turpitude. But the rules is the rules, and people who do not follow the rules may have to face the consequences.

My second question is whether the criminal case against my client is a sign that the Trump Administration is ramping up prosecutions against asylum seekers?

One anecdote does not a trend make. And as usual, the best source of statistical information is TRAC Immigration. TRAC’s most recent report about prosecutions for immigration violations (current as of October 2017) reveals something of a mixed bag.

Prosecutions for all immigration violations are up 3.4% from 2016, and such prosecutions have been on an upward trajectory since about April 2017, but they are still significantly below the peak period of immigration prosecutions in 2012. The vast majority of these prosecutions relate to Re-entry of a Deported Alien (8 U.S.C. § 1326 – 1,551 cases filed in October 2017) and Bringing In and Harboring Certain Aliens (8 U.S.C. § 1324 – 295 cases filed in October 2017). A minority of prosecutions (54 cases) were filed under 8 U.S.C. § 1546 (the statute my client was charged under), and another dozen or so cases were filed based on other fraud-related charges (we do not know how many of these cases involved asylum seekers, and how many involved other types of immigration fraud).

For comparison’s sake, the most recent data shows that non-citizens are applying for asylum at the rate of about 12,000 per month (this only counts affirmative cases, not court cases), so only a very small percentage (about 0.6% at most–and probably much less) of asylum seekers are being criminally charged with fraud. Further, according to the TRAC data, the number of aliens charged under 8 U.S.C. § 1546 has actually declined over the past year.

So the short answer is probably that, while prosecutions for immigration fraud in general are on the increase, in absolute numbers, very few people are being charged, and there is (so far) no real evidence pointing to an increase in prosecutions for asylum fraud. Of course, the best way to ensure that you don’t defy the odds and end up in criminal court is to tell the truth.

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Immigration Judges Revolt Against Trump Administration

by Jason Dzubow on December 19, 2017

In a little noted, but quite extraordinary move, the National Association of Immigration Judges (“NAIJ”) has asked Congress to protect its members (Immigration Judges) from the Trump Administration (their employer). The reason? The Trump Administration is seeking to “evaluate judges’ performance based on numerical measures or production quotas.” According to NAIJ, “If EOIR is successful in tying case completion quotas to judge performance evaluations, it could be the death knell for judicial independence in the Immigration Courts.” “Judges can face potential termination for good faith legal decisions of which their supervisors do not approve.”

EOIR is developing a more efficient way to adjudicate cases (and it comes with a free drink!).

Let’s start with a bit of background. NAIJ is a voluntary organization of United States Immigration Judges. It also is the recognized representative of Immigration Judges for collective bargaining purposes(in other words, the IJs’ union): “Our mission is to promote the independence of Immigration Judges and enhance the professionalism, dignity, and efficiency of the Immigration Courts, which are the trial-level tribunals where removal proceedings initiated by the Department of Homeland Security are conducted.”

According to NAIJ, the most important regulation governing IJ decision-making is 8 C.F.R. § 1003.10(b). This regulation requires that immigration judges exercise judicial independence. Specifically, “in deciding the individual cases before them, and subject to the applicable governing standards, immigration judges shall exercise their independent judgment and discretion and may take any action consistent with their authorities under the Act and regulations that is appropriate and necessary for the disposition of such cases.” 8 C.F.R. §1 003.10(b).

Up until now, IJs were exempted from quantitative performance evaluations. According to NAIJ, “The basis for this exemption was rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”

The Trump Administration is now moving to change the way it evaluates IJs. The main reason for the change is the Administration’s goal of reducing the very-large backlog of cases in Immigration Court (currently, there are about 640,000 pending cases). The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR – the office that administers the nation’s Immigration Courts) recently announced a plan to “transform[] its institutional culture to emphasize the importance of completing cases.” In other words, EOIR will judge its judges based–at least in part–on the number of cases completed.

NAIJ has called this development “alarming” and a threat to judicial independence. Why? Because when judges are forced to complete a certain number of cases, they may be unable to devote the necessary time to each case. As a result, the ability to make proper, well-thought-out decisions will suffer.

This is already a problem in Immigration Court. One IJ famously quipped that his job involved adjudicating death penalty cases in a traffic court setting. And so pushing judges to do more cases in less time will potentially impact the alien’s due process rights, and the integrity of our Immigration Courts.

NAIJ has long believed that the system needs a “structural overhaul” and has advocated for converting the Immigration Courts into Article I courts. Article I refers to the first article in the U.S. Constitution, the section on legislative (i.e., Congressional) powers. The idea is that Congress would establish an independent immigration court, much like it created a tax court and a court of veterans appeal. Such a court would be independent of the Executive Branch–the branch of government tasked with enforcing immigration law (currently, IJs are employees of the Department of Justice, a part of the Executive Branch).

NAIJ recognizes that creating Article I immigration courts “may not be feasible right now,” but it nevertheless urges Congress to protect the nation’s IJs from the new Trump Administration policy:

Congress can… easily and swiftly resolve this problem through a simple amendment to the civil service statute on performance reviews. Recognizing that performance evaluations are antithetical to judicial independence, Congress exempted Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from performance appraisals and ratings by including them in the list of occupations exempt from performance reviews in 5 U.S.C. § 4301(2)(D). This provision lists ALJs as one of eight categories (A through H) of employees who are excluded from the requirement of performance appraisals and ratings. To provide that same exemption to Immigration Judges, all that would be needed is an amendment to 5 U.S.C. § 4301(2), which would add a new paragraph (I) listing Immigration Judges in that list of exempt employees.

The fact that IJs themselves are concerned about the Administration’s move is worrying. The Immigration Judges I know are conscientious and take their jobs very seriously (in contrast to the Trump Administration, which seems utterly lacking in seriousness). If EOIR is making it more difficult for IJs to do their duty, as they understand it, then something is clearly wrong.

Perhaps the IJs’ concerns are overblown. Maybe EOIR will implement the new case completion standards in a way that does not damage judicial independence or due process. But given the Administration’s track record in general, and the inexperienced acting director appointed to head EOIR, it’s difficult to have much confidence in the new policy. Since Congress is unlikely to act on NAIJ’s request for protection, I suppose we will see soon enough how these changes affect the Immigration Courts.

Finally, in my opinion, EOIR has largely misdiagnosed the problem. While some delay may be caused by IJs kicking the can down the road, or by aliens “playing” the system, most delay is systematic–it is caused by reshuffling Administration priorities, which affect how DHS and DOJ schedule cases. I doubt that imposing numerical quotas on IJs will do much to improve the situation. Other solutions–facilitating pre-trial conferences, reforming the Master Calendar system, better use of technology, imposition of costs, premium processing for certain applicants–might be more effective. Everyone agrees that reducing the backlog is a worthy goal, but case completion requirements are probably not the best way to achieve that end.

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On the Benefits of Having a Lawyer

by Jason Dzubow on December 11, 2017

A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (“Immigrants Need Better Protection–From Their Lawyers” by Professor Benjamin Edwards) laments the poor quality of immigration attorneys, and postulates that as a group, “the private immigration bar now contains the worst lawyers in all of law.”

It’s easy to know which barber to choose (hint: Barber A), but finding a good immigration lawyer can be more challenging.

The author’s primary solution to the problem of “incompetent” and “predatory” lawyers is to track the success rate of each attorney and then make that information public. In this way, potential customers (i.e., people being deported) can make more informed decisions about their choice of counsel.

Among practicing lawyers, Prof. Edwards’s solution was largely panned as unworkable, ivory-tower thinking. While I generally agree that there is a problem (which I’ve written about in a charmingly-titled piece called, Do Immigration Lawyers Suck?), I also agree with my colleagues that Prof. Edwards’s solution is unworkable (if you’re interested in why it is unworkable, here are some thoughts from Jennifer Minear at AILA).

