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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During the first week of his Administration, President Trump has signed two “executive orders” on immigration: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. At least one other order has been leaked to the press: Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.

This is how it looks when America compromises its values.

The effects of these orders are already being felt. I have heard reports about Syrians with U.S. visas being rejected from a flight because the airline believed that the visa would not be honored and it (the airline) would face liability for bringing the family to our country. My Sudanese client–and a lawful permanent resident based on asylum–was on a business trip to a third country. When she called the U.S. embassy for advice, they told her to return to the United States immediately, as they were unsure how the vaguely-worded executive orders would affect her. A lawyer friend’s client who had been released on bond after passing a credible fear interview was detained, even though he has a pending court date for asylum (though apparently, he also has a pending–and minor–criminal issue, and this may be why he was targeted). The practice of prosecutorial discretion–closing certain cases where the alien has no criminal issues and has equities in the United States–has been ended nationwide, and so now DHS (the prosecutors) can no longer close cases for aliens who are not enforcement priorities. These are some stories from Day 1 of the executive orders.

Here, I want to make some preliminary observations. There will be time for a detailed analysis later, when we know more about how the executive orders will be implemented, but for now, there are some points that non-citizens should keep in mind:

  • Don’t panic. The President has the power to issue executive orders (“EOs”), but he is constrained by the law and by the availability of resources to enforce the law, and so there are limits to what he can do. The asylum system and the Immigration Courts still exist, and while pushing more people into the system may cause further delays, at this stage we really do not know what the effect will be.
  • For people physically present in the United States, the government does NOT have the power to deport anyone without due process of law, meaning a court hearing and an appeal. So you can’t just be thrown out of the country. Even an expedited process usually takes months.
  • Also, there is nothing in the EOs indicating people legally present in the U.S. will be targeted for removal, so aliens with asylum or green cards should be fine, as long as they do not commit (or get accused of committing–see below) any crimes.
  • For people with pending asylum cases, it does not seem that the EOs will have any immediate effect. The orders seem to impose some additional requirements on obtaining immigration benefits (and this may or may not include asylum), but these requirements are very similar to existing discretionary requirements, and I doubt we will see much difference. Asylum applicants from “countries of particular concern” (meaning Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya, and maybe other Muslim-majority countries) may face extra delays because the EO’s seem to temporarily suspend immigration benefits for people from those nations.
  • It is probably best to avoid travel outside the U.S. using Advance Parole, at least until we have a better idea about what is happening. If you do need to travel, talk to a lawyer first to be sure that you will not have trouble returning.
  • If you are from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen or Libya, it is probably best to avoid all travel outside the United States, even if you have a green card. The situation for people from these countries is unclear, but this seems to be the list (so far) of countries targeted for “extreme vetting.” Since we don’t really know what that means, it is safest to stay in the United States until we have some clarity. If you must travel, talk to a lawyer before you go. If you are from one of these countries and are currently outside the United States, but have lawful status here, it is probably safest to return to the U.S. immediately. Or at least call the U.S. embassy to ask for their advice (though they cannot always be trusted to give the correct advice).
  • If you have a criminal conviction, or even a pending criminal charge, you should be aware that an EO directs the government to make your detention and removal a priority (the idea that people accused of a crime, but not yet convicted, should face an immigration penalty is very troubling). Other priorities include aliens who have engaged in fraud, abused public benefits, or who have a final order of removal (the full list of enforcement priorities is here). However, the government is restricted in its ability to detain and remove people due to limited prison space (though the EOs express an intention to increase detention capacity) and due process of law.

In many ways, these EOs do not immediately change much of what has been policy for the last eight years. The tone is certainly different, which is an important and distressing change, but the laws are the same. For this reason, it is important to remain calm about the changes. For most people inside the U.S., especially people who are not enforcement priorities, the legal landscape today is not much different than it was prior to January 20.

The more damaging affects of the EOs, at least in the short term, is on people who are outside the U.S. waiting to come in, such as Syrian and other refugees whose cases now face a 120-day hold (and what happens at the end of 120 days is anyone’s guess). The EOs also temporarily suspend issuance of visas for immigrants and non-immigrants from “countries of particular concern.” The vague language used in the EOs makes them even more problematic, as it is impossible to predict how they will be implemented.

The longer-term effects of the EOs also look bad: Increased enforcement and detention, coercion of local authorities to end “sanctuary” jurisdictions, additional requirements for people to immigrate to the U.S., restrictions on travel for people from countries that do not (or cannot) supply “information needed for adjudications” of visas to the U.S. government, the border wall. Not to mention the overall tone of the EOs, which paints foreigners as a dangerous threat to our national security.

So here we are. One week into the Trump Administration, and the government is moving to restrict immigration and step up enforcement. To anyone watching Mr. Trump over the last several months, none of this should come as a surprise. There will be time later to analyze the policy effects of Mr. Trump’s actions (spoiler alert: They are terribly damaging to our national interests and our country’s character), but for now, the flurry of activity counsels caution. Over the coming months, we will see how the EOs are implemented, and we will have a better idea about what to expect. For now, though, it seems the large majority of non-citizens in the U.S. will not be affected by the EOs. So keep an eye on the news, and speak to a lawyer before traveling or if your case is an enforcement priority (if you cannot afford a lawyer, you might look for a free attorney here). We shall see how things go, and of course, we will keep supporting each other in these difficult times.

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Work Permits for Asylum Seekers—Some Good News

by Jason Dzubow on January 25, 2017

The new Administration has raised anxieties in immigrant and asylum seeker communities. In part, this is because of President Trump’s rhetoric (and rhetorical style) during the election. And in part, it’s because we just don’t know what to expect from a Trump Administration. Rumors have been flying: Will there be some sort of Muslim ban? Will the President repeal DACA? Or will he (and Congress) create a permanent legalization for DACA recipients? Mr. Trump will be issuing some executive orders later today banning Syrian and other refugees from coming to the U.S., and restricting visas for people from certain Middle Eastern countries. How this will all play out, we shall see.

Filling gaps is a good thing.

But amidst the uncertainty, there is some good news related to work permits—or Employment Authorization Documents (“EADs”)—for asylum seekers.

First, last fall, the government started issuing two-year EADs instead of one-year EADs to people with pending asylum cases. This was a helpful development. It saves money since applicants now only have to apply for a new card every other year. It also makes it easier to obtain and retain employment, since employers feel more confident hiring people who have a longer period of authorized employment. In addition, many states issue driver’s licenses that correspond to the dates on the EAD, so a two-year card means a two-year license. All this helps ease the wait for people seeking asylum.

