This article is by Josh Rigney, the Legal Services Program Manager at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC). Josh has worked with survivors of torture seeking asylum since May 2012. He holds a Master’s in International Relations and a Juris Doctor from American University. He is a member of the Virginia State Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not represent the opinions of TASSC.

Taking asylum policy advice from CIS is like taking urban planning advice from Godzilla.

On May 10, I attended a panel discussion organized by the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”) and titled Asylum Fraud and National Security. Described on the CIS website as a discussion on the threat posed by “the vetting – or the lack thereof” of asylum applicants in the U.S., the panel included three speakers who, at least on paper, appeared to have impressive expertise on immigration issues. Two of the speakers, Andrew Arthur and Mark Metcalf, formally served as immigration judges in Pennsylvania and Florida, respectively. The final panelist, Todd Bensman, is a long-time journalist with degrees in journalism and homeland security studies.

CIS’s tagline is “Low-immigration, Pro-immigrant,” and it bills itself as “an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization.” However, CIS is reliably biased, and produces shoddy “research” prone to support any policy that will decrease all immigration to the United States, regardless of the heartless nature of the policy. For example, a recent Washington Post article quoted Executive Director Mark Krikorian speaking in favor of limiting immigration by breeding fear of U.S. immigration policies amongst potential immigrants. Krikorian stated that only if Trump follows through on the fear inspired by his pronouncements on immigration will CIS’s preferred immigration levels be realized.

As an immigration attorney who works with survivors of torture seeking asylum, turning the asylum process into a national security witch hunt would obviously impact those whom I serve. But that is not the only reason the panel’s viewpoints should matter to the broader asylum-seeker community and its supporters. As a recent New York Times article stressed, CIS – designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – and other anti-immigrant hard-liners now have the ear of the White House and congressional policy makers on immigration.

The panelists stressed several points during the event. First, immigrants are a threat to the safety of the United States. Second, while refugees pose a danger, asylum seekers are an even greater threat to U.S. national security. Third, fraud is rampant among asylum seekers. Therefore, the panelists agreed that U.S. policymakers must make it harder for everyone to receive asylum, whether or not a particular individual has a legitimate claim.

Immigrants are Dangerous

To convince the small crowd at the event that all immigrants – asylum-seeking or otherwise – pose a threat to the safety of the United States, each panelist took turns describing his favorite scary immigrant story. Andrew Arthur spoke about Ramzi Yousef, one of the perpetrators of the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993. Bensman spoke of Pakistanis with potential terrorist ties crossing the southern border with the help of a smuggler named Rakhi Gauchan. He stressed that Gauchan believed one of the Pakistanis was a terrorist, and Bensman stated that this person later received asylum.

Of course, relying on scattered anecdotes to draw broad conclusions about all asylum seekers does not make for sound policy. For example, Bensman did not mention whether he actually knew the Pakistani was a terrorist. Indeed, according to his own master’s thesis, American investigators never determined whether Gauchan’s terrorism suspicions were accurate.

As with any policy issue, harping on the inevitable few bad apples does not support throwing all of them out. Overall statistical trends must be analyzed, particularly when the goal is to punish an entire group of people, and particularly one as large as asylum seekers. In the first three months of 2017 alone, 40,899 people filed asylum claims with the Asylum Office. The handful of cases the panelists cited in their comments cannot justify making the asylum process more difficult for all of these people.

What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

A study published by the Cato Institute, an organization founded by one of the Republican mega-donor Koch brothers, determined that the chance that you will be killed by a foreign-born terrorist who is in the U.S. because of a grant of asylum is 1 in 2.7 billion. Between 1975 and 2015, over 700,000 people were granted asylum in the United States. Of those, just 4 have been “convicted of planning or committing a terrorist attack on U.S. soil…”

So what statistics did the expert panel use to support their assertion that all asylum seekers are dangerous? In the only notable mention of actual numbers, Mark Metcalf provided data released by EOIR on the number of immigrants with pending court cases who failed to show up in court for their hearings. However, at no point did he provide any breakdown of the numbers for asylum seekers; nor did he explain how failing to show up for a court hearing is equivalent to committing asylum fraud or posing a threat to U.S. national security.

One of the panelists, in a nod to those in the crowd who felt the U.S. is too generous to immigrants, mentioned that the U.S. “accepts more refugees than the rest of the world combined.” For the record, the U.S., a country of more than 325 million people, resettled 66,500 out of the 107,100 total refugees resettled by all countries in 2015. Canada, a country with a population of approximately 36 million people, resettled 20,000 refugees. Furthermore, Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), and Lebanon (1.1 million) all host over a million refugees each. For asylum seekers, the United States received only slightly more applications (172,700) than Sweden (156,400), a country of only 10 million people. Meanwhile, Germany (population of 81 million) received 441,900 asylum applications.

The point is that while the U.S. does offer refuge to a significant number of people fleeing persecution every year, that does not justify the draconian policy recommendations supported by the panelists.

Asylum Seekers vs. Refugees

I can actually agree with some of the panel’s comments comparing the relative threat posed by refugees against the threat posed by asylum seekers. Arthur stressed that the primary difference between refugees and asylum seekers is that refugees are fully vetted prior to ever setting foot in the United States. In contrast, asylum seekers make it to U.S. territory, then seek protection while waiting for their asylum claim to be granted or rejected. Depending on the court or asylum office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s claim, that process can take many years (one survivor from my organization recently received asylum after a ten-year struggle). During this time, asylum seekers remain in the United States without undergoing security checks like those that refugees must pass before entering.

Of course, none of this really matters unless you accept the idea that immigrants are truly a threat – which takes us back to the previous point. Yes, in theory, asylum seekers have the potential to pose a greater security threat than refugees – but that threat is already extremely low to begin with. In actuality, objective evidence that asylum seekers as a group are a threat to U.S. national security is weak at best.

For example, the panelists claimed again and again that fraud is rampant in the asylum system – relying, again, on a handful of selected stories. As evidence of potential security threats, they correctly pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice do not conduct regular system-wide fraud risk assessments. But without such assessments, how did the panelists conclude that fraud is rampant?

“Pro-immigrant”

At times, at least one panelist expressed sympathy for the plight of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers with legitimate claims. For example, Arthur correctly stated that each fraudulent asylum application filed by someone without a claim will cause further delay in the process for another asylum seeker with a legitimate claim. He also paid lip service to the reality that the United States is a nation built by immigrants. Overall, however, the panelists expressed support for several policies that would have a disastrous impact on all asylum applicants seeking safety in the U.S.

Arthur promoted the use of detention for asylum seekers, stating that the longer a person is detained, the less likely that person is to obtain asylum fraudulently. He failed to mention the devastating psychological repercussions detention will have for the thousands of torture and trauma survivors—many of whom are already suffering from PTSD—who would inevitably be thrown into such facilities.

Arthur also declared that any person that transits through another country on the way to the United States lacks true fear, but instead seeks economic opportunity. In response, Mark Krikorian, in the role of moderator, asked if the U.S. should categorically deny asylum to anyone that transited through another country. Arthur suggested that could be achieved through legislation to change the eligibility requirements for asylum.

Bensman suggested that only when we can guarantee the identity of people through unimpeachable ID documents should we allow them to seek asylum. But in reality, the lack of such documentation often stems from the chaos that forced asylum seekers to seek safety in the first place. In other words, his suggestion would bar those in greatest need of protection from accessing the asylum system at all.

Finally, all the panelists suggested that DHS and DOJ commit significant resources to assess the fraud risk in the asylum system.

Ignoring the Elephant in the Room

Notably absent from these policy recommendations was the hiring of additional Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers. Assuming, for the moment, that asylum seekers waiting in the asylum backlog are a threat to U.S. national security, I can’t help but wonder why the panelists never suggested the only solution that would make it easier for immigration officials to spot fraudulent asylum claims.

Mark Metcalf tacitly recognized this concept when he highlighted that good cross-examination, either by a prosecutor or an Immigration Judge, can expose fake asylum claims. The same principle holds for intelligent questioning by Asylum Officers in asylum interviews. With the current backlog of nearly 600,000 cases at the Immigration Courts, and another 250,000 claims before the Asylum Offices, each official responsible for testing the credibility of these claims is heavily overburdened. Relieving that burden by hiring more Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers will help these officials spot the fraudulent asylum claims that do cross their paths.

This solution can lessen the actual problem of immense backlogs and long waits for people seeking asylum. As an added bonus, it would simultaneously address the speculative and over-exaggerated threats that the panelists identified, without denying a path to safety for tens of thousands of people fleeing persecution.

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Exposing the Grandma Menace

by Jason Dzubow on May 10, 2017

On April 26, the Department of Homeland Security launched its new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. According to DHS, VOICE will “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a statement, “All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored. They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place.” I suppose the same might be said of crimes committed by children born of unplanned pregnancies, but I digress.

Don’t mess with these ladies, especially if they haven’t had their nap.

The fact is, most credible reports show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than U.S. citizens. But never mind that. Today, I am concerned with another group whose below-average crime rate masks its otherwise sinister nature. You guessed it, I’m talking about America’s grandmothers.