While some immigration lawyers are less-than qualified for their jobs, it is none-the-less true that having a lawyer for an asylum case significantly increases the likelihood of a good outcome.

A new report from TRAC Immigration provides some specific data about asylum cases and representation. The report breaks down the statistics by country, which is quite helpful, as asylum seekers can look for their country, get a sense for how many of their landsmen are represented, and see the success rate for represented and unrepresented applicants. The report covers Immigration Court cases only (from FY 2012 to FY 2017), and does not include cases at the Asylum Office.

The bottom line is this: For almost all countries, asylum applicants with lawyers are two to four times more likely to win their cases in court, as compared to unrepresented applicants from the same country. There are, of course, some caveats.

One is that, people with good cases are more likely to have attorneys. This is because people with money, educated people, and people who speak English all have an advantage navigating the U.S. immigration system. Such people are more likely to find a lawyer, and they are also more able to present their cases. People who are detained, who are not educated, and who do not speak English will have a harder time presenting their cases, and will also be less able to obtain representation. In that sense, I think the statistics exaggerate the benefits of having an attorney.

But even considering these socio-economic factors, the difference between represented and unrepresented applicants is pretty significant, and in the face of these statistics, it’s hard to argue that lawyers don’t help, Prof. Edwards not-with-standing.

What’s also interesting here is that lawyers provide a multiplier effect on the likelihood of winning. So, for example, an unrepresented case from China has about a 21% chance of success, while a represented case has about an 82% chance of success—a difference of almost four times. And, of course, 82% is a lot better than 21%. A case from El Salvador, on the other hand, has only about a 4% chance of winning without a lawyer, but has almost a 17% chance for success with a lawyer—again, a difference of four times, but in absolute terms, the difference of 4% versus 17% is a lot less significant than 21% versus 82%. Put another way, when the average Chinese applicant hires an attorney for her asylum case, she appears to be getting a lot more for her money than the average Salvadoran applicant.

Why should this be? Why should a lawyer multiply the chances of winning rather than increase the likelihood of victory arithmetically by, say, 10 percentage points across the board (so that the Chinese applicant would go from a 21% chance of success to 31%, and the grant rate for Salvadorans would increase from 4% to 14%)?

The short answer is that I don’t know. Maybe one explanation is that asylum seekers from certain countries present claims that more easily fit within the legal parameters of our asylum system. So cases from China—which often involve political or religious persecution—are more amenable to a grant than cases from El Salvador, which often involve a fear of harm from criminals. Our asylum law quite clearly protects people fleeing religious or political persecution, but it offers little for people fleeing crime. Under this theory, lawyers representing Chinese applicants can help ensure that their cases are presented in a manner that meets the requirements for asylum. It is more difficult to do this for Salvadorans. Or put in more classic terms, even a great lawyer can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Another interesting tidbit from the TRAC numbers is the level of representation in each community. Almost 96% of Chinese applicants had attorneys. Contrast that with Salvadorans, who were represented in only about 73% of cases. Looking at the top 10 source countries for asylum seekers, Haiti had the lowest rate of representation—only about 56% of Haitian asylum seekers had lawyers.

Finally, while it may be somewhat early to discuss trends since President Trump took the helm, the numbers for FY 2017 show an increase in the absolute number of asylum cases decided by Immigration Courts (from 22,312 in FY 2016 to 30,179 in FY 2017) and in the percentage of asylum cases denied (from 56.5% denied in FY 2016 to 61.8% denied in FY 2017). While these numbers are not encouraging, the upward trend in asylum denial rates actually began in FY 2012, under President Obama (denial rates have steadily risen from 44.5% in FY 2012 to 61.8% today).

So what are asylum seekers to make of all this? It seems to me that the most important take-away is that a lawyer in court can significantly increase the likelihood of success, as long as that lawyer is competent and makes an effort to help you with your case. I’ve written previously about the cost of a lawyer, and what the lawyer should do for you. I’ve also written about how to find a free lawyer if you cannot afford to hire one. If you are careful, if you ask questions, and if you make an effort to find an effective attorney, you can greatly increase the possibility of winning your asylum case in court.

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Asylum for People with TPS

by Jason Dzubow on November 29, 2017

In the last few weeks, the Trump Administration has moved to end Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) for Nicaraguans and Haitians, and we can expect TPS programs for other countries to end as well. There are about 321,000 people with TPS in the U.S. Most (195,000) are from El Salvador. There are about 2,500 Nicaraguans with TPS and 57,000 Haitians.

Nicaraguan TPS Holders: One more year to party like it’s 1999.

The decision for Nicaraguan TPS came on November 6, 2017, though USCIS delayed the effective end-date of the program for 12 months “to allow for an orderly transition before the designation terminates on January 5, 2019.” Nicaraguan TPS went into effect in 1999, after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region.

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) announced an end to the Haitian TPS program on November 20–

To allow for an orderly transition, the effective date of the termination of TPS for Haiti will be delayed 18 months. This will provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible. It will also provide time for Haiti to prepare for the return and reintegration of their citizens…. Haitians with TPS will be required to reapply for Employment Authorization Documents in order to legally work in the United States until the end of the respective termination or extension periods.

USCIS also signaled the likely end of TPS for Honduras, but delayed the decision until later. “As a result of the inability to make a determination, the TPS designation for Honduras will be automatically extended for six months from the current January 5, 2018 date of expiration to the new expiration date of July 5, 2018.”

Given these changes, the fate of the remaining TPS beneficiaries is uncertain. “Recognizing the difficulty facing citizens of Nicaragua – and potentially citizens of other countries – who have received TPS designation for close to two decades,” Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke called on Congress to “enact a permanent solution for this inherently temporary program.” The idea that Congress will act to protect TPS beneficiaries seems unlikely, at best.

So if you have TPS and you are concerned about the end of the program, what can you do?

People losing TPS status potentially have a number of options, such as claims to U.S. citizenship, Cancellation of Removal, Adjustment of Status based on a family relationship or a job, a residency applications based on being a victim of a crime or human trafficking. Talk to a lawyer to review your specific situation and evaluate your eligibility (if you cannot afford a lawyer, there might be free services available to you).

For many TPS recipients, however, the only viable option may be asylum. To win asylum, an applicant must demonstrate that she faces a well-founded fear of persecution on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. In other words, to win an asylum case, you need to show that someone wants to harm you for one of these reasons. If you fear return because your country is generally crime-ridden or war-torn, that is probably not enough to win an asylum case. You need to show a specific threat based on a protected ground (I’ve written in more detail about this issue here).

Most of the “protected grounds” are pretty obvious. If someone in your country wants to harm you because they do not like your religion or race or political opinion, that is easy to understand. But what is a “particular social group”? The law defining particular social group or PSG is complex, and different courts have reached different conclusions about what constitutes a PSG. For purposes of this blog post, it is easier to give some examples of PSGs, and then if you think you might fall into one of these categories (or something similar), you can talk to a lawyer. Some common PSGs include members of a family or tribal group, LGBT individuals, women victims of FGM (female genital mutilation) or women who fear FGM, and people who are HIV positive. Other groups of people that some courts–but not others–have found to constitute a PSG include members of a profession (doctors, journalists, etc.), former police officers, former gang members, former U.S. embassy workers, street children, people with certain disabilities, people who face domestic violence, union members, witnesses/informants, tattooed youth, perceived wealthy individuals returning from abroad, and “Americanized” people. These last two PSG groups might be of particular interest to TPS recipients.