Second, last week the government issued new (and long anticipated) regulations “to help prevent gaps in employment authorization”:

DHS is providing for the automatic extension of expiring EADs (and underlying employment authorization, if applicable) for up to 180 days with respect to individuals who are seeking renewal of their EADs (and, if applicable, employment authorization) based on the same employment authorization categories under which they were granted.

This means that when you file to renew your EAD, your card will be automatically extended for 180 days once you receive the receipt (it usually takes three or four weeks to get the receipt). This is an important development, since USCIS has been taking months to process EAD renewals, and people were losing their jobs and driver’s licenses while they waited for their new EADs.

The automatic EAD extensions apply to refugees, people with asylum, and people who have pending asylum or withholding of removal cases, among others. You can see the new regulations here (see page 82491, the second to last page of the PDF) and here (page 82455, footnote 98, which lists the categories of people eligible for the automatic EAD extension).

Also, remember that you can apply for a new EAD up to 120 days before the old card expires. Even with the most recent change, it is still a good idea to apply early for your new card, so you receive the replacement EAD as soon as possible.

And here’s one last tip for today. If you cannot afford to pay for the new EAD (fees recently went up), you can request a fee waiver from USCIS, which—if granted—allows you to obtain a new EAD without paying the fee. To apply for a fee waiver, use form I-912, available here.

I have written many times about the affirmative asylum backlog. It has been a real disaster for asylum seekers—especially those separated from their family members. The recent changes to the EAD process, during the waning days of the Obama Administration, have at least made one aspect of the wait easier, and for that, we can be thankful.

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The Refugee Ball Post-Game Report: Why It Matters

by Jason Dzubow on January 19, 2017

The Refugee Ball took place on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. It was wonderful to see hundreds of people from all different backgrounds and countries come together to celebrate America’s humanitarian immigration system.

Economist, talk show host, women’s rights advocate, and amazing singer, Amal Nourelhuda (originally from Sudan), performs at the Refugee Ball.

There were musicians from Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tibet. There was a Persian rapper. Our emcee was a journalist/asylum seeker from Ethiopia. We had Lebanese, Tibetan, and Ethiopian food, and Syrian cookies. There was artwork by a young Honduran asylum seeker and an Iranian refugee. Speakers included the former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals (who now has his own blog), an asylee from Azerbaijan, and the president and CEO of HIAS, a non-profit organization that assists refugees. We also had a special guest appearance by Congressman Jamie Raskin. All-in-all, not a bad way to spend an evening.

One message of the Refugee Ball is that asylum seekers and refugees contribute in valuable ways to our society. They bring their skills and talents to America, and we are stronger because of their presence here. Also, by offering asylum to those who work with us and those who share our values, we demonstrate to our allies that we are on their side; that we have got their back. This makes it more likely that people around the world will cooperate with us and work to advance the values that our nation aspires to: Democracy, freedom of speech, women’s rights, LGBT rights, freedom of religion, equality, peace. When we have the cooperation of our allies, our country is safer and more secure, and our asylum system helps engender that cooperation.

And of course, granting protection to those in need of assistance is the right thing to do. I know that if my family members had to flee the United States, I would want more than anything for them to receive a friendly reception in their country of refuge. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Another message of the Ball is that advocates for asylum seekers and refugees remain committed to assisting people who have come to our country for protection. And although the incoming Administration may create a more difficult environment for our clients, our commitment to those seeking our country’s protection will not wane.

For me, though, the most important message of the Ball was that of the courage and perseverance displayed by the refugees and asylum seekers who I saw there. Many of the people who participated in the event were themselves victims of terrible torture and persecution. But there they were at the Ball–singing and dancing, giving speeches, making art and food for us to enjoy. Each of them provides an example of how the human spirit can survive extreme adversity and go on to create beauty, and of how life can triumph over death. I can’t help but be inspired by their examples.

So while we really do not know what to expect in the days and months ahead, we can draw strength from each other, and from the examples set by the refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who have endured great hardships, but who still have hope that America will live up to the high ideals that we have set for ourselves.

To those who participated in, supported, and attended the Refugee Ball, Thank you. Thank you for contributing your time, talent, energy, and money to supporting the cause of refugees and asylum seekers. Thank you for inspiring me, and for reminding me of why I work as an asylum attorney. I feel optimistic knowing that we are united in our goal of welcoming the stranger, and that we are all in this together to support each other.

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The Refugee Ball: Why We Celebrate

by Jason Dzubow on January 6, 2017

Response to the Refugee Ball has been overwhelming. It looks like we have essentially reached capacity, and it should be a fantastic event with amazing musicians, artists, and food.

Here, though, I want to talk about what we are celebrating, and why. The “reason for the season,” as it were. The Ball takes place a day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Dr. King famously said, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Of course, the arc does not bend by itself. People have to work hard to push it in the right direction.

One purpose of the Ball is to celebrate the people who help bend the arc by assisting refugees and asylum seekers: Lawyers, doctors, social workers, activists, students, and advocates.

But more than those of us who are helping refugees and asylum seekers, the purpose of the Ball is to celebrate the refugees and asylum seekers themselves; people who have worked and sacrificed and struggled for justice. Attending the Ball will be activists for democracy and peace and women’s rights, journalists who have stood up for free speech against tyrants, advocates for gay and lesbian rights, members of religious minorities who have risked their lives for their faith, members of oppressed ethnic minorities and oppressed nationalities, interpreters and aid workers who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our own country’s soldiers and diplomats in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. These people—asylum seekers and refugees—have risked their careers, their property, and their lives in order to help bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

And so the Ball will celebrate and honor their work. It also gives us an opportunity to express our solidarity with them, and our commitment to them.

Critics of our humanitarian immigration policies claim that asylum is a gift, given to needy people because Americans are nice. They say that we dole out this generous benefit and get nothing in return. This view of asylum is false.

Since its beginning—during the Cold War in the 1950s—asylum was about advancing America’s strategic interests. In those early days, it was about demonstrating our moral superiority to our Soviet adversaries. We celebrated famous dissidents, athletes, and artists who defected to the West.

Now, the Soviet Union is gone, but asylum remains an essential tool of U.S. foreign policy. We gain tangible benefits from asylum. And I am not talking only about the influx of talented, brilliant people who add to our nation’s strength.