To shed light on this menace, I’ve decided to create a new website called VOGUE – Victims Of Grandmothers’ Unscrupulous Ethics. The website will track crimes committed by mommoms, babas, memoms, geemas, and savtas throughout our great country. And I’m not just talking about the Little Old Lady from Pasadena, though her reckless driving certainly terrified everyone on Colorado Boulevard. Rather, I want the public to know that America’s bubbies are a real threat to our society. So in the spirit of disproving statistics with anecdotes, I present to you the Top 5 nana-related crimes of recent memory. Be afraid. Be very afraid:

(1) In 2010, a 64-year old Long Island woman was arrested for stealing boxes of jello, replacing the contents with sand and salt, and then returning the boxes for a full refund (of $1.40 each!). According to authorities, Christine Clement disposed of the evidence by cooking up and eating the contents of the boxes she had emptied. Ms. Clement’s husband of 40 years served as her get-away driver.

(2) Griselda Blanco was a drug lord (drug lady?) from Colombia who relocated to Miami where she dominated the violent cocaine-trafficking scene in the 1970s and 1980s. She was supposedly responsible for over 200 murders, including the murder of at least one of her husbands. Ms. Blanco was finally deported to Colombia where she was assassinated at a butcher shop in 2012. Catherine Zeta-Jones is slated to play her in an upcoming movie called The Godmother (fittingly, Ms. Blanco’s youngest son is named Michael Corleone Blanco).

(3) Velma Barfield, also known as “Death Row Granny,” used arsenic as her weapon of choice. She confessed to killing four people, including her mother and a boyfriend. It seems likely she also killed at least one of her two husbands. In 1984, she became the first woman executed by lethal injection and the first woman in the United States executed since 1962.

(4) Another killer who preferred poison was Nannie Doss, known as the “Giggling Granny.” All together, she killed four husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and a mother-in-law. The first murders took place in the late 1920’s and the last occurred in 1953, when she killed her fifth husband by poisoning his sweet-potato pie (given my own feelings about sweet potatos, I am unlikely to die this way).

(5) Career criminal Doris Payne has been a jewel thief for more than six decades. Her most famous theft involved a $500,000.00, 10-carat diamond ring, which she stole from a jewelry store in Monte Carlo in the 1970’s. More recently, in 2015, she allegedly stole another diamond ring valued at $33,000.00 from a store in North Carolina (at age 84!). Her modus operandi is to pretend to be a well-to-do person looking to buy jewelry. She has the clerk take out various pieces, and then somehow causes the clerk to lose track of a piece or two, which she carries away.

So as you can see, America’s grannies are a notorious bunch. Whether they’re clandestinely replacing our jello with sand, murdering rival drug lords and annoying husbands, or walking away with large diamonds, they clearly represent a danger to us all. But hopefully, VOGUE will help. By shining a light on a few bad (Granny Smith) apples, we’ll soon have you convinced that the whole barrel is spoiled. At least that’s what they tell me at DHS.

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A recent case from Florida has raised concern in the asylum-seeker community. On April 26, Marco Coello, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, went to his interview at the Miami Asylum Office. Instead of meeting with an officer to discuss his case, he was detained by Homeland Security officers.

If you see these guys at your asylum interview, it’s probably a bad sign.

Fortunately, for Mr. Coello, he was released the next day, after various people–including Senator Marco Rubio–intervened on his behalf. An ICE spokesman said that he was detained “because he has a misdemeanor criminal conviction and had stayed in the U.S. longer than his visa allowed.”

I contacted Mr. Coello’s attorney, Elizabeth Blandon, and learned that his conviction was for trespassing (he was originally charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana). I also learned that the Asylum Office issued a letter on the day of his arrest stating that the case had been sent to the Immigration Court. In fact, Mr. Coello’s case is not with the court, and the issue of jurisdiction (i.e., who will hear his case–an Asylum Officer or an Immigration Judge) is yet to be worked out. Until that happens, his case remains in limbo.

Frankly, it is unclear to me why ICE detained Mr. Coello. His conviction was for a minor violation, which is probably not even a deportable offense. One possibility is that ICE targeted him due to the mistaken belief that he had more than one misdemeanor conviction (trespassing and marijuana possession). Another, more conspiracy-minded, possibility is that ICE arrested Mr. Coello because he was a well-known activist from Venezuela. As the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated, the number of asylum cases from that country has soared. Currently, Venezuelans are filing more affirmative asylum applications than people from any other country. Maybe ICE wanted to send a message in an effort to intimidate potential Venezuelan applicants and stem the tide of cases from that troubled country. Normally, I tend to shy away from such conspiracy theories, but in this case, where the applicant is well-known in his community, I am not so sure.

Mr. Coello’s case is not the only instance of an asylum seeker being detained since President Trump took office, and rumors have been swirling about the new hard-line approach of his Administration. We have heard reports about an HIV-positive Russian asylum seeker, who was detained after visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands and then returning to the mainland (the problem here is probably that a person must go through customs to enter the U.S. from the USVI, and he did not get Advance Parole before leaving and trying to return). He was held for a month before being released. There have also been examples of ICE officials arresting asylum seekers who have been charged with crimes when they appear in criminal court. (And of course, there are the thousands of asylum seekers who arrive via the Mexican border without a visa and who are detained when they request asylum–but this began en masse long before President Trump’s time).

It’s not just asylum seekers who are being detained. Aliens applying for other USCIS benefits have also been arrested. For example, there were five cases where immigrants were notified to appear for USCIS interviews, and were then detained when they arrived at the USCIS office. Apparently, all five had prior deportation orders from Immigration Judges. There’s also the case of a woman who was arrested at a courthouse after filing a protective order against her ex-boyfriend. According to one news source, the woman had an extensive criminal history and had illegally re-entered the United States after being deported.

In addition to all this, there is the now-famous (at least in immigration circles) case from February of a domestic flight from San Francisco to New York where ICE agents checked IDs for everyone disembarking the plane (ICE claims that the searches were “consensual”). Supposedly, ICE was searching for an alien with a criminal record. Turns out, he wasn’t even on the flight.

So what does all this mean? Do asylum seekers risk arrest when they appear for their interview? Or when they show up for a court hearing? Or when they travel domestically? The short answer, at least for now, is no, no, and no.

First, except for the person returning from the USVI, the common denominator in the above cases is that all the aliens had a criminal conviction and/or a deportation order. If you do not have a criminal record or a removal order, there is no reason to believe that ICE will detain you if you appear for an appointment, court date or domestic flight. Indeed, except for the examples above involving criminal convictions and deportation orders, I have not heard about any asylum applicants being detained.

If you do have a criminal conviction (or even an arrest) or a removal order, then there is some risk, but it’s unclear exactly how to assess that risk. How likely is it that a person with a criminal record or removal order will be detained if they appear for an interview? Does the likelihood of detention increase with the severity of the criminal conduct? I do not know, and I am not confident that the few examples discussed above help us evaluate the chance of trouble. But given that there is some risk, it seems worthwhile for anyone with a criminal conviction or a removal order to consult with an attorney before going to an appointment with USCIS.

If I had a conviction or a deportation order, and I was scheduled for an asylum or other USCIS interview, I would want to know a few things from my lawyer. First, I would want to know the likelihood of obtaining the benefit that I have applied for. If my case is very weak and unlikely to succeed, maybe I would be less willing to appear for an interview where I risked detention. Also, I would want to know how seriously the government views my criminal conduct. If the conviction is very minor, I would expect that the likelihood of ICE detention is low (but maybe not, as Mr. Coello’s trespassing conviction illustrates). If the conviction is serious–and many convictions subject an alien to mandatory detention–I would want to know that too. In fact, I would want to know all this before I even apply for asylum or other immigration benefit. Why start the process when it is unlikely I will be able to successfully complete it, especially if applying for the benefit exposes me to possible arrest?

Every person must make his or her own decision, weighing the risk and reward of applying for an immigration benefit. But if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, or if you already have a deportation order, it would be wise to talk to a lawyer before you file an application or attend an interview with USCIS.

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Expediting a Case in Immigration Court

by Jason Dzubow on April 20, 2017

For the last few years, the “hot topic” in asylum has been the backlog–the very long delays caused by too many applicants and too few adjudicators. I recently wrote about the backlog at the Asylum Office and what can be done to expedite a case. One commenter suggested that I write a post about expediting cases in Immigration Court, and since I aim to please, here it is.

Courts are still wrapping up the last of Justice Marshall’s immigration cases.

The first thing to note is that the backlog in Immigration Court is huge. According to recent data, there are over 542,000 cases pending in court (not all of these cases are asylum). The average wait time for a case in Immigration Court is 677 days. The slowest court is Colorado, where wait times average 994 days. That’s a long time, especially if you are separated from family members while your case is pending. For what it’s worth, I have previously written about some ideas for reducing the wait time in Immigration Court (you will be shocked to learn that EOIR has not yet contacted me to implement these ideas!).

Second, advancing a case is not easy. The Immigration Court Practice Manual, page 101, specifically notes that, “Motions to advance are disfavored.” The motion should “completely articulate the reasons for the request and the adverse consequences if the hearing date is not advanced.” Health problems or separation from family may good reasons to advance. I discuss these and other possible reasons here (the post relates to affirmative asylum cases, but the same logic applies).

Third, expediting a case in Immigration Court is not as straightforward as expediting a case at the Asylum Office. There are different approaches that you can take, depending on the posture of your case. For advancing a case (and for the case itself), it is very helpful to have the assistance of an attorney. Indeed, according to TRAC Immigration, 91% of unrepresented asylum applicants in Immigration Court have their cases denied (whether they get other relief, like Withholding of Removal, I do not know). If you can afford a lawyer (or find one for free), it will be to your benefit in expediting and winning your asylum case in court.