Creative lawyers (and asylum applicants) are coming up with new PSGs all the time, but if you can fit your case into a group that is already recognized as a PSG, that certainly increases the likelihood that your case will succeed.

To win asylum, you also need to show that someone (either the government or someone who the government is unable or unwilling to control) wants to “persecute” you on account of a protected ground. You will be shocked to know that the term “persecution” is not clearly defined by the law, and different courts have come up with different–and inconsistent–definitions. Persecution is usually physical harm, but it could be mental harm or even economic harm. An aggregation of different harmful events can constitute persecution.

In addition to all this, an asylum applicant must show that he filed for asylum within one year of entering the United States or that he meets an exception to this rule. I expect that this will be a particular issue for TPS recipients, since most have been here for years. If you have not filed within a year of entry and you do not meet an exception to the one-year rule, then you are not eligible for asylum. You may still qualify for other relief, which is similar to asylum but not as good: Withholding of Removal and Torture Convention relief.

One piece of good news is that TPS is considered “extraordinary circumstances” excusing the one-year asylum filing deadline. See 8 C.F.R. § 208.4(a)(5)(iv) (“The applicant maintained Temporary Protected Status… until a reasonable period before the filing of the asylum application.”). This means that it is probably important to apply for asylum before your TPS expires. Whether people who were in the U.S. unlawfully before they received TPS can meet an exception to the one-year rule, I am not sure, but for people in this situation who fear return to their country, it is certainly worth exploring.

Another possible exception to the one-year rule is “changed circumstances.” Maybe it was safe for you in your country, but then something changed, and now it is unsafe. If that happens, you need to file within a “reasonable time” after the change–hopefully, within a month or two. If you wait too long after the change, you will not meet this exception to the one-year rule.

For TPS recipients, asylum may be a last-ditch effort to remain in the U.S., and it may be difficult to win such a case. However, there are some advantages to seeking asylum. First, despite a crackdown on non-citizens, the Trump Administration has not moved to eliminate asylum. Such a move would be very difficult anyway, since asylum is written into the law (based on a treaty signed by the United States in 1968) and cannot be eliminated without Congressional action. So asylum should remain an option for the foreseeable future. Second, 150 days after you file for asylum, you can apply for a work permit. The work permit is valid for two years, and is renewable for the duration of the asylum case. Finally, the asylum process is slow. Normally, asylum delays are horrible for applicants (and for their attorneys), but if you are trying to delay your deportation until a new Administration comes along, asylum might do the trick.

If you have TPS, it is important to start considering your options now. Talk to a lawyer or a non-profit organization about your situation to see what you can do. Since we can’t expect much (besides trouble) from the government, non-citizens must use the tools at their disposal to protect themselves. Asylum is one such tool.

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The Secret Refugee History of Casablanca

by Jason Dzubow on November 21, 2017

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood classic Casablanca. The move has been acclaimed as one of the great films of all time, and in my (correct) opinion, it contains the greatest scene in movie history (more on that later).

French refugee Madeleine Lebeau: “Vive la France!”

Probably, you know the basic story. It’s 1942. France has fallen to the Nazis, and some French colonies, including the city of Casablanca in Morocco, are under Vichy control (the Vichy government of France collaborated with the Nazis). Refugees, freedom fighters, Nazis, smugglers, and numerous others pass through Rick’s Café in Casablanca. Many are seeking papers to escape to Portugal and then to freedom in the New World (the film’s technical director, Robert Aisner, actually took this route himself after he escaped from a German prison camp).

Rick–the owner of the café–is an American ex-patriot (played by Humphrey Bogart) whose loyalties through much of the movie are ambiguous. One day, Rick’s former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) appears with her husband, resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and Rick and Ilsa have to make some relationship decisions (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.“). If you don’t know how the movie ends, I’m not going to tell you here–you should see it for yourself (and you can thank me later).

What’s less well-known about Casablanca is that many of the actors in the film were themselves refugees. Of 75 people who had bit parts and larger roles in Casablanca, almost all were immigrants of one kind or another. And of the 14 who got screen credit, 11 were foreign-born. Here is the story of some of them:

Conrad Veldt was a well-known German actor who opposed the Nazis and left Germany with his Jewish wife in 1933. Before he departed, he had to complete a questionnaire about his race. Even though he was not Jewish, he listed himself as a Jew. The government offered him an opportunity to divorce his wife and align himself with the Nazis, but he refused. Mr. Veldt moved to Britain where he performed in anti-Nazi films. He eventually came to the United States, where he wanted to help persuade the U.S. to enter the war. Mr. Veldt donated the better part of his personal fortune to Britain to assist with the war effort. He played Major Strasser, the primary bad guy in Casablanca.

S.Z. Sakall and his wife Anne Kardos became American citizens in 1946: “Mama and I are happy, happy people today.”

Lotte Palfi played a desperate woman selling her jewels to raise money. In her only line in the film, she asks for “just a little more, please?” Ms. Palfi was a leading stage actor in German, but fled in 1934 because she was Jewish. She hoped to find success in America, which she viewed as a “melting pot” where the “great majority of the people… had emigrated from other countries.” So she initially thought her German accent “shouldn’t be any hindrance to [her] acting career.” “Of course,” she wrote, “I couldn’t have been more wrong.” Ms. Palfi married fellow Casablanca actor Wolfgang Zilzer (who grew up in Germany and only learned of his American citizenship when he was trying to secure a visa to escape from Europe). The couple divorced after 50 years when he wanted to return to Germany at the end of his life and she refused to go back.

S.Z. Sakall played Carl the waiter in Casablanca. He was a Hungarian Jew who worked on stage and screen in his native country, and also in Austria and Germany. He lost three sisters and many other relatives in the Holocaust. Known for his comedic performances and his shaking jowls (one of the Warner brothers made him adopt the nickname “Cuddles”), Mr. Sakall achieved success in Germany using broken German, and in America using broken English. He arrived in the U.S. just before the war, in May 1939, and appeared in 30 movies between 1940 and 1950. Mr. Sakall was immensely proud of his United States citizenship, and kept his naturalization documents on the mantel in his living room.

Hans Twardowski played a German officer in Casablanca. He began his career as a supporting actor in The Cabinet of Doctor Calgary, but had to flee Germany because he was gay. In the U.S., Mr. Twardowski was type-cast as a Nazi, and never worked as an actor after the war ended, but he always dreamed of returning to the stage.

Helmut Dantine played a young Bulgarian husband trying to earn travel money at the roulette table. In Austria, he led an anti-Nazi youth movement, and was rounded up after Hitler annexed his country in 1938. Mr. Dantine was only 19 years old. He spent three months in a concentration camp before he managed to get released based on family connections and medical reasons. His parents immediately sent him to Los Angeles, where they had a family friend. In the U.S., he worked as an actor and a producer.

Peter Lorre, born Laszlo Lowenstein in Hungary in 1904, played Ugarte, a black marketeer who hands Rick the letters of transit that Victor and Ilsa need to escape from Casablanca. Mr. Lorre moved with his family to Austria when he was young, and he began his career there. He eventually migrated to Germany where he acted on stage and screen. His breakout role was as a killer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M. With Hitler’s ascension to power, Mr. Lorre left Germany in 1933, and made his way to France, Britain, and eventually, the U.S., where he settled in Hollywood.

Anti-Nazi actor Conrad Veidt played a Nazi in Casablanca.

Marcel Dalio, who played Emil the croupier, had been a star in French cinema (Rules of the Game and La Grande Illusion), but fled the country ahead of the Nazi invasion (he was Jewish and feared persecution). The Vichy government used Mr. Dalio’s image to depict the stereotypical Jew on propaganda posters, but in the U.S., he was reduced to playing minor roles. Upon learning of the posters, he quipped, “At least I had star billing on the poster.” Mr. Dalio was promoted to playing Renaud (in the movie, this character was Renault) on the short-lived and largely forgotten Casablanca television serious (1955-56). Mr. Dalio’s mother and sisters were murdered at Auschwitz.