When we give asylum to interpreters who served with our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, we demonstrate our loyalty to those who work with us. When we grant asylum to women’s rights advocates, we show our support for the cause of gender equality. When we support journalists, we show that we stand for free speech. And when we grant asylum to religious minorities, we reinforce our founding principle of Religious Freedom.

Imagine for a moment what it would mean to deny asylum to Iraqi interpreters, woman’s rights advocates, journalists or members of religious minorities. Imagine what that would say about us, about our country. Imagine what message it would send to those around the world who are working for the values that we, in our best moments, embody.

But when we offer asylum to those who have stood with us, and who have risked their lives to advance the values that we cherish (and which we too often take for granted), we send a powerful message: When you work with us, when you work for the values we believe in, America has got your back. We are with you. And when activists around the world have confidence that America is on their side, it helps them continue their struggle for justice.

And it helps us too. If we want their cooperation and loyalty going forward, our allies need to know that we are there for them. That we will protect them if they need our help. If they do not have confidence in us, they won’t support us. Our asylum and refugee systems demonstrate –in a tangible way—our loyalty to those who stand with us, and this helps us advance our own national interests and moral values.

And so at the Refugee Ball, we will celebrate our humanitarian immigration system. We will celebrate the people who work within that system, and those who have come to our country through that system. We hope to see you there.

To learn more about the Ball, visit our Facebook page.

To donate, please visit our Go Fund Me page.

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The inauguration of a new president is almost upon us. It’s traditional to celebrate the democratic transition of power with lavish parties. They take place all over Washington, DC. Some are formal affairs attended by the President and other VIPs; others are much simpler and unpretentious.

This year, I know that many refugees, asylum seekers, and their advocates are nervous about the new Administration and what it might mean for them and their families. During the campaign, there was a lot of negative talk about immigrants and refugees. It’s not surprising then, that many of us are not feeling in a celebratory mood.

But it seems to me that we need to come together to remind ourselves of why accepting refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants into our society is so important. We–advocates, clients, family members–draw strength from one another. For that reason, a group of us has organized a “Refugee Ball” for refugees, asylum seekers, their families, advocates, and supporters.

The purpose of the Ball is not to celebrate the new President; nor is it to denigrate him. Rather, we want to support each other and help demonstrate the value of refugees, asylees, and immigrants to the wider community. We also want to celebrate the core humanitarian values that underpin our refugee and asylum programs–values like compassion, generosity, friendship, diversity, inclusiveness, and due process of law.

With that in mind, it is my pleasure to invite you to attend the Refugee Ball, which will take place on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, located at 600 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Refugee, asylee, and immigrant vendors will provide food, music, and art. Also, immigration lawyers–including me–will be on hand to provide free consultations and “Know Your Rights” presentations. Events will start at 5:00 PM with the legal consults. Other activities will begin at 6:00 PM.

The Ball is free and open to the public, but please let us know if you plan to attend by responding on our Facebook page (click here for the link). We will update the Facebook page with more information as we get closer to the date.

Also, if you would like to support the Ball financially, please consider making a contribution (click here for the link), and spreading the word about this event. All proceeds will go towards the cost of the Ball, and any leftovers will be donated to local and international non-profits that support refugees.

Thank you, and I hope to see you there.

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An Open Letter to My Friends at DHS and DOJ

by Jason Dzubow on December 22, 2016

Former House Speaker, and Donald Trump adviser, Newt “The Brain” Gingrich recently made plain what Mr. Trump has been arguing for months: The new Administration is planning “straight-out war” against the federal bureaucracy. But in my time, there are two things that I’ve learned about ideological wars: (1) The casualties are flesh-and-blood human beings, and (2) Everyone involved thinks that G-d is on his side.

"Sidekick to a bully" is not a job title many government lawyers relish.

“Sidekick to a bully” is not a job title many government lawyers relish.

In this case, Mr. Gingrich was speaking specifically about the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, which he accused of various sins amounting mostly to half-truths (or perhaps whole lies). But we’ve seen a pattern with Mr. Trump’s appointments. For example. the new head of the Department of Energy wanted to eliminate that agency in 2012. The leader of the Environmental Protection Agency doubts human-influenced climate change and will likely prevent that organization from issuing regulations to protect public health. And the new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be Dr. Ben Carson, whose main qualification seems to be that he lives in a house.

But the situation for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are a bit different, at least in terms of those agencies’ oversight of our nation’s immigration laws. In those cases, it’s more likely that Mr. Trump will be ramping-up enforcement at the possible expense of other immigration functions (like processing immigration benefits).

Senator Jeff Sessions will lead the DOJ as Attorney General. He is known for his opposition to immigration reform and his belief that legal immigration to the United States should be reduced. So how will Senator Sessions’s appointment affect DOJ in terms of immigration enforcement? DOJ administers the nations Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and (within some limits) interprets our immigration laws. As Attorney General, Mr. Sessions has the power to narrow precedents favorable to non-citizens. He can do this directly, by issuing Attorney-General opinions, which supersede decisions made by the BIA. He can also do it indirectly, by appointing ideologically like-minded Judges and BIA Members. DOJ also administers the Office of Immigration Litigation (“OIL”), which defends BIA decisions in the federal courts. Mr. Sessions could order OIL to take more hard-line stances, and he could push litigation that reflects his restrictonist viewpoint.

How would this be different than what we have now? The atmosphere for aliens in immigration proceedings has never been easy. That’s particularly true for aliens convicted of crimes. But at least in most cases, I have found that Judges, BIA Board Members, and OIL attorneys are reasonable, and do their best to follow the law. Sometimes that means deporting people who are very sympathetic; other times, it means allowing people to stay who they believe should be deported. The problem comes when we have DOJ attorneys who are more concerned with ideological ends than with due process. We saw this most clearly when Attorney General John Ashcroft purged liberal (or supposedly liberal) BIA Board Members at the beginning of the George W. Bush Administration. Perhaps we will see a similar reshuffling in the months ahead.

For fair-minded attorneys, Judges, and Board Members at DOJ, that’s a frightening prospect. Are their jobs in jeopardy? Will they be forced to take positions contrary to their conscious, or contrary to their interpretation of the law? Many immigration benefits–such as asylum–contain a discretionary element. Will the ability to exercise discretion be intolerably curtailed?

It’s still unclear whether attorneys and officers at the Department of Homeland Security will face the same potential dilemmas as their DOJ counterparts. The new Secretary for DHS will be retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, who is widely viewed as non-ideological. Under the DHS ambit are several agencies that impact immigration, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), which is basically the immigration police and prosecutors, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), which administers immigration benefits, including asylum. We have yet to learn who will lead these agencies, and probably the choices for those posts will have more effect on the officers and attorneys “in the trenches” than General Kelly, who is overseeing the entire agency.