OK, before we get to the various approaches for advancing a court case, let’s start with a bit of background. A case commences in Immigration Court when the Notice to Appear–or NTA–is filed with the court. The NTA lists the reasons why the U.S. government believes it can deport (or, in the more bowdlerized parlance of our time, “remove”) someone from the United States. After the court receives the NTA, it schedules the alien for an initial hearing, called a Master Calendar Hearing (“MCH”). At the MCH, the alien–hopefully with the help of an attorney–tells the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) whether the allegations in the NTA are admitted or denied, and whether the alien agrees that he can be deported. In most asylum cases, the alien admits that he is deportable, and then informs the Judge that his defense to deportation is his claim for asylum. The IJ then schedules the alien for a Merits Hearing (also called an Individual Hearing), where the alien can present his application for asylum, and either receive asylum (or some other relief) or be ordered deported from the United States. Depending where in this process your case is, the procedures to expedite vary.

If you have the NTA, but the MCH is not yet scheduled: In some cases, the alien receives an NTA, but then waits many months before the MCH is scheduled. In this case, the delay usually lies with DHS (Department of Homeland Security), which issues the NTAs and files them with the Court, rather than with the Court itself. The Immigration Court has an automated number that you can call to check whether your case is scheduled for a hearing date. The phone number is 1-800-898-7180. Follow the prompts and enter your nine-digit Alien number (also called an “A number”). The system will tell you whether your case is scheduled and the date of the next hearing.

If the system indicates that your “A-number was not found,” this probably means that the NTA has not yet been submitted to the Court. Contact the local DHS/ICE Office of the Chief Counsel and talk to the attorney on duty. Perhaps that person can help get the NTA filed with the Court, so the case can begin.

If your A-number is in the system, but there is no MCH scheduled, contact the Immigration Court directly to ask the clerk for an update. If the Court has the case, it may be possible to file a motion (a formal request) to schedule the case. However, if an IJ is not yet assigned to the case, such a request may disappear into the void once it is filed. Most lawyers (including me) would generally not file a motion until a Judge is assigned, as it is probably a waste of time, but maybe it is possible to try this, if your lawyer is willing.

While you are waiting for the Court to docket your case (i.e., give you a court date), you can gather evidence and complete your affidavit. That way, once the case is on the schedule, you will be ready to file your documents and ask to expedite.

If the MCH is scheduled: Sometimes, MCHs are scheduled months–or even years–in the future. If your case is assigned to an IJ and you have a MCH date, there are a couple options for expediting.

First, you can file a motion to advance the date of the MCH. If the MCH is sooner, the final (Merits) hearing will be sooner as well. Whether the IJ will grant the motion and give you an earlier appointment is anyone’s guess. Some IJs (and their clerks) are good about this; others, not so much.

Second, you can request to do the MCH in writing (in lieu of attending the hearing in-person). Check the Immigration Court Practice Manual, pages 70 to 72, for information about filing written pleadings. If the Judge allows this, you can avoid attending the MCH and go directly to the Merits Hearing. Just be sure that your affidavit and all supporting documents are submitted, so you are ready to go if and when the IJ schedules you for a final hearing.

Many attorney, including me, do not like filing motions to advance the MCH or motions for a written MCH. The reason is because they often do not work, and so what happens is this: You prepare and file the motion, call the Court several times, and ultimately have to attend the MCH anyway. When lawyers spend time doing extra work, it is fair for them to charge the client additional money. So don’t be surprised if your lawyer tells you that filing a motion will cost extra.

At the MCH: Typically, when you go to the MCH, the IJ gives you the first date available on her calendar for a Merits Hearing. But there are a few things you can do to try to get the earliest possible date.

One thing is to complete the entire case (the affidavit and all supporting documents) and give them to the IJ at the MCH. That way, if there happens to be an early opening, you can take the date (and sometimes, IJs do have early dates–for example, if another case has been cancelled). Many lawyers (again, including me) don’t love this because it requires us to do all the work in advance, and it often does not help. Don’t be surprised if the lawyer wants to charge extra for getting the work done early (many lawyers–and other humans–prefer to put off until tomorrow what we do not need to do today).

Second, you (or your lawyer) can try to talk to the DHS attorney prior to the MCH to see whether any issues in the case can be narrowed (usually, it is not possible to talk to DHS about the substance of the case prior to the MCH, as they have not yet reviewed the file). If that happens, maybe you will need less time to present the case, and you can tell the IJ that you expect a relatively short Merits Hearing. It may be easier for the IJ to find a one-hour opening on his calendar than a three hour opening (normally IJs reserve a three-hour time slot for asylum cases), and so you may end up with an earlier date. Even if you cannot talk with the DHS attorney, you can tell the IJ that you expect to complete the case in an hour and try to convince him to give you an earlier date, if he has one.

Third, if you have a compelling reason for seeking an earlier Merits Hearing, tell the IJ. If you have evidence demonstrating the need for an earlier date, give it to the IJ. Maybe the Judge will not have an earlier date available immediately, but at least he can keep the situation in mind and accommodate you if an earlier date opens up.

Finally, if you simply arrive early at the MCH and get in line, you may end up with an earlier Merits Hearing date than if you show up late to the MCH since IJs usually give out their earlier dates first.

After the MCH, but before the Merits Hearing: Waiting times between the MCH and the Merits Hearing are very variable, depending on the Immigration Judge’s schedule. Assuming that the IJ has given you the first available Merits Hearing date (which is normal – see the previous section), there is not much point in requesting an earlier date immediately after the MCH. Maybe if you wait a few months and if luck is on your side, a spot will open up and your request will be granted. Or–if the Judge has an effective clerk–you can file a motion to advance, and the clerk will save it until a spot opens up for you.

Another possibility is to talk to the DHS attorney to see whether issues can be narrowed, which might make it more likely that the case can be advance (see the previous section).

Some words of caution: Keep in mind that the Immigration Court system is a mess. Judges come and go. Priorities shift, which sometimes causes cases to be moved. It is quite common for court dates to change. Even if you do nothing, a far-off date may be rescheduled to an earlier day, or an upcoming hearing might be delayed. If you successfully advance your court date, it is possible that the Court will later rescheduled your case to a more distant date (this happened to us once). It is difficult to remain patient (and sane) through it all, but maybe being aware of this reality will somehow help.

Also, remember to make sure that your biometrics (fingerprints) are up to date. If not, you may arrive at the Merits Hearing only to have it delayed because the background checks were not complete.

Finally, do not give up. Immigration Judges are human. If they see a compelling reason to expedite a case, most of them will try to help. Explain your situation to the Judge, or let your lawyer explain, and maybe you will end up with an earlier date.

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The community of asylum seekers (people waiting for their asylum cases) has grown exponentially over the past few years. Across the U.S., something like 540,000 people–including many asylum seekers–are waiting for their Immigration Court cases, and over 150,000 otehrs are waiting for their cases to be decided by the Asylum Office. Because this “backlog” is relatively new, there is a dearth of services available for such asylum applicants. A new non-profit aims to help fill that gap.

There are more people in the backlog than in Cleveland, Ohio (and which group is worse off, I am not sure).

The Asylum Seeker Assistance Project (“ASAP”) is a community-based nonprofit providing comprehensive services to support the estimated 50,000 individuals pursing asylum in the Washington, DC-Metro region. The group launched in 2016 and received its 501(c)(3) non-profit status earlier this week (so donations are tax deductible). Its mission is to provide services that support the safety, stability, and economic security of asylum seekers and their families. ASAP’s programs include:

Employment: ASAP’s employment program combines individualized career planning, 30-hours of job readiness training, and job placement services to address common employment barriers encountered by asylum seekers. The goal is to equip asylum seekers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to secure and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.

Community: ASAP’s community program facilitates opportunities for asylum seekers to connect with each other, ASAP volunteers, and the larger community. The group also maintains a list of asylees willing and able to provide support and guidance to newly arrived asylum seekers.

Legal: ASAP offers asylum law trainings, legal information sessions, and “Know Your Rights” workshops on demand to clients, attorneys, law students, and community partners. ASAP can also provide targeted referrals to pro bono and low bono immigration legal service providers.

Outreach: ASAP conducts educational awareness events co-facilitated by asylum seekers and asylees. The organization has given talks and presentations to audiences ranging from elementary school-aged children to adults. By engaging audiences of all ages, ASAP works to plant the seeds of social change.

Social Services (Coming 2018): ASAP works with clients to create a comprehensive assessment of their life in the U.S. in order to identify client needs, recognize strengths, and prioritize goals. ASAP works with a coalition of community partners to provide information, resources, and referrals to ensure client safety and stability.

To celebrate this new organization and to congratulate ASAP’s first class of asylum seekers who will have completed an intensive one-week job readiness training, the group is holding an event called Together We Rise: A Family-Friendly Celebration on April 29, 2017 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM in Bethesda, Maryland. You can sign up for this free event, or make donations, here. The celebration will include food and friends, and activities for the younger guests, such as face-painting, fishing for ducks in a “pond,” and henna art.

To learn more about the party and ASAP, visit the group’s Facebook page here, or email them at [email protected]. Also, if you would like to make a donation to this worthy cause, please contact them at [email protected].

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E. Scott Lloyd has been named Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the office at the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with assisting refugees resettle in the United States. Mr. Lloyd’s background includes government service, work in the private sector, and a strong devotion to conservative Christian causes.