Madeleine Lebeau was the French woman seen crying (real tears) and shouting “Vive la France” during the greatest scene in movie history. In real life, she was a citizen of France who married Marcel Dalio when she was 16, and then fled the country with him after the German invasion. Their marriage was short-lived, and Ms. Lebeau returned to Europe after the  war, where she continued to act in France, Britain, and Spain. She died last year at age 92–the last surviving named cast member in Casablanca.

Seventy-five years after its release, Casablanca is recognized as one of the great films of all time. The emotion brought to the movie by so many real-life refugees from Nazism certainly contributes to the film’s power. Indeed, refugees helped shape the movie, and the movie helped shape our vision for the war (critic Pauline Kael once opined, “Our image of the Nazi was formed by the Jewish refugees”).

Finally, the undisputed greatest scene in movie history: A group of Nazi officers is singing a patriotic German song at Rick’s café. They are–they believe–the masters here. Resistance leader Victor Laszlo notices the men and marches over to the house band. He tells them to play le Marseille, the anthem of free France. The band looks to Rick, and he has another decision to make–keep out of it, or get involved. See what happens here.

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The Perils and Pitfalls of Applying for a Green Card

by Jason Dzubow on November 13, 2017

In the past few weeks, we’ve had two former asylum clients return to our office for help after USCIS denied their applications for citizenship. The applications were denied due to mistakes the former clients made on their I-485 forms (the application for a green card). These cases illustrate the danger of incorrectly completing the I-485 form, and this danger is particularly acute for people with asylum.

The new Green Card application process.

Let’s start with a bit of background. After a person receives asylum, she must wait for one year before applying for her lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) status (her green card). The form used to apply for the green card is the I-485. In the good old days (a few months ago), this form used to be six pages. Now it is 18 pages. The old I-485 form contained 32 yes-or-no questions; the new form contains 92 such questions.

Many of these questions are difficult for me to understand, and I am a trained lawyer who speaks reasonably decent English. So you can imagine that people with more limited English, who are not familiar with the complicated terms and concepts contained in some of the questions, might have trouble answering.

In my clients’ cases, two questions in particular caused them trouble (these are from the old I-485). The first question was, “List your present and past membership in or affiliation with every organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in any other place since your 16th birthday.” Both clients had been involved with political parties, but were no longer members of those parties in the United States. The clients did not carefully read the question, and instead of listing their “past membership,” they instead answered “none” (because they are no longer members).

The second question asked whether the clients had ever been “arrested, cited, charged, indicted, fined, or imprisoned for breaking or violating any law or ordinance, excluding traffic violations.” In fact, my clients had never been arrested for “breaking or violating any law or ordinance.” They were arrested for exercising their supposedly-lawful political rights, and they were correct to answer “no” to this question. Nevertheless, USCIS viewed their answers as deceptive.

My clients’ problems were compounded by the fact that they were never interviewed for their green cards, and so a USCIS officer never went over the questions with them and gave them an opportunity to correct the errors.

The result of all this—confusing questions, carelessness, and no interview—was that my clients obtained their green cards, but also sowed the seeds for future problems. Five years later, these problems appeared when the clients tried to naturalize, and USCIS went back and carefully reviewed their prior applications.

To me, my clients’ errors were clearly honest mistakes. Indeed, in their asylum applications, the clients had already informed USCIS about their party memberships and about their arrests, and so they had nothing to gain—and everything to lose—by failing to mention these issues in the I-485 form. But that is not how USCIS sees things. To them, the errors were “misrepresentations,” which disqualified my clients for citizenship.

To solve the problem, my clients will likely need to apply for waivers (an expensive application to seek forgiveness for making misrepresentations). Given that they are asylees, and that the misrepresentations were relatively minor, I suspect the clients will ultimately qualify for waivers and—eventually—become U.S. citizens. But between now and then, they will face a lot of unnecessary stress and expense. Unfortunately, this is the reality now-a-days for all applicants: If you leave yourself vulnerable, USCIS will bite you.

So what can be done? How can you protect yourself when completing the form I-485?

The key is to read each question carefully and make sure you understand what it means. This is time consuming and boring, but given that USCIS is looking for excuses to deny cases and cause trouble, you have little choice if you want to be safe.

Even using a lawyer is no guarantee. Until recently (when USCIS started looking for reasons to deny cases), I had a tendency to gloss over some of these questions. I am more careful now, but it’s not easy. Many of the questions are ridiculous: Are you a prostitute? Did you gamble illegally? Were you a Nazi in WWII? But intermingled with these questions are others that require closer attention: Did you ever have a J visa? Have you ever received public assistance? Have you ever been denied a visa? It’s easy to skim over these, but the consequences of an erroneous answer can be serious.

Also, some questions are tricky, and can’t easily be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” For example, my clients indicated that they had not been arrested for a crime, and this was correct, but they had been arrested for their (lawful) political activities, and USCIS took their answers as misrepresentations. What to do? When we complete I-485 forms and we encounter questions like this, we normally check “no” (or “yes” if that seems more appropriate) and circle the question. Next to the question, we write, “Please see cover letter,” and on the cover letter, we provide an explanation (“I was never arrested for a crime, but I was arrested by my home government for political reasons”). At least this avoids the problem of USCIS labeling your answer a misrepresentation.

In the end, the only real solution here is to read each question carefully, make sure you understand the question, and answer it appropriately. If the question is not amenable to a yes-or-no answer, or if you think an explanation is required, circle the question and provide an explanation. If you don’t understand something or are not sure, ask for help. It’s best to get the form correct now, even if that involves extra time or money, than to make mistakes that will cost you later on.

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Asylum for Witches

by Jason Dzubow on October 30, 2017

Just in time for Halloween, the Witchcraft & Human Rights Information Network (“WHRIN”) has released a report called “Witchcraft Accusations and Persecution; Muti Murders and Human Sacrifice.” The report was prepared for the United Nations Expert Workshop on Witchcraft and Human Rights, which was held last month, and it discusses the wide-spread and under-reported human rights problems related to witchcraft and other harmful traditional practices. From the WHRIN report–

Persecution.

In numerous countries around the world, harmful witchcraft related beliefs and practices have resulted in serious violations of human rights including, beatings, banishment, cutting of body parts, and amputation of limbs, torture and murder. Women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, such as persons with albinism, are particularly vulnerable. Despite the seriousness of these human rights abuses, there is often no robust state led response.

The report indicates that the “exact numbers of victims of such abuses is unknown and is widely believed to be underreported.” “At the very least,” the report continues, “it is believed that there are thousands of cases of people accused of witchcraft each year globally, often with fatal consequences, and others are mutilated and killed for witchcraft-related rituals.” The number of cases—and the level of violence against victims–seems to be rising, and no area of the world is immune, though most of the documented cases are found in India (120 reported cases in 2016), Nigeria (67 cases), Zimbabwe (29), and South Africa (28).

This is all very sobering, and sad. In my work, I have represented a number of victims of traditional practices who have filed for asylum in the United States. One memorable case involved a young man from Rwanda who was gay. His family decided that he was possessed by demons, and so they had him kidnapped and held in a rural area where he was subject to a three-week exorcism ritual by some type of priest. The ritual involved beatings and starvation, among other things. We argued that all this amounted to past persecution on account of a particular social group—gay people. The government accepted our argument and approved the man’s application for asylum.