Currently, DHS attorneys, Asylum Officers, and ICE officers have a fair bit of discretion in handling cases, especially cases where the alien has no criminal record. DHS attorneys often can decide whether to keep an alien detained, they can offer prosecutorial discretion, and they can decide how aggressively to pursue an individual’s deportation or whether to agree to relief. Asylum Officers also have a fair bit of discretion to determine credibility and decide on relief.

The attorneys, officers, and Judges I know at DHS and DOJ are generally intelligent, caring individuals who do their best to follow and enforce the law without inflicting undo harm on individuals and families. They are aware of their power and their responsibilities, and they take their jobs seriously. Sometimes, I disagree with them on their interpretation of the law. Sometimes, I think their approach is unnecessarily aggressive. In some cases, we evaluate the merits of a case differently. While we do not always agree, I can see that they are performing an essential function by fairly enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.

In speaking to some DOJ and DHS attorneys and officers since the recent election, I have seen a certain level of demoralization. Some people have expressed to me their desire to leave government service. While these individuals respect and follow the law–even when the results are harsh–they are not ideological. They do not hate immigrants (or non-white people, or Muslims) and they do not want to enable or contribute to a system that they fear will become overtly hostile to immigrants that President Trump considers undesirable. I suppose if I have one word of advice for such people, it is this: Stay.

If you are a government attorney or officer and you are thinking of leaving because you fear an overtly ideological Administration, you are exactly the type of person that we need to stay. As has often been the case in recent decades, an honest, competent bureaucracy is the bulwark against our sometimes extremist politics.

It’s likely that if you are a government employee who is sympathetic to non-citizens, your job will get more difficult, the atmosphere may become more hostile. It will be harder to “do the right thing” as you see it. Opportunities for promotions may become more limited. Nevertheless, I urge you to stay. We need you to help uphold the law and ensure due process for non-citizens and their families. To a large extent, our immigration system is as good or as bad as the people who administer the law. We need the good ones to stay.

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Whither the Syrian Christian Refugees?

by Jason Dzubow on December 16, 2016

As the Syrian city of Aleppo falls under government control, the question of Syrian refugees has become even more urgent. Forces loyal to the government are summarily murdering civilians, and even the wounded cannot be evacuated due to government (and Russian) military action. Despite heartbreaking “goodbye messages” from civilians trapped in the conflict zone, I have little expectation that the world will do much to help. We have ignored genocides again and again, so why should we expect anything different here?

Which is easier to explain: The absence of Christian refugees, or the absence of Christian charity?

Accepting Syrian refugees into the United States has also been controversial. Donald Trump called them “a great Trojan Horse.” I suppose the same could be said of the Jews fleeing Hitler on the ship St. Louis, which reached our shores but was refused permission to land. I am sure many of those men, women, and children were secret Bolsheviks plotting a Communist takeover. Lucky for us, they were rejected and returned to Europe, where over 250 of them perished in the Holocaust.

One gripe raised by those opposing the admission of Syrian refugees is that the refugees are disproportionately Muslim. In a recent concurring opinion, Judge Manion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, notes the mysterious absence of Christians from the pool of Syrian refugees arriving in the United States. See Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center v. DHS, 16-1840 (7th 2016). J. Manion writes:

I write separately for a… critical reason, which is [to express] my concern about the apparent lack of Syrian Christians as a part of immigrants from that country…. It is well-documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war-torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian…. [Of] the nearly 11,000 refugees admitted by mid-September, only 56 were Christian. To date, there has not been a good explanation for this perplexing discrepancy.

Judge Manion’s observation is supported by a recent report from the Pew Research Center, which found that in FY 2016:

[R]efugee status was given to 12,587 Syrians. Nearly all of them (99%) were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.

The most accurate data I have found about Syrian refugees essentially lines up with the findings of Judge Manion and Pew: Of 12,541 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. in FY 2016, between 0.5 and 1% self-identified as Christian. It is a bit less clear how many Christians lived in Syria prior to the current war. Estimates range from 5.1% (Pew) to 10% (CIA). But no matter how you slice it, it’s clear that the Syrian refugees entering the U.S. are not representative of the country’s population–fewer Christians than expected are coming to our country as refugees. So what’s going on here?

First, here is the conclusion that I don’t accept–the one pushed by people opposed to Muslim immigration–that the Obama Administration is deliberately favoring Muslims over non-Muslims. I don’t support this conclusion because, while a disproportionate majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim, the majority of refugees overall (from all countries), are not Muslim. In FY 2016, we admitted 38,901 Muslim refugees and 37,521 Christian refugees (out of a total of 84,995 refugees). In other words, in FY 2016, about 46% of refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim; 44% were Christian. (This was the first year of the Obama Administration where more Muslims than Christians were admitted as refugees).

A more plausible explanation for the absence of Syrian Christians was proposed by Jonathan Witt, an Evangelical writer and activist, and an Obama critic. Basically, he believes that Muslims are more likely than Christians to end up in refugee camps, and since refugees are generally selected for resettlement from the camps, Christians are disproportionately left out. This part sounds logical, but (to me at least) Mr. Witt takes his argument a bit too far:

As bad off as the Muslim refugees are, they aren’t without politically well-connected advocates in the Middle East. Many Muslim powerbrokers are happy to see Europe and America seeded with Muslim immigrants, and would surely condemn any U.S. action that appeared to prefer Christian over Muslim refugees, even if the effort were completely justified. By and large, they support Muslim immigration to the West and have little interest in seeing Christian refugees filling up any spaces that might have been filled by Muslim refugees.

The deck, in other words, is heavily stacked against the Christian refugees. The White House has been utterly feckless before the Muslim power structure in the Middle East that is doing the stacking, and has tried to sell that fecklessness to the American people as a bold stand for a religion-blind treatment of potential refugees —religion tests are un-American! It’s a smokescreen.

Here, he’s lost me. This conspiracy-minded nonsense might be more convincing if there were some evidence for it (and remember, FY 2016 was the first year of the Obama Administration where we resettled more Muslim than Christian refugees). The prosaic arguments may be less interesting, but they have the vitue of being more likely.