Scott Lloyd, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Mr. Lloyd got his start helping his law school professor represent the parents of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state. The case pitted Ms. Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian against Ms. Schiavo’s parents:

Schiavo’s husband argued that Schiavo would not have wanted prolonged artificial life support without the prospect of recovery, and elected to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo’s parents argued in favor of continuing artificial nutrition and hydration and challenged Schiavo’s medical diagnosis. The highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges presented by her parents caused a seven-year delay before Schiavo’s feeding tube was ultimately removed [in 2005, leading to her death].

Mr. Lloyd built on this experience by assisting Americans United for Life (the self-described “legal architect of the pro-life movement”) to develop a policy on end-of-life issues. He also helped a Congressional Subcommittee prepare for a hearing and issue a report on the “chemical abortion drug” RU-486.

In 2010, Mr. Lloyd co-founded a law firm called Legal Works Apostolate, “a full-service law firm providing effective representation and counsel, informed by the particular concerns of families and institutions that must navigate the ‘thickets of the law’ while remaining faithful to Church teaching.” All of the firm’s attorneys and staff “undertake or persist only in work that is consistent with our deep and abiding concern for the right to life and the sacramental nature of marriage.”

Immediately prior to his job at ORR, Mr. Lloyd was employed by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization, where he focused on assisting Christian refugees and other religious minorities persecuted by ISIS. As an organization, the KoC has expressed pro-immigrant views. For example, in 2006 (before Mr. Lloyd’s time), the KoC called upon “the President and the U.S. Congress to agree upon immigration legislation that not only gains control over the process of immigration, but also rejects any effort to criminalize those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants, and provides these immigrants an avenue by which they can emerge from the shadows of society and seek legal residency and citizenship in the U.S.” The organization has also been politically active, particularly in campaigns across the U.S. against gay marriage.

In addition to his day jobs, Mr. Lloyd has been an active volunteer in the pro-life movement. He is on the Board of Directors of the Front Royal Pregnancy Center, an organization that provides “counseling” related to unwanted pregnancies. He is also a founder of Witness Works, which aims to build a “culture of life.” In addition, he contributes to various pro-life publications, including Human Life International (“Contraception: The root of the Culture of Death”) and Veritatis Splendor, where he writes, “The Supreme Court, when it claimed to recognize for women the ‘right’ to abortion on demand, simultaneously stripped the fathers of these children of their right to be parents, and other associated rights” and “LifeSiteNews provides this nice criticism exposing the logical bankruptcy of [Maryland] Governor O’Malley’s support for so-called ‘gay marriage.’” In another article, Mr. Lloyd references the “radical secularists” who opposed the display of a cross on government land. He also has a piece in the National Catholic Register, where he bemoans the high failure rate of contraception and opposes taxpayer-funding for birth control. Mr. Lloyd writes, “I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I [the taxpayer] am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does. You will put the baby up for adoption if you don’t want him or her.”

So what we have in Mr. Lloyd is a man who has devoted himself to the pro-life cause, who seems to oppose “so-called” gay marriage and “radical secularists,” and who has worked to help Christian and other minority-religion refugees (as opposed to Muslim refugees) in the Middle East. Whether any of this is relevant to his new position as Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, I do not know. But I can’t help but feel concerned that Mr. Lloyd’s narrow focus on “Christian issues” leaves some doubt about his commitment to the wide and diverse group of refugees and resettlement agencies he is now expected to serve.

More troubling than Mr. Lloyd’s experience, though, is his lack of experience. It seems he graduated from law school in 2007, and then worked for most of his career on pro-life issues. He formed the Legal Works Apostolate law firm in 2010 and then sometime thereafter he worked for the Knights of Columbus on Christian refugee issues (as best as I can tell, Mr. Lloyd was working on contraception issues with the KoC by early 2012). Indeed, Mr. Lloyd’s sparse government profile provides no dates, so it is unclear how much experience he actually has. And with regards to his time at KoC, we’re told only that he “served as an attorney in the Public Policy office.” It’s not even clear that his primary duties at KoC involved refugees.

All this begs the question, how is Mr. Lloyd qualified to direct the Office of Refugee Resettlement? What experience has he actually had with refugees? Or with running a large organization that has an annual budget in excess of $1.5 billion (though presumably the budget will be cut significantly under President Trump)?

Also, in a properly-functioning democracy, one would hope that appointed government experts would have the knowledge and the courage to speak truth to power. Does Mr. Lloyd have the breadth and depth of experience necessary to advocate for refugees? Will he stand up to Trump Administration officials who falsely characterize refugees as terrorists and criminals? Will he be able (and willing) to stand up for Muslim refugees, and dispute the many false stories vilifying them? And what about LGBT refugees? Given his history opposing gay rights, will he treat LGBT refugees with the respect and compassion that they need and deserve?

Perhaps I am too skeptical of Mr. Lloyd. He clearly has demonstrated compassion for certain vulnerable populations, and that compassion may very well extend beyond his prior areas of interest. His challenge will be to expand that circle of compassion to include people who he has not previously served. Christian teaching commands “love your enemy.” And Proverbs states, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” And of course, the Torah reminds us again and again to welcome the stranger. If Mr. Lloyd takes these admonitions seriously, he may well prove my skepticism wrong. I certainly hope so.

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These days, the estimated wait time for an affirmative asylum case is somewhere between eternity and forever. It can best be expressed numerically as ∞. Or maybe as ∞ + 1. In other words, affirmative asylum cases take a long damn time. (OK, to be fair, you can get some idea about the actual wait time here).

Asylum seekcars waiting for their interview.

For some people, this wait is more of a problem than for others. For example, if your spouse and children are outside the United States waiting for you, and especially if they are living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, the wait can be intolerable. A growing number of people are abandoning their cases simply because they cannot stand the separation. Others are moving to Canada, which apparently has a faster system than we have in the States. The problem is not simply that the wait is long—and the wait is long. The problem is that we cannot know how long the wait will be. Maybe the interview will come in six months; maybe in three years. Maybe the decision will come shortly after the interview; maybe it will take months or years. This unpredictability contributes to the difficulty of waiting for a resolution to the case.

For others people—single people without children or families that are all together here in the U.S.—the wait may be stressful, but it’s far more bearable. For my clients in this position, I advise them to live as if they will win their cases. What else can they do? To live under the constant stress of potential deportation is unhealthy. And the fact is, most of my clients have strong cases, and the likelihood that they will succeed it pretty high. So it is best to live as normally as possible. Find a job, start a business, buy a house or a car, go to school, make friends, get on with life. In the end, if such people need to leave the United States, they will have time to wind down their affairs and sell their belongings. For now, though, if I may quote the late, great Chuck Berry, Live like you wanna live, baby.

But what if you want to try to expedite your case? How can you maximize the chances that the Asylum Office will move your case to the front of the line?

First, before you file to expedite, you need to complete your case. The affidavit must be finished and all the evidence must be organized and properly translated (if necessary). If you expedite a case and the case is not complete, it could result in real problems. For example, I once had a client put himself on a short list without telling me. Then one day, an Asylum Officer called me and said that they wanted to schedule his interview for the following week. The problem was, the evidence was not submitted (or even gathered) and the affidavit was not done. The client insisted on going forward, and so (while I helped with interview preparation), I withdrew from the case. I did not want to remain affiliated with a case that was not properly put together, and I did not want to represent a person who took action on his case without informing me. In general, there is no value in expediting a case only to lose because you are not prepared for the interview, so make sure your case is complete before you try to expedite.

Second, you need a good reason to expedite. Remember, you are asking to jump your case ahead of hundreds–maybe thousands–of people who are also waiting for their asylum interview. Why should the Asylum Office allow you to do that? One common reason is that the applicant has a health problem (physical or mental). If that is your reason, get a letter from the doctor. Also, provide some explanation for how an early resolution of the asylum case might help improve your health situation (for example, maybe you have a health problem that is exacerbated by the stress of a pending case).

Another common reason to expedite (and in my opinion, the most legitimate reason to expedite) is separation from family members, especially if those family members are living under difficult or dangerous circumstances. If an asylum applicant wins her case, she can file petitions to bring her spouse and her minor, unmarried children to the United States. Many people come to the U.S. to seek asylum not for themselves, but because they fear for the safety of their family. Since it is so difficult to get a U.S. visa, it’s common to see asylum seekers who leave their family members behind, in the hope that they can win asylum and bring their family members later. So when the wait for an interview (never mind a decision) is measured in years, that’s a real hardship. For our asylum-seeker clients with pending applications, we have seen cases where their children were attacked in the home country, where family members went into hiding, where children could not attend school or get medical treatment, where families were stuck in third countries, etc., etc., etc. Such problems can form the basis for an expedite request.

To expedite for such a reason, get evidence of the problem. That evidence could be a doctor’s note for a medical problem or an injury, or a police report if a family member was attacked or threatened. It could be a letter from a teacher that the child cannot attend school. It could be letters from the family members themselves explaining the hardship, or letters from other people who know about the problems (for advice on writing a good letter, see this article). Also, sometimes family members receive threat letters or their property is vandalized. Submit copies of such letters or photos of property damage. It is very important to submit letters and evidence in support of the expedite request. Also, remember to include evidence of the family relationship–marriage certificate or birth certificates of children–to show how the person is related to the principal asylum applicant.

There are other reasons to request an expedited interview: Until an asylum case is granted, applicants may not be able to get certain jobs, they cannot qualify for in-state tuition, they face the general stress of not knowing whether they can stay. While these issues can be quite difficult to deal with, I think that they do not compare to the hardships suffered by people separated from family members. Indeed, if I were in charge of the Asylum Division, I would allow expedited interviews only in cases of family separation.