The success of our case was due, perhaps, to the fact that our client easily fit within a protected category for purposes of asylum (there are five protected categories—race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and particular social group, and under U.S. law, it is well-established that LGBT individuals can constitute a particular social group; unless a case fits within a protected category, asylum will be denied). Not all victims of witchcraft-related persecution fit so neatly into the asylum scheme, as the WHRIN report makes plain—

Those accused of witchcraft, or at risk of such accusations, are not a well-recognised vulnerable group [under the asylum law], and they do not accrue specially recognised rights as such. They do, however, benefit from human rights protections which are available to all people. Those who face persecution in this way may flee and seek protection in other countries, but their situation is precarious even in exile.

The WHRIN report primarily discusses British law, but asylum applicants in the U.S. could face a similar problem. I have not seen a case where “witches” or “people accused of witchcraft” has been found to be a particular social group (“PSG”) for purposes of asylum, but it seems that a strong argument could be made in favor of such a PSG. Persecution of “witches” might also be couched in terms of imputed religion—maybe the persecutors view the alleged witch in religious terms and would harm her for that reason. If there is an ethnic or racial component to the persecution, that might also allow the applicant’s case to fit into a protected category.

Besides witchcraft, the WHRIN report discusses other harmful traditional practices: Human sacrifice and murder for body parts, which are used in certain magic rituals (sometime called Muti murder). People with albinism are particularly vulnerable to such attacks (I wrote about that here), and they would likely constitute a PSG under U.S. asylum law. But other people targeted in this way might not easily fit into a PSG.

To win asylum, the applicant must show that she faces harm “on account of” a characteristic that the applicant herself possess (for example, her race) or on a characteristic that the persecutor “imputes” to the victim (for example, maybe the persecutor incorrectly believes the applicant is a government opponent and seeks to harm her for that reason). In the case of some traditional practice, the victim may not be able to show that the harm is “on account of” a characteristic or an imputed characteristic, and then asylum would be denied. In our exorcism case, for example, we had a relatively easy job, since our client was gay and was harmed due to his sexual orientation. But what if he was not gay and he was being “exorcised” for some other reason–maybe he was an unruly child and his parents wanted to “cure” him? Such a case would present a real challenge under U.S. asylum law.

Fortunately, there are some resources available. The WHRIN is the obvious starting point. The Forced Migration Current Awareness blog also has a list of resources, and UNHCR has a comprehensive report about witchcraft accusations against children. Given the severity of the harm and the likelihood that the problem is spreading, it seems to me that more work needs to be done in this area. The recent attention from the UN is a good start. Hopefully, we will see those efforts continued and expanded.

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The Self-Fulling Prophecy of Demonizing Immigrants

by Jason Dzubow on October 25, 2017

In his book, American Homicide, Professor Randolph Roth of Ohio State University argues that homicide rates correlate closely with four distinct phenomena: political instability; a loss of government legitimacy; a loss of fellow-feeling among members of society caused by racial, religious, or political antagonism; and a loss of faith in the social hierarchy. He examines 400 years of American history and concludes that these four factors best explain why homicide rates have gone up and down in the United States and in other Western countries, and why the United States today has the highest homicide rate among affluent nations.

“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Prof. Roth recently elaborated on his theories in the Washington Post. He writes–

When we lose faith in our government and political leaders, when we lack a sense of kinship with others, when we feel we just can’t get a fair shake, it affects the confidence with which we go about our lives. Small disagreements, indignities and disappointments that we might otherwise brush off may enrage us — generating hostile, defensive and predatory emotions — and in some cases give way to violence.

He goes on to detail the varying homicide rates for different communities within the U.S., and how those homicide rates track with the particular community’s faith in our governing institutions–

The homicide rate peaked for African Americans during the Nixon administration, at 43 per 100,000 persons per year, when their trust in government was at its lowest and their feelings of alienation were highest. And it peaked for white Americans in 1980, at 7 per 100,000 persons annually, when accumulated anger over busing, welfare, affirmative action, defeat in Vietnam and humiliation in Iran boiled over into the Reagan revolution.

During the 2008 election, Prof. Roth predicted that “the homicide rate in America’s cities would drop because of what [Barak Obama’s] candidacy would mean to African Americans and other minorities, who live disproportionately in urban areas.” Prof. Roth also “worried that the homicide rate would rise in the areas of the country most resistant to the idea of an African American president.” Data from President Obama’s time as president now seems to support the Professor’s prediction (at least according to Prof. Roth–and I believe him).

So what does this mean for immigrants and asylum seekers?

Maybe the answer is fairly obvious–If we demonize and disenfranchise non-citizens, we increase the likelihood that they will engage in violent behavior, and perhaps other anti-social or criminal conduct as well. And of course, this is a vicious cycle–the more we alienate such people, the more likely they are to engage in bad behavior, and the more they engage in bad behavior, the more we will alienate them.

We also have to remember who we are talking about. Many aliens already feel, well, alienated. Many asylum seekers and refugees have already suffered trauma and feel insecure and victimized. Adding to that sense of alienation by labeling them terrorists or rapists, and by treating them as criminals, will only increase the likelihood of anti-social behavior in this population.

Prof. Roth, writing after the massacre in Las Vegas, notes that “most mass murderers have been deeply affected by the distrust, disillusionment and enmity that pervade our society…. We have all played a part in creating them.”

If the violent outliers of our society in some ways reflect who we are, then the obvious solution is for us to do better. To be more civil, more inclusive, more compassionate. To disagree respectfully. To listen more and talk less. Frankly, it’s not all that difficult. It’s what teachers teach in our schools every day. It’s what we require in our workplaces. It’s what we see in our places of worship.

Unfortunately, it is not what we have in the immigration debate. Read the comments section of any news article about immigration and you’ll see what I mean. Politicians–most notably our Commander-in-Chief–have taken the visceral feelings about immigration and amplified them. This creates its own vicious cycle, and empowers extremists groups, like we saw in Charlottesville.

Prof. Roth’s work (and common sense) suggests that if you keep hammering away at vulnerable people, a few of them will eventually react negatively. Hopefully, this will not take the form of violent behavior, but the likelihood of a problem seems greater in such a toxic and threatening environment.

I do think there are things that ordinary people can do to help. Many individuals and organizations have been working to support immigrants, Dreamers, Muslims, and other targets of xenophobia. Giving people hope, and showing them that they are not alone, can mitigate the damage. Government attorneys, Immigration Judges, Asylum Officers and USCIS Officers who continue to do their jobs, and who enforce the law fairly and treat non-citizens with respect, also help counter the harm caused by haters.

Most research suggests that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, but if Prof. Roth’s theory is correct, the current Administration’s nativist language and policies might help cause an uptick in criminal behavior in our immigrant communities. And of course, if immigrant crime goes up, the Administration can use the increase to justify its anti-immigrant policies. It’s up to us–those of us who stand with immigrants–to continue offering them help and hope, and to try to break this cycle before it begins.

 

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In a speech last week to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the office that administers the nation’s immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals), Attorney General and living Confederate Civil War monument, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, set out his views on the asylum system, asylum seekers, and immigration attorneys.

Jeff Sessions speaks to an audience at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Sad to say, Mr. Sessions described the asylum system in largely negative terms, and said not a word about the benefits that our country derives from offering asylum.

While he views our asylum policy as “generous,” and designed to “protect those who, through no fault of their own, cannot co-exist in their home country no matter where they go because of persecution based on fundamental things like their religion or nationality,” Mr. Sessions feels that our generosity is being “abused” and that “smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress.”

Mr. Sessions also lambasts “dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.”

Indeed, Mr. Sessions believes that our asylum system is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” Because the system is “overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims.”