I have a few of my own theories as well. For one thing–and maybe this ties in with the first part of Mr. Witt’s thesis–Syrian Christians were somewhat better off than Syrian Muslims. If they have more resources, maybe they were able to avoid the refugee camps by leaving in a more orderly way and by finding (and paying for) alternative housing. Also, Syrian Christians are generally not being targeted by the Assad regime. Indeed, in view of the threats they face from extremists, Syrian Christians are more likely to support the government–not because they have much affection for Bashar Assad, but because the alternative is even worse.

So there very well may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of Christians among Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. But because the Administration has not explained the anomaly, we are (as usual) left with an information void. And that void is being filled by speculation from fringe writers like Mr. Witt, but also by federal court judges, like Judge Manion. The solution should be obvious: Those involved in the refugee resettlement effort should tell us what’s going on. This would help satisfy many critics and it will help protect the refugee program going forward.

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Evaluating the Threat Posed by Refugees

by Jason Dzubow on December 8, 2016

Last month, a Somali refugee and college student drove his car into a crowd at his university, jumped out, and started stabbing people. He was quickly shot dead by a campus police officer. The assailant, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, apparently left Somalia, lived for a time in Pakistan, and was resettled as a refugee in the United States in 2014. After the incident, Donald Trump tweeted that Mr. Artan “should not have been in our country.”

TV shows based on misunderstandings are hilarious; government policies, not so much.

TV shows based on misunderstandings are hilarious; government policies, not so much.

Incidents like this–where a refugee or asylee commits a (probable) terrorist act–are exceedingly rare. As far as I know, the only other successful attack involving “refugees” was the Boston Marathon bombing, perpetrated by two brothers who came to the U.S. as derivatives of their parents’ asylum case. Since 2001, the U.S. has admitted approximately 785,000 refugees and roughly 400,000 asylum seekers. So if all these numbers are accurate (a big “if”, as discussed below), then the odds that any given refugee or asylee is a terrorist is 1 in 395,000 or 0.0000844%.

In looking at the question of refugees/asylees and terrorism, the main problem is that the numbers listed above are not accurate. First, there is no consistent way to count people entering and leaving the United States. The refugee numbers are probably more accurate (though it’s unclear to me whether all aliens admitted for humanitarian reasons are included in the count), but asylum numbers are all over the map. Part of the problem is that different agencies (DHS and DOJ) deal with asylum applicants, and they seem to count people differently–sometimes derivative asylees are counted; other times, only the principal is counted. How do the agencies count people whose cases are pending? What about people granted other forms of relief (like Withholding of Removal or Torture Convention relief)? How are family members who “follow to join” the principal applicant counted? I have no idea about any of this, and there is no easily available data source to help. Not surprisingly, the dearth of data has opened the door to conspiracy theorists and anti-immigration advocates who claim we have an “open borders” immigration policy. But the absence of data also creates problems for fair-minded policy makers. How can we make appropriate decisions when we do not have a decent understanding of what is going on?

A second problem is that we do not have reliable information about how many non-citizens are involved in terrorist activities. Last summer, Senators Jeff Sessions (Donald Trump’s current nominee for Attorney General) and Ted Cruz sent a letter to the Obama Administration claiming that at least 380 of 580 people convicted of terrorism charges in the U.S. between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2014 are foreign born. According to the Senators, “Of the 380 foreign-born, at least 24 were initially admitted to the United States as refugees, and at least 33 had overstayed their visas.” The letter further claims that since early 2014, 131 individuals have been “implicated” in terrorist activities. Of those, “at least 16 were initially admitted to the United States as refugees, and at least 17… are the natural-born citizen children of immigrants.” Using these numbers and the (admittedly questionable) refugee and asylee numbers listed above, the odds that any given refugee or asylee is involved in terrorist activities is still pretty low: One refugee/asyee out of every 28,902 will be involved in terrorist activities (or about 0.0035% of refugees/asylees).

The Senators were only able to come up with their figures based on publicly-available sources (like news articles), since DHS did not release immigration information about the 580 individuals convicted of terrorist-related activities, or the 131 people “implicated” in such activities. Whether DHS’s failure to release this information is prosaic (perhaps confidentiality or technical issues pose a challenge) or nefarious, we do not know, since apparently, the agency has not responded to the Senators’ requests. The fact is, Senators Sessions and Cruz are correct: We need more data about the people who are entering our country, and we need to know whether refugees and asylees (and others) are committing crimes or becoming involved with terrorism. Not only will this better allow us to make appropriate policy decisions, but it will also help prevent the type of fake news that is currently filling—and exploiting—the information gap.

But of course, the situation is more complex than any statistics alone might show. Some people who become involved in terrorism are mentally ill individuals exploited by terrorists (or–sometimes–by over-zealous law-enforcement officers). In other cases, people providing support to a “terrorist” group overseas do not know that the group is involved in harmful activities, or they do not understand that the U.S government views the group as dangerous. Also, as I have discussed previously, the “material support” provisions of our anti-terrorism legislation are extremely broad, and so people who seem far removed from terrorit activities can get caught up by our overly-broad laws.

Nevertheless, we need to know more about foreign-born individuals–including asylum seekers and refugees–who are implicated in terrorist-related activities, and the basic starting point for any such analysis is the statistical data about who is coming here, how they are getting here, and whether they are accused or convicted of crimes or terrorist-related activities.

Assuming we do get some accurate data, the question then becomes, How do we evaluate such information? How do we balance concrete examples of non-citizens engaged in criminal or terrorist activities, on the one hand, with the benefits of our refugee program, on the other?

And by the way, despite what some anti-refugee advocates might argue, our refugee and asylum programs provide concrete benefits: They establish us as a world leader in the humanitarian realm, they demonstrate our fealty to those who have stood with us and who support our values (and thus encourage others to continue standing with us), they provide our country with diverse and energetic new residents who are grateful for our generosity and who contribute to our society. These programs also represent an expression of who we are as a people. As I have frequently argued, for us to abandon these programs–and the humanitarian ideals that they represent–due to our fear of terrorism is a victory for the terrorists.

But we also need to balance our humanitarian policies and our national security. We need to better understand the issues–so that the public can be more well-informed and so policy makers have the information they need to make good decisions. I hope the new Administration will shine some light on these issues, so that any changes to our refugee and asylum policies are based on accurate information, and not on conjecture or fear.

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Asylum for DACA Recipients and Dreamers

by Jason Dzubow on December 1, 2016

In 2012, President Obama’s Administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals–or DACA–program, which deferred removal and granted work permits to certain aliens who came to the United States prior to their 16th birthdays, who have no serious criminal issues, and who meet certain educational or military-service requirements. As usual, the statistics from the government are hard to understand, but it seems that about 730,000 individuals have benefited from the DACA program.