Once your case is complete and you have gathered evidence in support of the expedite request, you need to submit the request and evidence to the Asylum Office. Different offices have different procedures for expediting. You can contact your Asylum Office to ask about the procedure. Contact information for the various Asylum Offices can be found here.

One last point about expediting asylum cases: The system for expediting cases is not well-developed, meaning that sometimes, a strong request will be denied or a weak request will be granted. There definitely seems to be an element of luck involved in the expedite request process. But of course, unless you try to expedite, you can’t get your case expedited. If an initial request is denied, you can gather more evidence and try again (and again). At least in my experience, most–but not all–cases where there was a good reason to expedite were, in fact, expedited.

Besides expediting asylum cases, it is also possible to put your case on the “short list,” which may result in an earlier interview date. You can learn more about that and a few other ideas here.

It is still unclear how changes in the new Administration might affect the speed of asylum cases, but I doubt that the asylum backlog is going away any time soon. In that case, for many people, the only options are to learn to live with the delay or–if there is a good reason–to ask for an expedited interview and then to hope for the best.

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Answering the Impossible Question

by Jason Dzubow on March 23, 2017

Possibly the most common question I hear at initial consultations with asylum seekers is, “What are the chances that I will win my case?” It’s a reasonable question. People want to know the likelihood of success before they start any endeavor. The problem is, it’s impossible to answer this question. Why is that?

The other Impossible Question: “Does this dress make me look fat?”

One reason is mathematical. Probabilities are tricky to calculate and even more tricky to understand. Also, it is very hard to apply probabilities in a meaningful way to a single event. What does it mean, for example, when the weather report shows a 30% chance of rain? If you run 100 computer simulations of the weather, it will rain 30 times. But in the real world, it will either rain or it won’t. The problem is that we do not have complete information to start with, and that there are too many variables to predict precisely how the weather will evolve over time. Without sufficient information, we have to approximate, and we are left with a range of possible outcomes and probabilities. As Niels Bohr observed, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

Another difficulty is that predicting case outcomes involves human beings, and we are a notoriously capricious species. At the outset of a case, the lawyer may not know whether the client can get needed evidence, or whether she can remember her testimony, or how a witness will behave. Also, the lawyer may not know who the fact finder will be (with Immigration Court cases, we usually know in advance; for Asylum Office cases, we never know until the day of the interview). Also, what if the fact finder is in a particularly good or bad mood on the day of the case? Or what if she is hungry during the case (one Israeli study famously correlated favorable parole decisions to whether the judge had recently eaten lunch!)? These “human factors” can greatly affect the decision, and few of them can be known in advance, which again makes predicting difficult.

That’s not to say we know nothing about the likelihood of success. For Immigration Court cases, there is data available about the grant rates of individual Judges. Also, there is some data available about Asylum Office grant rates. Of course, all of this is very general and does not necessarily bear much relationship to the likely outcome in a given individual’s case, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

As a lawyer, once you get a sense for asylum cases, you can at least give the client some idea about the outcome. I can tell a strong case from a weak case, for example. If the client has a lot of credible evidence, has suffered past persecution on account of a protected ground, and faces some likelihood of future harm, the client has a strong case. The most I will say to such a prospective client is that, “If the adjudicator believes that you are telling the truth, you should win your case.” I might also say that since the corroborating evidence is strong, it is likely that the adjudicator will believe the claim.

I do think there is a basic human desire behind the question about the chances for success, and that is the desire for certainty. Asylum cases now take years, and it is very difficult to live your life for so long under the threat of deportation. When the clients ask about the likelihood of success, I know part of what they want is reassurance. Even if the case is weak, they want to feel like they have a chance. They want to feel that what they are building in the U.S. while they wait for a decision will not all be lost. How, then, do we balance the need for certainty with providing an honest evaluation of the case?

For my clients, I try to give them both honesty and hope. In the beginning, I give the client my honest assessment of the case and the likelihood of success. Knowing my assessment (whether it is good or bad), if the client decides to go forward, my focus shifts to creating the strongest case possible with the facts and evidence available, and to helping reassure the clients so they feel some hope. I try to encourage the client to do what is within their power to make the case better: Gather evidence, talk to witnesses, find experts, etc. At least this helps empower the client a bit, and it gives them some agency over their case outcome.

Different lawyers do things differently, and there are probably many “right” ways to balance realism and hope. There are also wrong ways. Any lawyer who “guarantees” you will win an asylum case is a lawyer you should avoid. No lawyer can guarantee a win because we do not make the decisions–the government does. Also, lawyers who make dubious promises (“I am good friends with your Judge, so I can get you a quicker hearing date”) are probably lying to get your business. Be careful, and remember that offers that seem too good to be true probably are. For all its flaws, the American immigration system is largely free from corruption. Lawyers don’t have special relationships with adjudicators that can change outcomes or speed adjudication. When a lawyer oversells hope at the expense of realism, you are safer to seek a different attorney; one who is more interested in telling the truth than in selling you his services.

So when a prospective client asks me the chances for success, I’ll try to give the best evaluation I can, so that the person can make an informed choice about whether to file an asylum case. Once the case is started, I will try to address weakness and gather evidence to maximize the chances for a win. I will also try to encourage the client, so that she has some hope during the long wait.

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Following the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where the husband-and-wife perpetrators had purportedly become radicalized via the internet, Congress requested that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) take steps to better investigate the social media accounts of immigrant applicants (the husband was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani decent; his wife was a lawful permanent resident from Pakistan). In response, DHS established a task force and several pilot programs to expand social media screening of people seeking immigration benefits and U.S. visas. DHS also approved creation of a Social Media Center of Excellence, which would conduct social media background checks for the various DHS departments. The Center of Excellence would “set standards for social media use in relevant DHS operations while ensuring privacy and civil rights and civil liberties protections.”

The director of the Center of Excellence, Bill S. Preston, Esquire.

Last month, the DHS Office of Inspector General released a (clumsily) redacted report detailing the efficacy of DHS’s efforts and making suggestions. Due to the incomplete redaction job, it seems likely that the pilot program focused on refugees and perhaps asylum seekers, but the plan is to expand the program to cover all types of immigration benefits.

The goal of the pilot program was to help develop policies and processes for the standardized use of social media department-wide. “USCIS had previously used social media in a limited capacity, but had no experience using it as a large-scale screening tool.” The pilot program relied on manual and automated searches of social media accounts to “determine whether useful information for adjudicating refugee applications could be obtained.” It seems that the ability of DHS to investigate social media accounts was limited by technology: At the time the pilot program was launched in 2016, “neither the private sector nor the U.S. Government possessed the capabilities for large-scale social media screening.”

In one portion of the pilot program, applicants were asked to “voluntarily” give their social media user names. USCIS then “assessed identified accounts to determine whether the refugees were linked to derogatory social media information that could impact their eligibility for immigration benefits or admissibility into the United States.”

DHS has also been looking into social media, email, and other computer files of people entering or leaving the United States, including U.S. citizens, and this inquiry is far from voluntary. There have been numerous recent reports of DHS Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) agents demanding passwords for cell phones and computers. The number of people subject to such searches increased significantly at the end of the Obama Administration, and seems to be further increasing under President Trump. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the large majority of people targeted for these searches are Muslim.

All this means that DHS may be looking at your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. to determine whether you pose a threat and (possibly) to assess your credibility. They might also gain access to your email and other information stored on your computer or your cell phone. This data could then be used to evaluate your eligibility for immigration benefits, including asylum.

On the one hand, it seems reasonable that DHS would want to look into social media and other on-line material. After all, it is well-known that terrorists rely on the internet to spread their messages, and as DHS notes, “As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP.” Also, most immigration benefits are discretionary, meaning that even if you qualify for them, the U.S. government can deny them in the exercise of discretion. Therefore, if DHS “requests” certain information as part of the application process, and the applicant fails to provide it, DHS can deny the benefit as a matter of discretion.

On the other hand, the inter-connectivity of the on-line world could yield evidence of relationships that do not actually exists. For example, one study estimates that Facebook users (all 1.6 billion of them) are connected to each other by 3.57 degrees of separation. That means there are–on average–only 3.57 people between you and Osama bin Laden (assuming he still maintains his Facebook page). But of course, it is worse than that, since there are many terrorist suspects on Facebook, not just one (Osama bin Laden). So if you are from a terrorist-producing country, it’s likely that suspected terrorists are separated from you by less than 3.57 degrees of separation. Presumably, DHS would take these metrics into account when reviewing on-line data, but you can see the problem–your on-line profile may indicate you have a relationship with someone with whom you have no relationship at all.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

First, don’t be paranoid. It’s nothing new for DHS or other government agencies to search your on-line profile. Since everything posted on-line is, at least in a sense, public, you should be discrete about what you post, and you should be aware that anyone–including the U.S. government–could be reading it.

What’s more problematic is when CBP seizes electronic devices at the border and then reviews emails and other confidential information. This is extremely intrusive and an invasion of privacy. There is also an argument that it violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful searches, but generally, people coming and gong from the U.S. have less protection than people in the interior (though I imagine that as CBP steps up the practice, we will see lawsuits that further define Fourth Amendment rights at the border). Knowing that you could be subject to such a search at least enables you to prepare yourself. Don’t travel with devices if you don’t want them searched. Be careful what you store on your devices and in the cloud.

Also, if you think you have problematic on-line relationships or derogatory on-line information, be prepared to explain yourself and present evidence if the issue comes up.