First, it’s quite sad that our nation’s chief law enforcement officer would have such a jaundiced view of asylum. The idea that asylum is merely a generous benefit we offer to refugees, and that we receive nothing in return, is simply false. I’ve written about this point before, but it bears repeating. Asylum was created during the Cold War as a tool against the Soviet Union. We offered refuge to people fleeing Communism, and each person who defected to the West served as a testament to our system’s superiority over our adversary.

Now that the Cold War has ended, asylum still serves our strategic interests. It demonstrates our commitment to those who support and work for the values we believe in. It is tangible evidence that America stands with our friends. It gives our allies confidence that we will not let them down when times become tough. It shows that our foundational principles–free speech, religious liberty, equality, rule of law–are not empty words, but are ideals we actually stand behind.

And of course, there are the asylees themselves, who contribute to our country with their energy, enthusiasm, and patriotism, often born of their experience living in places that are not safe, and that are not free.

None of this came up during Mr. Sessions’s talk. Perhaps he does not know how our nation has benefited from the asylum system. Or maybe he doesn’t care. Or–what I suspect–he views asylum seekers as a threat to our security and a challenge to our country’s (Christian and Caucasian) culture.

The shame of it is that Mr. Sessions is demonstrably wrong on several points, and so possibly he reached his conclusions about asylum based on incorrect information.

The most obvious error is his claims that “dirty immigration lawyers… are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.” Aliens who are “unlawfully present” in the U.S. are not subject to the credible fear process. That process is generally reserved for aliens arriving at the border who ask for asylum. Such applicants undergo a credible fear interview, which is an initial evaluation of eligibility for asylum. While this may be a technical point, Mr. Sessions raised the issue in a talk to EOIR, and so his audience presumably understands how the system works. That Mr. Sessions would make such a basic mistake in a speech to people who know better, demonstrates his ignorance of the subject matter (or at least the ignorance of his speech writers), and casts doubt on his over-all understanding of the asylum system.

Mr. Sessions also says that our asylum system is “overloaded with fake claims.” But how does he know this? And what exactly is a fake claim? In recent years, something like 40 to 50% of asylum cases have been granted. Are all those adjudicators being fooled? And what about denied cases? Are they all worthy of denial? There is, of course, anecdotal evidence of fraud—and in his talk, Mr. Sessions cites a few examples of “dirty” attorneys and applicants. But a few anecdotes does not compel a conclusion that the entire system is “subject to rampant abuse and fraud.” I can point to anecdotes as well. I’ve seen cases granted that I suspected were false, but I’ve also seen cases denied that were pretty clearly grant-worthy. While I do think we need to remain vigilant for fraud, I have not seen evidence to support the type of wide-spread fraud referenced by the Attorney General.

Finally, Mr. Sessions opines that “smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress.” So court rulings undermine the intent of Congress? Any attorney who makes such a statement casts doubt on that lawyer’s competence and devotion to the rule of law, but when the Attorney General says it, we have real cause for concern. Thousands of federal court rulings—including from the U.S. Supreme Court—have interpreted our nation’s immigration laws (and all our other laws too). That is what courts do, and that is how the intent of Congress is interpreted and implemented in real-world situations. Attorneys who rely on court decisions are not “exploit[ing] loopholes in the law,” we are following the law.

These are all pretty basic points, and it strikes me that when it comes to asylum, Mr. Sessions doesn’t get it. He seems not to understand the role of Congress, the courts, and lawyers in the asylum process. And he certainly doesn’t understand the benefits our country receives from the asylum system.

I’ve often said that President Trump’s maliciousness is tempered by his incompetence. With Attorney General Sessions, it is the opposite: His maliciousness is exacerbated by his incompetence. And I fear that asylum seekers–and our country’s devotion to the rule of law–will suffer because of it.

 

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DACA Reform and Its Hostages (i.e., Asylum Seekers)

by Jason Dzubow on October 12, 2017

President Trump recently sent a letter to Congress laying out his “Administration’s principles for reforming our Nation’s immigration system.” In effect, this is what the President wants in exchange for agreeing to legalize DACA recipients (also known as Dreamers). Whether this is an opening bid or a final offer remains to be seen, but many Democrats and some Republicans seem to view the proposal as a non-starter.

Haggling over brown people? Where have I seen that before?

While the President’s letter covers a wide range of topics–from the border wall to hiring more ICE agents to eliminating the DV lottery–I want to focus here on the possible effects on our asylum system. Specifically, Section 1-C of the letter, Asylum Reform, lists the Administration’s ideas for “correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that [asylum] backlog.” Would that these ideas were so benign.

Below, I have listed the text of the President’s letter in bold, and added my comments (and complaints) in italics. Without further ado, here is the President’s proposal with commentary:

The massive asylum backlog has allowed illegal immigrants to enter and stay in the United States by exploiting asylum loopholes. It seems what the President means by “asylum loopholes” is the asylum process itself. But asylum is not a “loophole.” It is the law, which says that if a person is physically present in the U.S. and he fears persecution in his home country, he can apply for asylum and stay here until his case is adjudicated. An executive order from the President cannot nullify this, but Congress and the President together can change the asylum law. I have not seen any movement in that direction, at least not yet.

There are more than 270,000 pending cases in the asylum backlog before USCIS, and approximately 250,000 asylum cases before EOIR. Therefore, the Administration proposes correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that backlog. I don’t get to say this too often, but I agree with Trump! The backlog is way too large, and we need to reduce it. The Administration wants to hire 370 new Immigration Judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys. I’ve written before about some constructive and low-cost ideas for reducing the backlog. If anyone in the Administration is interested, you can see my thoughts here.

i. Significantly tighten standards and eliminate loopholes in our asylum system. It’s not clear which standards would be tightened and which loopholes eliminated. There are plenty of changes that could be made. Some might be productive (such as cracking down on notario and attorney fraud); others would likely result in eligible aliens being denied asylum and returned to face persecution (raising the evidentiary bar, for example). One area of concern for the Administration is asylum seekers at the border who arrive here and are then paroled into the U.S. Whether we could block such people without violating our treaty obligations (and our moral values) is an open question. Of course, Congress has the power to override treaties, but the unintended consequences of such a move might do (additional) damage to our standing in the world. 

ii. Elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews. Presumably, this will go beyond what the Trump Administration has already done to make it more difficult for asylum seekers arriving at the border or an airport. Again, how much can be done without abrogating our treaty obligations is unclear, but certainly Congress and the President can make it more difficult for people arriving here and requesting asylum upon arrival.

iii. Impose and enforce penalties for the filing of frivolous, baseless, or fraudulent asylum applications, and expand the use of expedited removal as appropriate. Why these two proposals did not warrant their own Roman numerals, I do not know. As for the first, there are already severe immigration consequences for filing a frivolous asylum application (including a bar to all benefits under the INA), but I suppose the penalties could always be made worse. Also, the Trump Administration has already set forth a policy on expedited removal, so perhaps the new proposal would incorporate those ideas (which basically expands the temporal and geographic boundaries of expedited removal). 

iv. Close loopholes in the law to bar terrorist aliens from entering the country and receiving any immigration benefits. As you might imagine, the immigration law currently has no provisions what-so-ever to block terrorists from coming here. Amazing that no one noticed this before. Lucky for us, some keen-eyed Trump Administration official caught the problem, and so now we can finally make some rules blocking terrorists. Whew!

v. Clarify and enhance the legal definition of “aggravated felony” to ensure that criminal aliens do not receive certain immigration benefits. An alien convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for most immigration benefits, including asylum. I agree that the definition of aggravated felony could use some work–some offenses that might seem serious (like assault and battery against a police officer) are generally not aggravated felonies under the Immigration Act; other crimes that seem minor (such as shoplifting) might be an aggravated felony. It’s clearly not equitable. My fear is that the Trump Administration will blindly expand the definition of aggravated felony so that any crime–no matter how minor–will bar asylum seekers from the U.S. and will needlessly divide more families through deportation.