Deporting her is a sure way to make America great again. As long as we don't get sick...

Deporting her is a sure way to make America great again. As long as we don’t get sick…

But now that Mr. Obama is “out” and Donald Trump is “in”, many DACA recipients fear that they will lose their tenuous status, and possibly face deportation. This concern is understandable. Mr. Trump has promised to “immediately terminate” the program, and since DACA beneficiaries have submitted their biographic information to USCIS, the government can more easily track them down and try to deport them. Also threatened with deportation are “Dreamers” – aliens who would benefit from the DREAM Act, which would have provided relief to a broader range of non-citizens than DACA, had it become law.

So are there any defenses to deportation for DACA beneficiaries and Dreamers? What can these people do now to start protecting themselves?

Assuming the new President ends the DACA program (which can be done by executive action, without Congressional involvement), DACA recipients would have a number of defenses to deportation (though this could change if the President and Congress modify the immigration laws). My primary focus here is asylum, but before we get to that, there are other possible defenses that DACA beneficiaries might consider: Claims to U.S. citizenship, improperly issued/served Notices to Appear, Cancellation of Removal, Adjustment of Status based on a family relationship or a job, residency applications based on being a victim of a crime or human trafficking. In short, there are many possibilities, and if you currently have DACA, it is worth thinking about whether any of them apply to you. This might entail researching the issues yourself or–if you can afford it–talking with a lawyer (if you cannot afford a lawyer, there might be free services available to you).

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

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

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

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

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

There are some exceptions to the one-year rule that may apply to DACA recipients and Dreamers. If a person is lawfully present in the U.S., that is considered an exception to the rule (technically, it is considered “exceptional circumstances” that excuses the missed deadline). For example, if a person is on a student visa for four years, and then she applies for asylum while still in lawful status, she meets an exception and is eligible for asylum. People with DACA could argue that DACA status constitutes an exception to the one-year rule. Whether or not this will work, I am not sure, but it is worth exploring. Another common exception is “legal disability,” which includes being a minor. So if you file for asylum before you turn 18 years old, you will meet an exception to the one-year rule.

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

For DACA recipients and Dreamers, asylum may be the last-ditch effort to remain in the U.S., and it may be difficult to win such a case. However, there are some advantages to seeking asylum. First, because it is written into the law (based on a treaty signed by the United States in 1968), Mr. Trump cannot eliminate asylum without the cooperation of Congress, and such a radical step seems unlikely. So asylum should remain an option for DACA beneficiaries and Dreamers. Second, 150 days after you file for asylum, you can file for a work permit. The Trump Administration could change this provision without Congressional action, but as the law now stands, asylum applicants can get work permits. Finally, the asylum process is slow. Normally, asylum delays are horrible for applicants (and for their attorneys), but if you are trying to delay your deportation until a new Administration comes along, asylum might do the trick. The process can take years, and if Mr. Trump follows through on his promises to deport even more people, the system may further slow down.

Whether the new Administration will move to end DACA and deport Dreamers, we do not yet know. If the goal is really to deport as many “illegals” as possible, I believe that starting with DACA recipients is a strategic mistake: Such people are well-integrated into our society and starting with them will create fierce resistance. It would be easier to step up border enforcement, block refugees from entering, and broaden detention for criminal aliens. But my suspicion is that Mr. Trump is more concerned with the appearance of progress than with actual progress. If so, DACA recipients are an easy target–the government can harm them merely by taking away their status and work permits–and this will demonstrate visible progress to those who oppose immigrants. On the other hand, there are some positive signs coming from Congress. Either way, DACA beneficiaries cannot rely on hope, they should start planning now, so they are ready for whatever the new Administration has in store.

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Notes from the Immigration Underground

by Jason Dzubow on November 22, 2016

Within hours of Donald Trump’s election, tens of thousands (literally) of lawyer across the country began organizing to oppose his anticipated policies, whatever those may be. Groups are forming on Facebook and meetings are being scheduled. It’s all very preliminary, but it’s quite clear that if Mr. Trump’s policies equal his harsh campaign rhetoric, attorneys across the U.S. will be prepared to contest those policies in court.

Lawyers are ready to fight for our clients.

Lawyers are ready to fight for our clients.

Of course, one key area of concern is immigration. Mr. Trump has vowed to build a wall, return Syrian refugees, deport criminal aliens, subject Muslim immigrants and visitors to “extreme vetting,” and end “catch and release” at the border.

At this point, it is quite unclear to me what he (1) will do, and (2) can do. Some actions against non-citizens are easier than others. For example, Mr. Trump can enact certain changes without Congressional involvement (diverting resources away from the asylum system, charging a (limited) fee for asylum, eliminating work permits for asylum applicants, and–to a large extent–restricting the definition of particular social group). Other changes require Congressional action (modifying the burden of proof on asylum seekers, blocking asylum seekers who came to the U.S. by passing through a third country, and reducing the one-year time period aliens have to file for asylum after they’ve entered the country). Finally, some changes would require a Constitutional amendment (eliminating due process for non-citizens). So where do lawyers come in? What can we do?

The way I see it, there are three broad areas where lawyers can help: Litigation, lobbying, and public relations. Let’s take a look at each:

Litigation: This is what (many) lawyers do. We represent our clients in court. As it stands now, most non-citizens in Immigration Court do not have an attorney. If deportation cases are stepped up, it’s unclear whether the Immigration Courts can handle the volume (currently, there are about 11,000,000 illegal aliens in the U.S. In FY 2015, the country’s Immigration Judge’s completed almost 200,000 cases. At that rate, it would take over 55 years to resolve the cases of everyone here unlawfully).

It’s well-established that aliens who have an attorney are more likely to win their cases. Indeed, unrepresented asylum seekers win their cases only about 9% of the time. Represented asylum seekers win nearly 50% of their cases. So hopefully, some of our organizational energy will go towards increasing the percentage of represented aliens by providing more pro bono and low bono services–currently, only about 2% of people in Immigration Court have pro bono representation. Perhaps we can also volunteer to present more know-your-rights presentations, so that aliens without lawyers can at least get some help with their cases.

Another benefit of more aliens actively fighting their cases is that it will require more government resources–and time–to deport them. This will slow the system down and prevent the government from deporting more people (normally, I would not consider “slowing the system down” as a “benefit,” but in these times, perhaps it is).