On-line information can affect an asylum or immigration case in more subtle ways. For example, if you state in your application that you attended a protest on a particular date, make sure you got the date correct–DHS may be able to find out the date of the protest, and if your account of events does not match the on-line information, it could affect your credibility. The same is true for more personal information. For instance, if your asylum application indicates you attended high school from 1984 to 1987, that should match any available information on the internet. Mostly, this simply requires that you take care to accurately complete your immigration forms, so that there are no inconsistencies with data available on-line.

Again, it’s not really news that DHS is reviewing social media and other on-line information. It does appear that such practices will become more common, but as long as applicants are aware of what is happening, they can prepare for it.

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Earlier this week, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (“EO”) to replace one of his prior orders, which was largely blocked by the federal courts. The new EO, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, temporarily bans certain nationals of six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and reduces the total number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle in FY 2017. Whether the new ban can withstand court scrutiny, and how it will ultimately effect who can come to our country, remains to be seen.

“My favorite four-letter word.”

For those foreigners already in the United States, the new ban has little legal effect. The immigration status of permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and asylum seekers remains essentially untouched. One possible exception is for family members of asylees and refugees who are hoping to come to the U.S. on a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (form I-730). Such relatives from the six “banned” nations–Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen–may be ineligible for a visa for a 90-day period. However, even this is unclear, as the EO provides a number of exceptions for nationals of banned countries, and such relatives may be entitled to an exception (depending on how you read the EO).

So for non-citizens in the U.S., including those from banned countries, the EO has almost no effect on their legal status here. That’s not to say that the EO has no effect–it certainly does. But that effect relates to the message the EO sends and the psychological damage it inflicts on Muslims and on non-citizens. Indeed, for this population, the effects of the anti-terrorism EO are similar to the effects of an actual terrorist attack in certain key ways.

Like a terrorist attack, the number of people directly impacted by the EO is much smaller than the number of people terrorized by it. The new EO is very narrowly tailored, so much so that it almost does not make sense. For example, the Administration claims that vetting for the six banned countries is insufficient. Yet the order allows nationals of those countries who already have visas to come to the United States. If there is a problem with the vetting, shouldn’t all the “improperly” vetted visas be revoked? Presumably, the Administration wants to avoid another humiliating defeat in court, but the limited scope of the EO seems to undercut the very rationale for its existence.

On the other hand, if the purpose of the EO is not really to block people from coming here, but rather to frighten people who are already here (Muslim Americans and non-citizens), the limited legal effect is less of a concern. As long as the order stands up in court–and even if it doesn’t–Mr. Trump has sent a strong message to the intended audience (really, there are two intended audiences: Mr. Trump’s supporters who want to see him fighting against “the others” and “the others” themselves, who feel targeted and excluded by the Administration’s policies). In this sense, the EO mirrors a classic terrorist tactic–limited impact (because you have insufficient resources to have a wider impact) with maximum effect (everyone in the targeted population is frightened).

And make no mistake, the EOs and the accompanying rhetoric are affecting their intended targets. Reports indicate that non-citizens and their children are under great stress due to President Trump’s words and policies. This stress can have harmful and life-long effects, especially on children. Muslims, including American citizens, have been subject to a barrage of bigoted statements from the President and his surrogates, and they are also suffering from similar types of stress. Some refugees are fleeing the United States, which they now view as unsafe, for Canada. So while the legal effect of the EOs may be small, the harm is very real, and very damaging.

Mr. Trump’s EOs are similar to terrorism in another important way: They help create a vicious cycle. Terrorists rarely have the power to conquer territory. Instead, the purpose of their attacks is to draw a response. Unless the response is careful and precise (a rarity), it can cause further alienation and anger, thus driving more people into the terrorists’ camp–a vicious cycle. In the case of the EOs, they help justify the narrative that groups like ISIS have been peddling (that the United States is at war with Islam). They also frighten and alienate people living in our country, particularly Muslims and non-citizens. Since alienated and frightened people are more likely to embrace extremism, the EOs are a type of self-fulfilling prophesy: EOs push people towards extremism, extremism justifies more EOs. It’s a vicious cycle analogous to the one created by terrorism.

Finally, the EOs do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger campaign to demonize foreigners and Muslims. The whole effort of the Trump Administration towards such people is irresponsible and dangerous. It puts our country at greater risk by encouraging extremism and discouraging cooperation. But unfortunately, this Administration has proved again and again that it will not allow facts to get in the way of ideology, or sound policy advice to contradict prejudice. The new Executive Order is just the latest example of the misguided course our country is now taking. We are all less safe because of it.

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A New Type of EAD Denial

by Jason Dzubow on March 3, 2017

This article is by Ruth Dickey, a brilliant and dashing associate at Dzubow & Picher, PLLC.

During the latter part of the Obama Administration, it became common for DHS/ICE attorneys (the prosecutors) in Immigration Court to offer “prosecutorial discretion” or PD. If the applicant accepted PD and the Immigration Judge agreed, the case would be administratively closed. Basically, it would be taken off the court’s calendar and placed into a permanently pending status. Applicants with weak cases might take PD rather than risk losing their cases with the Judge and getting ordered deported.

Perhaps USCIS has a case of the Gremlins. First, they sabotaged B-17’s and P-52’s; now, they’re messing with I-765’s.

Under President Obama, PD was typically offered to people who were not enforcement priorities for ICE – that is, the person had positive factors, like long-term ties to the United States and did not have any disqualifying criminal issues. During the Obama Administration, ICE published a list of factors that prosecutors would consider when a person asked for PD. According to recent data, since 2013, almost 67,000 court cases have been administratively closed based on PD. This represents about 10% of all case closings in Immigration Court.

If your asylum case was administratively closed by an Immigration Judge, and if you had your employment authorization document (“EAD”) based on a pending asylum case, you remain eligible to renew the EAD for as long as the case is in administrative closure (theoretically, forever). This is because the case is technically still pending, and thus still “alive” for purposes of renewing the EAD.

Since Donald Trump came into office, DHS has largely done away with PD, and so we can expect to see far fewer cases administratively closed in the future. However, our office has several asylum clients whose cases were already administratively closed. They have ongoing needs, such as the need for an EAD.

One of my clients in this situation is an Unaccompanied Alien Child or UAC. UACs are people who crossed the border as minors without a parent or guardian. Such people are given additional procedural protections. For example, UACs have the right to present their asylum claims to an Asylum Office, which is a less intimidating environment than an Immigration Court. In my case, an Immigration Judge administratively closed my client’s case so she could file her case with the Asylum Office. Before the case was closed, I “lodged” her asylum application with the Court to start her “asylum clock,” which then allows her to file for an EAD (after a 150-day waiting period).

When the time came, our office prepared the EAD application (form I-765) and mailed it. Last week, we received a response denying the EAD. In its denial, USCIS referred to the applicable regulation, 8 CFR 208.7(a)(1), claiming that it said:

An applicant whose asylum application has been denied or closed by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day [clock] period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

But this is not what the regulation says. USCIS inserted the phrase “or closed” into the language of the actual regulation. The full sentence in the regulation actually reads:

An applicant whose asylum application has been denied by an asylum officer or by an immigration judge within the 150-day period shall not be eligible to apply for employment authorization.

Someone at USCIS added the words “or closed” to their quotation of the regulation, and then denied our client’s case because it had been administratively closed. The actual language of the regulation states that only denied–not closed–cases are ineligible for an EAD. The idea that USCIS would add language to the regulation in order to improperly deny someone–a UAC no less–their work permit is shocking and distressing.

I have already escalated the issue to the USCIS Ombudsman, an office that can assist with delayed or difficult USCIS cases, because the denial is so problematic. I am waiting to hear back from them, but the Ombudsman’s review process can drag out for months, and my client will not have a work permit in the meantime. This is extremely frustrating for her, especially because she is young and vulnerable (she has that UAC designation for a reason).

If your case has been administratively closed and your EAD application has been denied, please let us know. If there are others experiencing this problem, we can present the issue to USCIS and hopefully seek a resolution of this unfair and harmful practice.

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Implementing the Executive Orders: The DHS Memo

by Jason Dzubow on February 23, 2017

Earlier this week, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a memorandum describing how DHS plans to implement President Trump’s policies concerning “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.” Here, I want to discuss how this memo could affect the asylum system.

First, for people granted asylum or who have obtained their residency (green card) or citizenship through asylum, the memo has essentially no effect. The only possible exception is that DHS plans to expand the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (affectionately referred to as the FDNS), and if DHS somehow discovers that a previously-granted case was, in fact, fraudulent, it could reopen that person’s case. Also, given the Trump Administration’s stepped-up enforcement, it is a good idea to carry proof of lawful status with you at all times, just in case you are stopped by the authorities (and in many cases, non-citizens are actually required by law to carry proof of immigration status).

Shade-enfreude (defined): The pleasure one gets knowing that someone with a darker skin tone is in pain.

For people with asylum cases currently pending–before the Asylum Office or the Immigration Court–the memo also has little effect. As I have written here before, a person with a pending asylum case cannot be deported from the United States without due process of law, meaning a hearing before an Immigration Judge and an appeal. So while the atmosphere for asylum seekers has become more toxic, the substantive law and procedure remains largely the same. As mentioned above, you should carry proof of your pending status (work permit, asylum receipt, court order) with you at all times.