vi. Expand the ability to return asylum seekers to safe third countries. The idea of sending asylum seekers back to the last “safe” country they passed through is not new. For various reasons, I doubt it is the magic bullet that some immigration resrictionists think it is. For one thing, it is difficult to know whether a particular country is safe, and so I suspect that such a provision might just shift the battle from the fear of persecution in the home country to whether the third country is “safe.” Also, whether the “safe” countries will agree to accept non-citizens we send their way seems doubtful.

vii. Ensure only appropriate use of parole authority for aliens with credible fear or asylum claims, to deter meritless claims and ensure the swift removal of those whose claims are denied. This provision probably involves closing “loopholes” at the border. Here, some data might be useful. Is there any evidence that paroled aliens commit crimes? How often do such people fail to appear for court hearings? What is the cost of detaining such individuals? Making rational and effective policies requires answering such questions before taking action.

viii. Prevent aliens who have been granted asylum or who entered as refugees from obtaining lawful permanent resident status if they are convicted of an aggravated felony. There is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit crimes (INA § 209(c)), including in some cases, aggravated felonies. However, BIA case law largely already prevents aggravated felons from taking advantage of the waiver. My main problem with eliminating the waiver is that it will result in people being deported to countries where they face harm, even for relatively minor crimes (many minor crimes are considered aggravated felonies already, and the Trump Administration plans to broaden the definition of aggravated felony even further).

ix. Require review of the asylee or refugee status of an alien who returns to their home country absent a material change in circumstances or country conditions. Asylees who return home are already subject to having their status terminated. So like many of the provisions listed here, this one seems like piling on. Also, there are legitimate reasons why some asylees need to return home–to see sick family members, for example. Also, in some cases, asylees do not fear their home government; they fear terrorist groups in their country. Such people can return home for a brief period, but if they remain in their country for the long term, they face great danger. The current law recognizes this, and makes some exceptions for asylees who return home. This seems more fair than a blanket prohibition. 

None of these provisions have yet been implemented or incorporated into law, and we will have to see how negotiations proceed. The Administration can argue that it is fair to bargain with the fate of DACA recipients in order to “reform” our immigration system (which certainly does need reforming). And perhaps that is the reality of politics. But I can’t help think there is a better way, and that it is not necessary to pit one minority group against another, and to hold so many innocent people hostage to a political agenda.

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The New Travel Ban, Asylum Seekers, and I-730 Petitions

by Jason Dzubow on October 5, 2017

As you might have heard, the White House recently issued a new travel ban (official known as the Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats), and this one looks more likely to survive a court challenge than previous bans. This time around, the “banned” countries are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and certain government officials from Venezuela.

Moose limb ban.

Here I want to look at how the ban will impact asylum seekers, asylees (people who already have asylum), and I-730 petitions, which are petitions filed by asylees to bring their relatives (spouse and minor, unmarried children) to the United States. One caveat: Even though the latest travel ban seems more well-crafted than prior iterations, it likely will still be subject to court challenges, and it will have to be interpreted and implemented by various government agencies, so how individuals will actually be affected is not yet entirely clear. With that out of the way, here’s how things look now:

Asylum Seekers

The short answer here is that asylum seekers who are already in the U.S. should not be affected by the new ban. Section 6(e) provides–

Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to limit the ability of an individual to seek asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture, consistent with the laws of the United States.

Also, it appears that asylum seekers who want to travel while their cases are pending, using Advance Parole, should be able to do so. Section 3(b) states–

The suspension of entry pursuant to section 2 of this proclamation shall not apply to…  any foreign national who has a document other than a visa — such as a transportation letter, an appropriate boarding foil, or an advance parole document — valid on the applicable effective date under section 7 of this proclamation [all bars will be in effect by October 18, 2017] or issued on any date thereafter, that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission.

The original travel ban (from January 2017) was intended to impact asylum seekers. Basically, USCIS was directed to adjudicate their cases up until the decision, but to hold the decision until the ban was lifted. That never actually went into effect. This new ban, which is more carefully tailored, does not seem to impose any restrictions or limitations on the asylum process or on asylum seekers, and so we can expect that such cases will proceed as before.

Asylees

People who have been granted asylum are asylees. I see nothing in the proclamation that would inhibit asylees’ rights in the U.S. They should be able to work, travel (using an appropriate travel document), and eventually get their green card and their U.S. citizenship as before.

I-730 Petitions

When a person is granted asylum, she can file to bring her spouse and minor, unmarried children to the United States using a form I-730. Whether people from the banned countries will still be able to bring their “following to join” family members here may be problematic, at least as I read the President’s order. Section 3(a) states–

[S]uspensions of and limitations on entry… shall apply only to foreign nationals of the designated countries who: (i) are outside the United States on the applicable effective date under section 7 of this proclamation; (ii) do not have a valid visa on the applicable effective date under section 7 of this proclamation; and (iii) do not qualify for a visa or other valid travel document under section 6(d) of this proclamation [certain individuals whose visas were marked revoked or canceled by the first travel ban].

Basically, this means that people outside the U.S. from a “banned” country cannot get a visa to come here. There are some exceptions to this rule in section 3(b), but none of them seem to apply to I-730 beneficiaries. The closest I can see to an exception for following-to-join asylees appears in section 3(b)(vi)–

The suspension of entry pursuant to section 2 of this proclamation shall not apply to… any foreign national who has been granted asylum by the United States; any refugee who has already been admitted to the United States; or any individual who has been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Perhaps I-730 beneficiaries can argue that they fall within this exception, but frankly, I don’t see it. If these beneficiaries do not meet an exception, they can apply for a waiver to allow them to join their asylee relative in the U.S., even though they are banned from coming here. The waiver process, discussed in section 6(c), seems complex, but the short answer is that waivers are granted in the discretion of the consular officer or other government official and are issued on a case-by-case basis. Further–

A waiver may be granted only if a foreign national demonstrates to the consular officer’s or CBP official’s satisfaction that: (A) denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship; (B) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States; and (C) entry would be in the national interest.

The proclamation gives some examples of when a waiver might be appropriate, including where the “foreign national has previously established significant contacts with the United States” or where “the foreign national seeks to enter the United States to visit or reside with a close family member (e.g., a spouse, child, or parent) who is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien lawfully admitted on a valid nonimmigrant visa, and the denial of entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship.” None of the examples specifically refers to asylees or I-730 beneficiaries, and so there is an open question about whether such people are able to join their asylee family members in the United States.

We will have to see how the Trump Administration implements the ban with regards to I-730s. Hopefully, such people will be allowed to join their family members in the U.S. If not, you can bet that the matter will be litigated in court, and I imagine that the asylees would have a strong case. The United States has ratified the Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and so that treaty has the force and effect of law. The Protocol (and the Refugee Convention that is incorporated into the Protocol) essentially commits treaty countries to ensure family unity for refugees. See also INA 208(b). A Presidential proclamation cannot nullify this law, and so any attempt by the Trump Administration to block following-to-join relatives will likely not succeed, though of course the Administration can throw obstacles in the way of such people and cause plenty of hardship, stress, and uncertainty for this already-vulnerable group of individuals.

So there you have it. Again, we will have to wait to see how the new ban is implemented and whether it will be affected by litigation. Hopefully, my concerns about I-730 beneficiaries will not come to pass, and asylum seekers, asylees, and their family members will not be harmed by the latest travel ban.