On a higher level is impact litigation–lawsuits to challenge policies that affect many immigrants. I imagine the national organizations, such as AILA, AIC, and the ACLU, among others, will take the lead here. They have the resources and the expertise. By supporting such organizations with our time and our donations, we aid their efforts to block egregious changes to our immigration system.

Lobbying: Lawyers can be effective lobbyists. We know the law, and we know how the law affects non-citizens and their families at the ground level. This type of hands-on experience allows us to talk to law-makers, at the national level, and also at the state and local levels.

Opponents of immigration and refugee admissions are known for their active and passionate lobbying, and we lawyers need to participate with pro-immigration groups to present the other side of the story. I am convinced that when lawmakers hear from real people–people like our clients and their family members–they can be moved. Indeed, before he was a candidate, Donald Trump met with Dream Act activists and told them, “You convinced me.” If such stories can impact Mr. Trump (at least temporarily), they may be able to affect our country’s legislators.

Public Relations: I’ve written about this before, but over the past 20+ years, there has been a growing disconnect between the development of the immigration law, on the one hand, and the “will of the People,” on the other. Through litigation and presidential action, laws have been expanded to benefit more and more aliens–victims of FGM and domestic violence, Dream Act immigrants, unaccompanied minors–without input from “the People” (i.e., Congress).

As one who represents non-citizens, I certainly will not apologize for helping my clients. That is my duty as an attorney. However, I feel that we as immigration advocates need to work harder to build support for more pro-immigrant policies. This involves making our case directly to the American people. If our countrymen had a better idea about who our clients are, why they come here, and how they benefit our nation, I believe that many of them would favor a more open policy towards immigrants.

As I said in the beginning, all this is a quite preliminary. Although Mr. Trump’s rhetoric–and some of his cabinet choices–seem ominous, we really do not know his plans. Nevertheless, it makes sense to start organizing now, so we are prepared for any eventuality.

In his play Henry the Sixth, Shakespeare’s character Dick the Butcher famously intones, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The context of that quote is often forgotten. Dick is a follower of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne of England and a populist. For Jack to take control, law and order must be subverted, and this requires getting the lawyers out of the way. In our own time too, we attorneys stand between a populist and his possible victims, but judging by the early organizing efforts, I have little doubt that we will stand firm.

 

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Kate Sugarman is a medical doctor at Unity Health Care in Washington, DC, a public community health clinic. She works with people who have survived abuse and trauma, including many refugees. As a family physician, she is qualified to make medical diagnoses and prescribe treatments. She has particular experience in diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder through her family medicine training program and her clinical practice, which focuses on minority and immigrant patients, many of whom suffer from physical and mental disorders. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Georgetown University Law School Center for Applied Legal Studies (the Law Clinic) in support of their asylum work. Here, she discusses her work, and the new reality of a Trump Administration:

The morning after the election felt like day zero of the apocalypse.

Dr. Sugarman running from one appointment to the next.

Dr. Sugarman running from one appointment to the next.

Like most of us, I learned that night that Trump had won. But I knew I could not stay up too late to mourn. I had to meet a patient at 7:30 AM for a forensic evaluation.

Just to explain: When I say a forensic evaluation, what I mean is a medical examination that is part of an asylum seeker’s evidence in his or her quest for asylum. I do not perform psychological forensic evaluations, which would mean psychological evidence of the effects of being tortured, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. Those exams are most often conducted by mental health professionals. I conduct medical forensic evaluations. Most of the effects of torture that I document are visible scarring on the skin from beatings, stabbings, burning, etc. I also document any other visible medical signs of the effects of being tortured, like swelling, hearing loss, damage to bones and joints, etc. I never charge the asylum seekers for these examinations.

I conduct the examination in the following way. First, I read the patient’s personal statement–which explains why that person fears persecution in the home country–so I have a basic idea of what happened. Then I gently interview the patient, always trying my best not to retraumatize the person. The focus of my interview is the physical violence that has left visible scarring and other signs of torture on the person’s body. Then I examine the patient, looking for scarring and other signs of abuse. Since I have performed these examinations for so many years on so many people, I have a sense of whether scarring is consistent with the stated explanation of how it happened.

The 7:30 AM  patient had approached me the previous week. He told me that his asylum case had been denied, but he found a lawyer who had agreed to try to reopen the case. He asked me whether I could document his scars. I told him yes, as long as he could bring me his personal statement. The interview and examination were straight forward. As often happens, he only reported one scar to me. I had him get partially undressed at which point, I discovered more scars that he had forgotten to describe to his lawyer or me. Because asylum applicants often fail to remember all their old injuries, I always try to do a “head to toe” examination whenever possible.

After we finished, I rushed off to clinic where I had another asylum seeker waiting for me. This person had no visible scarring, but had been seeing me for some time in clinic to be treated for depression and insomnia due to the torture. His lawyer wanted a summary of my clinic notes describing the emotional distress that this person had been experiencing.

Both patients were extremely grateful for my services.

According to a study from Physicians for Human Rights, forensic reports from physicians can make a big difference in the outcome of an asylum seeker’s application. I choose to do this work because I find it enormously rewarding. I have heard so many times from attorneys that judges and Asylum Officers comment on my reports, saying that the evidence I documented was very helpful in evaluating the applicant’s claim.

I have discovered over the years, in addition, that just the fact of the client presenting their story to me, and my active and compassionate listening, seems to have a therapeutic value to the client. Clients sometimes seem a little less burdened after I have finished listening to them and documenting their scars. Of course, there is no greater gift than when someone comes running into clinic to hug me, and tell me that they were just granted asylum. Twice in the past few weeks, people came up to me, thanking me for my detailed and kind forensic evaluations, which they said were very helpful in their receiving asylum. I had examined each of these people more than five years ago, but they apparently never forgot me.

But now–with the election of Donald Trump–asylum seekers may be feeling more fearful. So what would I tell a Trump supporter? That is a difficult question, but I suppose if Mr. Trump wants to make America great again, we should help wonderful and deserving people be granted asylum. If my grandparents had not been allowed into the United States, then they would have been killed by Hitler, and I would not be here in the U.S. doing this important work.

I cannot undo Trump’s victory, but I am determined to do everything in my power to help as many asylum seekers as possible.

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The People have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. He will enter office with a Republican House and Senate, though not a filibuster-proof majority, but certainly enough to enact much of his legislative/policy agenda. So what can asylum seekers, asylees, and refugees expect?

Sometimes white is a very dark color.

Sometimes white is a very dark color.