One possible issue for people currently in the system is more delay. The DHS memo directs USCIS “to increase the number of asylum officers and FDNS officers assigned to detention facilities located at or near the border with Mexico to properly and efficiently adjudicate credible fear and reasonable fear claims and to counter asylum-related fraud.” The memo also envisions a “joint plan with the Department of Justice to surge the deployment of immigration judges and asylum officers to interview and adjudicate claims asserted by recent border entrants.” Assigning more Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges to the border (either by physically sending them there or by having them adjudicate cases remotely), obviously means that those adjudicators will not be available to work on the hundreds of thousands of cases in the backlog, and that could mean more delay. In addition, the memo calls for hiring thousands more immigration officers, and for stepped up enforcement and detention. If all that happens, many more people will be channeled into the Immigration Court system, and unless more judges (lots more judges) are hired, the influx of people into the system will cause further delay. On the other hand, the memo also calls for expanded use of “expedited removal,” which may end up removing certain cases from the system and cause the remaining cases to move more quickly. How all this plays out, only time will tell.

Another possible issue for people with pending asylum cases is the increased focus on fraud. The Immigration and Nationality Act and the REAL ID Act, along with the Code of Federal Regulations, and case law set forth the standards for evaluating credibility. The DHS memo calls for “enhancing” asylum referrals and credible fear determinations. While this would not directly impact people with pending asylum cases (as asylum referrals and credible fear determinations occur prior to a case being sent to Immigration Court or to the Asylum Office), it might signal DHS’s intention to subject asylum cases to greater scrutiny. Also, of course, expansion of the FDNS points towards a greater focus on asylum fraud, which could impact pending cases (personally, I think DHS should be doing more to combat asylum fraud, as long as they are doing so effectively, as I discuss here).

For people inside the United States who plan to seek asylum here, but have not yet filed, the memo may affect you. If you entered lawfully with a visa, you should be able to apply for asylum as before. Indeed, even if you entered unlawfully, you should be able to seek asylum as before. However, if you entered the U.S. without inspection or based on some type of fraud (how broadly “fraud” will be interpreted is not yet known), and you are detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) before you file for asylum, you could be subject to “expedited removal.” People crossing the border illegally who get caught or who surrender to ICE agents may also be subject to expedited removal.

People facing expedited removal are permitted by law to request asylum. If they indicate a fear of harm in their country, the law requires that an Asylum Officer perform a “credible fear interview” where the person must demonstrate a “significant possibility” that they could establish eligibility for asylum. If they meet this standard, their case will be referred to an Immigration Judge for an asylum hearing. If they do not demonstrate a “significant possibility” of winning asylum, they can be removed immediately from the United States (subject to limited review by an Immigration Judge). The DHS memo indicates that the government will greatly expand the use of expedited removal, though the details of the plan have not yet been released.

As you might imagine, there are some major problems with the expedited removal process. For one, ICE officers often fail to inform aliens of their right to seek asylum (or ignore their requests to seek asylum). If this happens, people with a legitimate asylum claim may be removed from the United States before they have an opportunity to claim asylum or have a credible fear interview. The expedited removal process is quite fast and there is little chance to retain counsel and defend yourself, and no opportunity to see an Immigration Judge. In addition, the DHS memo seeks to expand the use of expedited removal and raise the evidentiary bar for credible fear interviews. All this will make it more difficult for asylum seekers who are subject to expedited removal from asserting their claims. I plan to write another post on this topic, but I will first wait for DHS to clarify its position on expedited removal (in the mean time, if you want to learn more, check out this excellent practice advisory by the American Immigration Council).

Per its campaign promises, the Trump Administration is ramping up immigration enforcement efforts. People who have won asylum, or who have already filed, are largely insulated from those efforts, and without Congressional action, it is likely to remain that way. But if you are in the United States and you plan to file for asylum, you should do so soon (at least before your lawful status expires). Remaining here lawfully is the best way to protect yourself from the Administration’s enforcement efforts.

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Hateful Words and Helpful Actions

by Jason Dzubow on February 16, 2017

After nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered on September 11, 2001, President Bush spoke to the nation and to the world. He assured us—Muslim and non-Muslim—that American was not at war with Islam. Would that President Trump had spoken similar words before instituting his immigration ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. But that is not Mr. Trump’s style.

Lord of the Zings: The President’s hateful words may be worse than his harmful EOs.

The resulting firestorm may have been pleasing to the President’s most ardent supporters, who seem to relish the sight of suffering families and damaged government institutions, but for those of us concerned about national security, morality, and the rule of law, the President’s Executive Orders (“EOs”) were a frightening development.

The problem, though, was not so much the EOs themselves, the effect of which is not immediately obvious, and in any case, portions of which have been blocked by the courts, but rather the divisive rhetoric attached to the orders. Let me explain.

The EOs, which are currently blocked by the courts, would bar nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya from entering the United States for 90 days. All refugees would be barred from entering the country for 120 days, and Syrian refugees would be barred indefinitely. On its face, this is not a Muslim ban. If you are from one of the listed countries, you are barred from entry, regardless of your religion, and if you are a Muslim person from another country, you are not barred from entry. But to me, this is a case of “That’s what it says; that’s not what it means.”

So what does it mean? First, in the context of campaign statements disparaging to Muslims, and some statements by Trump surrogates, it’s easy to see why many are interpreting the EOs as a first step towards a more general Muslim ban. Rumors are swirling that the list of countries will be expanded, to include more Muslim nations, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, the EOs direct the government to track and publish information about crimes committed by aliens, with a particular emphasis on people convicted of terrorism-related offenses, people who have been “radicalized after entry,” and “gender-based violence against women or honor killings.” Further, the EOs call for a “realignment” of refugee admissions to focus on refugees who are from a “minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” It’s hard not to view all this as targeting Muslims.

But perhaps I’ve gotten it all wrong. There have been counter-arguments advanced by the President’s defenders. After all, the EOs do not directly refer to Muslims, and the listed nations are either chaotic (Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya), malignant (Iran) or both (Sudan, Syria). Also, as the EOs require, we should be keeping track of aliens who engage in criminal behavior or who support or commit terrorism (indeed, I myself have argued for such transparency in this blog).

But here is why I don’t buy the counter-arguments and why I believe the EOs are designed to target Muslims: The President is very aware that many people view the orders as a Muslim ban, but he has said nothing to allay the fears of Muslims and immigrants in the U.S. or our Muslim allies abroad. He could easily have issued these same exact EOs and avoided the chaos by better explaining his intentions. He chose to not do that. Maybe it’s me projecting, but I can’t help but feel that he and his core staff are getting some sadistic pleasure watching the suffering and confusion that they are causing. I imagine they also view the mess they’ve made as evidence that they are fulfilling their promises to get tough on immigration and to protect the homeland.

It almost goes without saying that things could have been done differently. The ban could have been explained as a necessary and temporary policy adjustment to enhance our national security. President Trump could have expressed his sorrow that such orders were needed, and he could have reassured people that the ban was only temporary. He could also have made some positive statements about immigrants and Muslims, especially those who are serving with us in the war on terror. But he did not. So all of us are left to wonder whether this is a short-term measure targeting only the listed countries, or whether it is the beginning of something bigger. For American Muslims and immigrants, and for our allies abroad, the uncertainty of the EOs is probably worse than the EOs themselves.

The question, though, is what do we do from here? At this point, it would be naïve to expect any comforting rhetoric, or even common decency, from our President, so I think it is up to us—immigrants, advocates, and their supporters—to craft a response to the new reality.

For me, the protests are a good start. They show our solidarity and our strength (indeed, this is precisely why we held the Refugee Ball last month). There is some comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that the larger community is ready to defend you, and refugees and immigrants in our country are certainly not alone. Tens of thousands of protesters in the streets and at airports have demonstrated as much. We also see this as hundreds of elected representatives and other leaders have been speaking out in defense of our non-citizen neighbors.

Lawsuits—such as the lawsuits by the ACLU and several state governments—are also crucial. Thus far, they have blocked some of the most offensive portions of the EOs. The lawsuits show that the protections of our laws and Constitution extend to all non-citizen in our country and quite possible to some non-citizens who are outside our country. This will, I hope, provide some comfort to those in the Administration’s crosshairs.

Legislation in various states and municipalities is also important. Such action can serve to shield non-citizens from some provisions of the orders, particularly those that seek to encourage (or more accurately, coerce) local governments to help enforcement federal immigration law. They also potentially help build momentum for more positive legislative change on a national level.

Finally, volunteering to assist non-citizens–with housing, food, job search, English–helps such people integrate into our communities and feel more welcome in our country. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, you might try contacting a local non-profit organization.

While these actions cannot fully allay the fear felt by refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, Muslims, and many others in our country, they are all signs of the strong resistance President Trump faces to his policies and to his divisive world view. As we move through this difficult time, we must continue to resist hatred and work to support each other.

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Updates on the Executive Orders: The Umpire Strikes Back

by Jason Dzubow on February 6, 2017

President Trump’s Executive Orders (“EOs”) on immigration triggered a series of lawsuits that are still playing out in federal courts across the nation. The lawsuits have resulted in orders barring certain portions of the EOs, at least for the time being.

Judge James Robart: Referees helping Refugees.

For those not familiar with the U.S. system, we have three (supposedly) co-equal branches of government: The executive (the President), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (federal courts). The judicial generally acts as an umpire or referee, making sure that the other branches play by the rules, or in this case, the Constitution and laws of the United States. What has been happening with the EOs is that the President is asserting his authority over immigration (and the President does have broad authority over immigration), but he is constrained by the U.S. Constitution and the existing immigration law. The lawsuits argue that the President has overstepped his authority, and so far, most courts have agreed to issue preliminary orders blocking the EOs, at least until the courts can more fully analyze whether the orders comply with the law.