UPDATE – October 9, 2017 – The U.S. State Department has issued guidance indicating that I-730 beneficiaries will not be affected by the new proclamation, and so following-to-join beneficiaries will still be able to join their asylee family members in the United States. Thank you to “Jabi” for letting us know about the good news.

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There’s a Yiddish expression, “A halber emes iz a gantse lign,” which means, “A half-truth is a whole lie.” A recent article from the New York Times demonstrates that the Trump Administration is using half truths in order to justify its plan to reduce refugee admissions to historically low levels for the upcoming fiscal year. From the Times article:

President Trump is taking Simon and Garfunkel’s advice a bit too literally: “Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie.”

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

In other words, political officials suppressed a study from HHS because the results of that study did not support Mr. Trump’s policy goals.

The draft study was completed in July but never publicly released. Instead, it was leaked to the NY Times. The study was meant to look at the costs and benefits of refugee resettlement to our economy. How much do refugees cost us for things like public benefits, education, and law enforcement? How much do refugees contribute through taxes? Are refugees a net gain or a net loss, at least in terms of dollars spent and received?

The 55-page draft study found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. Taking into account resettlement and other costs, the report estimates that “the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63.0 billion.” When refugees and their family members were counted, the benefits were more modest, but still positive, at $16.9 billion. These results align with another recent study on the economic impact of refugees conducted by two professors at the University of Notre Dame.

The final, three-page report that HHS ultimately submitted includes only money spent by the government on refugees, without including revenue–literally, half the truth (and that’s being generous, since they reduced the size of the report from 55 pages to three). Maybe I can do the same thing on my own taxes–include only my expenses, but leave out revenue. I am not sure how that would go over with the IRS, but I’m guessing not well.

This strategy–of promoting the negative by leaving out the positive–is nothing new for the Trump Administration. Last Spring, the Department of Homeland Security launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. According to DHS, VOICE will, “Provide quarterly reports studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.” So we get to see the negative impact of aliens on the United States, but we hear nothing about the positive contributions made by such people (and of course, the evidence is pretty conclusive that aliens commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans).

Not all government employees are on board with the Trump Administration’s anti-refugee program. The most obvious dissenter is the anonymous person who leaked the HHS report to the NY Times. More publicly, the State Department’s Director of Refugee Admissions told an audience at the Heritage Foundation, “We see… that refugees do very, very well, and it’s one of the reasons that we would like to see more long-term studies about refugee success and perhaps failure so that we can really see those areas that we should focus on more…. They’re taking jobs that are otherwise unfilled, and refugees, frankly, do quite well.”

There also seems to be internal disagreement about how many refugees we should admit to the country. For FY 2017, President Obama raised the refugee ceiling from 85,000 to 110,000, but President Trump has proposed reducing refugee admissions to 45,000 for FY 2018, which starts on October 1. Interestingly, officials at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Department of Defense have lined up to oppose such a precipitous drop, presumably because they recognize the benefits of our refugee program.

By next week, we should know for sure how many refugees President Trump plans to admit in FY 2018. I’m not optimistic about the numbers, but I understand that reducing immigration was one of Mr. Trump’s core promises when he ran for president. What probably bothers me most about the whole process, though, is the blatant dishonesty of the President, who is trying to justify his refugee policy based on half truths and whole lies. An honest discussion might not result in a different outcome in terms of numbers, but it would be far better for our country and our democracy.

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New Rule Spells Potential Trouble for Asylees

by Jason Dzubow on September 19, 2017

There’s a new State Department rule in town about misrepresentation, and it could signal trouble for certain asylum seekers and others who enter the country on non-immigrant visas and then seek to remain here permanently or engage in other behavior inconsistent with their visas.

The State Department has a long tradition of blocking visas for people facing persecution (if you don’t believe me, Google “Breckinridge Long”).

To understand the problem, we first need to talk a bit about non-immigrant visas (“NIV”). To obtain an NIV, you have to promise to comply with the terms of that visa. One common NIV requirement is that you must intend to leave the U.S. at the end of your period of authorized stay (some NIVs are exempt from this requirement, most notably the H1b and the L, which are known as “dual intent” visas). Another common NIV requirement is that the visa-holder should not work in the U.S. without permission. If you breach these requirements, there are often—but not always—immigration consequences.

For example, up until the rule change, if an alien entered the U.S. on a B or F visa, or on the Visa Waiver Program, and then filed to “adjust status” (i.e., get a green card) within 30 days of arrival, the alien was presumed to have had an “immigration intent” at the time of entry, and thus USCIS would assume that she lied about her intention to leave the U.S. at the end of her authorized stay (in government-speak, this is called a misrepresentation). If she violated her status between 30 and 60 days after arrival, USCIS might still decide that she misrepresented her intentions when she got the visa (this was known as the 30/60 day rule). If she filed for the green card on day 61 or beyond, she would generally be safe. There are exceptions and caveats to all this, but you get the picture.

Enter the new rule, which appears in the State Department’s Field Adjudications Manual (at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)):

[If] an alien violates or engages in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status within 90 days of entry… you [the consular officer] may presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in only status-compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention in seeking a visa or entry.

This change specifically affects people applying for visas at U.S. consulates, but it seems likely that USCIS could adopt the rule as well, which would mean that people who come to the United States on certain NIVs and who engaged in “non-status-compliant activity” within 90 days of arrival will be presumed to have lied in order to obtain their visas. All this means that the 30/60 day rule is dead, at least so far as the State Department is concerned, and probably for USCIS as well.

This is all pretty boring and confusing, you say. What does it have to do with asylum seekers?

The issue is, if a person comes to the United States and applies for asylum within 90 days of arrival, he might be considered to have lied about his “immigration intent” in order to obtain a U.S. visa. In other words, requesting asylum (and thus asking to stay permanently in the United States) is not consistent with coming here on most NIVs, which require that you promise to leave the U.S. at the end of your authorized stay.

This problem is not just academic. I’ve recently heard from a colleague whose client came to the U.S., won asylum, and obtained a green card. But when the client applied for citizenship, USCIS accused him of a “misrepresentation” because he entered the country on an NIV and then sought to remain here permanently through asylum. This example comes amidst several cases—including one of my own—where USCIS seems to have pushed the boundaries of the law in order to deny citizenship to asylees. It also seems part of a larger pattern to “bury lawyers and their clients in requests for more and more documentation, and clarification on points that were already extremely clear in the initial filing.”

I should note that the above examples are not related to the new State Department rule (probably), though if USCIS implements a similar rule, it would potentially expose many more asylees (and other USCIS applicants) to the same fate.

It’s a little hard to understand what USCIS is trying to do here, or why they are doing it. For one things, there is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit fraud (the waiver forgives fraud and allows the person to remain in the United States). Also, when a person fears persecution in her country and qualifies for asylum, low-grade misrepresentations are routinely forgiven. So the likelihood that any asylee would ultimately be deported for having lied to get a visa is close to zero. In other words, USCIS can delay the process, and cause these asylees a lot of stress and expense, but in the end, they will remain here and most likely become U.S. citizens (eventually).

Perhaps this is the Trump Administration’s implementation of “extreme vetting.” If so, it’s more appearance than substance. It looks as if something is happening, but really, nothing is happening. Except of course that USCIS is mistreating people who have come to the United States and demonstrated that they have a well-founded fear of harm in their home countries. So—like a Stalinist show trial—such people will admit their “misrepresentations” (in many cases, for the second, third or fourth time), go through the hassle, stress, and expense of the waiver process, and then end up staying here just the same.

It’s too bad. USCIS can do a lot of good—for immigrants and for our national security. But unfortunately, their current path will not lead to improvements in either realm.

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