Probably the broadest decision thus far issued was by a U.S. District Judge in Seattle, James Robart. The lawsuit was brought by Washington State and the state of Minnesota in their role as “parens patriae of the residents living in their borders.” The decision temporary stays several key portions of the EO related to terrorism based on the Judge’s conclusion that the states’ lawsuit was likely to succeed on the merits and that the states face “immediate and irreparable injury” as a result of the EOs. Specifically, the Judge found that the EO “adversely affects the States’ residents in the areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel.” In addition, the Judge found that, “the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injuries to the States’ operations, tax bases, and public funds.” Thus, the Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the EO. The order blocks portions of the EO nationwide, and will remain in effect until the Court can reach a decision on the merits of the lawsuit (or until it is overturned by a higher court).

The President, through the Department of Justice, filed an appeal, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has thus far refused to overturn the District Judge’s order. So what does all this mean?

First, according to its website, USCIS “continues to adjudicate applications and petitions filed for or on behalf of individuals in the United States regardless of their country of origin, and applications and petitions of lawful permanent residents outside the U.S. USCIS also continues to adjudicate applications and petitions for individuals outside the U.S. whose approval does not directly confer travel authorization. Applications to adjust status also continue to be adjudicated, according to existing policies and procedures, for applicants who are nationals of countries designated in the Jan. 27, 2017, ‘Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.'” This means that even if you are from one of the “banned” countries–Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya or Yemen–your case will be processed as before the EO. So USCIS should continue to issue decisions for nationals of such countries, at least for the time being.

Second, the State Department will resume issuing visas for people from the listed countries, including refugees. U.S. visas for nationals of these countries that were “provisionally revoked” are now “valid for travel to the United States, if the holder is otherwise eligible.” Meaning that if you are from a banned country and you have a valid U.S. visa, you should be able to enter the United States. Again, the Judge’s order is temporary, and it may be overturned, so if you have a visa and wish to come to the United States, you should do so immediately, since we do not know for how long the Judge’s temporary restraining order will remain in place.

Third, DHS/Customs and Border Protection is also following the Judge’s order, even if it is doing so reluctantly. From the CBP website:

In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This includes actions to suspend passenger system rules that flag travelers for operational action subject to the Executive Order. DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure. At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this order and defend the President’s Executive Order, which is lawful and appropriate. The Order is intended to protect the homeland and the American people, and the President has no higher duty and responsibility than to do so.

So all people with valid visas and who are otherwise eligible to enter–including nationals of the banned countries–should be able to board planes, travel to the United States, and enter the country. In short, the Judge’s order restores the situation for such travelers to how it was prior to the EOs.

Finally, I wrote in an update to last week’s post that additional countries may be added to the banned list. As long as the Judge’s order is in place, I doubt that will happen, and–more importantly–the State Department informed the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association that there was no “addendum, annex or amendment now being worked on to expand visa revocations or the travel ban to countries other than those currently implicated in [the] Executive Order.” Hopefully, this means that we will not see additional countries added to the “banned” list.

The legal fight over the EOs is a rapidly moving target, so before you make any travel plans, please check the news or check with a lawyer to make sure there are no additional changes affecting you. I will also try to keep posting updates here.

[Update, February 10, 2017 – In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the temporary restraining order put into place by Judge Robert will remain in place. So for now, implementation of the EO continues to be blocked.]

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Update on President Trump’s Immigration Orders

by Jason Dzubow on February 1, 2017

Since President Trump began issuing executive orders (“EOs”) on immigration last week, there has been outrage, confusion, and chaos within the immigration community. The EOs were clearly not very well thought out, and seem to have been written by someone lacking a comprehensive understanding of America’s immigration law. As a result, several courts have blocked portions of the EOs, and the Administration has walked back one of the more problematic elements of the new rules. There will be time later for an analysis of how all this affects our country’s security and moral standing, but since we are still in the middle of it, and since the situation is rapidly changing, I wanted to provide an update to my post from last week, to help non-citizens understand their situation.

I’ve never felt so proud to be Canadian! Oh, right, I’m American. Woo-f’n-hoo.

As I wrote last time, the EOs’ most damaging effects are on people trying to come to the United States. For people who are already here, the effect is less dramatic (and not all-together clear). Also, I believe nothing I wrote last week is obsolete, so if you have not read the previous posting, please do, as today’s posting is meant to supplement what I wrote last time.

Lawful Permanent Residents from Countries of Particular Concern: In some ways, the worst part of the EOs is how they affected lawful permanent residents (“LPRs” or people with green cards) who are from “countries of particular concern,” meaning Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya (perhaps more countries will be added to this list later).

DHS originally interpreted the EOs to mean that LPRs from these countries would be turned back at the border. Apparently, at least some LPRs were rejected at the airport and sent back to their point of origin (Customs and Border Protection or CBP claims that only two LPRs were turned back). However, after (partially) successful litigation by the ACLU and others, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a statement that “the entry of lawful permanent residents [is] in the national interest. Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.” This means that if you are an LPR from one of the listed countries, you should probably (but not certainly) be able to re-enter the United States, but you should expect delays upon arrival, as your case will be individually reviewed to determine whether you present a threat to the United States. Whether you will, in fact, be able to enter the U.S. is not guaranteed, and how long the delay will be at the airport is currently unknown (DHS claims that entry into the U.S. should be “swift”).

Given all this, it is clearly a bad idea for anyone with lawful status in the U.S. who is from one of the listed countries to travel outside the U.S. at this time. If you are from one of the listed countries and are currently outside the U.S., you should be able to return if you are an LPR (if you have some other status in the U.S., especially a non-immigrant status, you likely will not be able to return at this time). Because there is so much uncertainty for people from these countries, it is best to remain in the United States or, if you are outside the country and are able to return, to return as soon as possible.

People from Countries of Particular Concern Waiting for an Immigration Benefit: For people in the U.S. who are from “countries of particular concern” and who are waiting for an immigration benefit, such as asylum, a work permit or a green card, the situation is also unclear.

Section 3 of the EO on terrorism is titled, “Suspension of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern” and states that the U.S. government should conduct a review to determine whether additional information is needed to adjudicate visas, admissions, and “other benefits under the INA (adjudications)” for people from countries of particular concern. The reference to “other benefits under the INA” or Immigration and Nationality Act – the immigration law of the United States –would presumably include benefits such as green cards, asylum, and work permits, though the EO does not specifically define what it means. Also, while the EO suspends immigrant and non-immigrant admissions for 90 days for people from countries of particular concern, it makes no other mention of suspending immigration benefits to such people who are already in the U.S. As a result, it is unclear whether, or for how long, USCIS (the agency that administers immigration benefits) will suspend such benefits for people from the listed countries.

Unfortunately, some leaked–but thus far unconfirmed–emails from USCIS indicate that the agency has decided to suspend all final decisions in cases for people from the listed countries. According to one news source:

“Effectively [sic] immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya,” wrote Daniel M. Renaud, associate director of field operations for DHS’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Field offices may interview applicants for adjustment of status and other benefits according to current processing guidance and may process petitions and applications for individuals from these countries up to the point where a decision would be made.”

In other words, while interviews can take place for such people, no decisions–to include approval, denial, withdrawal, or revocation–will be made “until further notice.” I can report that USCIS is conducting interviews for people from countries on the list–my Syrian asylum client was interviewed yesterday–but I have not heard anything official yet about whether decisions will be issued. If this is accurate, it means decision will be suspended, at least for a while, on asylum cases. Whether it will affect applications for work permits, which are issued while waiting for a final decision on an asylum case, is less clear. Hopefully, it will not, and hopefully, this suspension will be temporary.

I-730 Petitions: If a person is granted asylum, she can file an I-730 (follow to join) petition for her spouse and minor, unmarried children. For family members from countries on the list, the EO applies, and thus the State Department “has stopped scheduling appointments and halted processing for follow-to join asylee beneficaries who are nationals or dual nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Further information on appointments for follow-to-join refugees will be available in the future.” In other words, family members of asylees from the listed countries cannot currently come here based on I-730 petitions, but how long this prohibition will last is unknown. In contrast to the State Department website, CBP indicates that I-730 petitions will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. How this will ultimately play out, we do not know, but there is still hope that family members overseas will be able to join the principal asylee in the United States. Also, the visa ban is set to expire after 90 days, and so we can hope that once procedures are reviewed, travelers from “countries of particular concern” will be able to come to the United States to join their family members.

People from Other Muslim Countries: At this point the EOs are limited to the seven listed countries. People from other Muslim countries are not affected. However, the EOs require government agencies to determine whether additional countries should be added to the “banned” list. For this reason, if you are a non-citizen, and particularly if you are from a predominately Muslim country, it is important to keep an eye on the news, just in case more countries are added to the list. A good source for up-to-date information about the EOs, and the lawsuits opposing them, is the American Immigration Council’s website, here.

So that is the update for now. It is important to understand that the “ban” described in the EO is temporary, and that the people mainly affected are nationals from “countries of particular concern.” Of course, we will have to see how this plays out going forward, but it is important to remain calm and patient, and to keep hoping–and working–for something better.

[Update for February 2, 2017: I have heard an unconfirmed rumor out of the State Department that additional countries will be added to the list of banned countries. This is not confirmed, but here is the message I received: “There is a draft order being circulated at the State Department. The order has language extending the list of banned countries to Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, Mali, Colombia, and Venezuela.” I suggest people from those countries pay careful attention to the news, in case the countries are added to the list, and I suggest that people from these countries not travel outside the U.S. until we have some clarification.]

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