Of course, with Mr. Trump, it’s often hard to know his plan. Will he keep his campaign promises to ban Muslims? Return Syrian refugees? Build a wall? Narrow the category of people eligible for asylum (as implied by the Republican Party platform)? Can these policies even be implemented in practice? It’s far too soon to know which direction Mr. Trump will go with all this, but here are some initial thoughts, not so much about what he will do, but about what he has the power to do.

Banning Muslim Immigrants: The U.S. government has the power to block most anyone from coming to the United States. In previous eras, we have excluded Chinese, Southern Europeans, Jews, and all sorts of other “undesirables.” More recently, after 9-11, we enacted Special Registration for people from certain majority-Muslim nations, though this was not a ban on Muslims, just a restriction on those already here.

Also, if you have ever applied for a U.S. visa, you know that the consulates exercise almost unlimited discretion to deny visas to people deemed ineligible. For people overseas seeking a visa, it would be easy for President Trump to deny visas to applicants from majority-Muslim countries, or to those who are Muslim. This could be done even without Congressional action.

The policy implications for such a move would be unpredictable. How would the “banned” countries react? What would this mean for our diplomatic relations with those countries and our ability to cooperate with them against the war on Islamic extremists? There are also economic implications for trade, business investment, and universities that enroll (and make money from) foreign students. I imagine the competing constituencies would weigh in on the efficacy of a Muslim ban, and so it is difficult to know how this would work in practice. But President Trump will basically have the power to block Muslims who are overseas from coming to the United States.

Refugees: This past year, we accepted about 85,000 refugees. Traditionally, the plurality of refugees we accept are Christian, but in FY 2016–for the first time since FY 2006–the plurality (44%) of refugees resettled in the United States were Muslim (the Pew Research Center provides some good data on this subject). This shift reflected President Obama’s response (tepid, in my opinion) to the Syrian refugee crisis. In determining how many refugees to bring to the U.S., the President consults with Congress and comes up with a number. So Mr. Trump could reduce or eliminate the number of refugees coming to the U.S., or he could shift the focus away from Muslim refugees.

Again, there are policy implications for such a move. The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. What does it mean for the character of our nation to ignore the suffering of these individuals? How will our retrenchment affect the efforts of other countries to assist refugees? How will it affect our ability to wield moral authority and to continue our role as the leader of the Free World? Or have we as a nation decided to abdicate that role?

Asylees and Muslim Refugees Who Are Already in the United States: And what about those Syrian refugees (and other refugees and asylees) who are already here and have already been granted refugee status or asylum in the United States? Deporting people who are here, with lawful status, is much more difficult than excluding people from coming here in the first place. Such people have a Constitutional right to due process of law, meaning that they cannot be deported from the U.S. without a legal procedure. Currently, that procedure involves presenting one’s case to an Immigration Judge, who then determines whether the person is eligible to remain in the United States. People who have already qualified for protection under U.S. law (which is based on our ratification of various international treaties) cannot simply be removed from the country. The procedure to remove them is long, and–given that they have already qualified for protection–under current law, they cannot be deported.

For these reasons, although Mr. Trump has vowed to send Syrian refugees back, I suspect that this will not be easily accomplished. First, it would mean a change in the law, and this requires the cooperation of Congress. As mentioned, while the Republicans have a majority of seats in Congress, there is still a powerful Democratic minority that could potentially block such a change. Also, it is likely that a significant minority of Republicans would oppose changing our humanitarian laws.

And even if the law related to asylum were changed, there are several other laws that people currently in the U.S. might use to avoid removal. For example, those who fear harm as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture might assert a defense based on that treaty. Those who have been here for longer periods of time might be eligible for other forms of relief, like Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status based on a family relationship. In short, people who are living in the U.S. and who have refugee or asylum status have several layers of protection that will likely insulate them from any effort to have them removed. And any effort to make the sweeping changes needed to force such people to leave will require unified Congressional action, something that we are unlikely to see.

Of course, if such changes could somehow be made, there are policy implications here as well. What will it mean to send back Syrian refugees (mostly women and children) to that war torn region? How will it affect our moral standing in the world? What would it mean for international law in general if we abrogate our treaty obligations? And what would be the “ripple effect” of such a policy?

People with Asylum Cases Pending: People who are in the United States with asylum cases pending also have the benefit of due process protections. They cannot be deported unless and until an Immigration Judge determines that they do not qualify to remain in the United States. Under current law, even people from majority-Muslim countries benefit from these protections–which are “rights”–under domestic and international law. To change this regime, Congressional action would be necessary. Again, it is unclear whether President Trump will have the supported needed to enact such sweeping changes in this area of law.

The bigger immediate concern for people with pending asylum cases is how the Trump Administration will allocate resources towards the asylum system. I suspect that resources will be increased for Immigration Courts (which can deport people, but which can also grant relief and allow people to stay here). I am not so optimistic about the Affirmative Asylum System–these are the Asylum Offices that review asylum cases filed by people who are in the U.S. and who fear persecution in their home country. The Affirmative Asylum System is already beleaguered by long delays, and if the new Administration diverts resources from that system, it will only slow the process further. One option for a Trump Administration might be to eliminate the Asylum Offices and send everyone to Immigration Court. How this would play out in terms of delay or efficacy, I do not know.

The Wall and Restrictions on the Definition of Particular Social Group: Finally, Donald Trump has promised to build a wall to prevent people from entering the U.S. through Mexico. This seems to me more a fanciful campaign promise than a realistic or effective means of tightening the border. So I doubt he will build an actual wall. He could however, make it more difficult for people arriving at the Southern border to seek asylum by restricting the definition of those eligible for asylum. Specifically, many people who come to the border seek asylum because they fear persecution by gangs or domestic violence (in legal terms, they are seeking asylum because they fear persecution on account of their “particular social group”). Our current system allows such people to arrive at the border, “pass” a credible fear interview, enter the U.S., and then have their cases adjudicated by an Immigration Judge. If a Trump Administration restricted the definition of particular social group, and raised the bar for credible fear interviews, it could largely shut down the border without resorting to a wall, and probably without violating our treaty obligations.

Again, of course, there are policy concerns here. If relations with Mexico sour, that country could do less to interdict migrants traveling north through it’s territory. That could result in a larger refugee crisis at our border. Also, if our country closes the doors to refugees in our backyard, other countries may follow suit, and the result would be a more severe worldwide refugee crisis, and the likely deaths of many innocent people trying to escape harm.

For now, all this is conjecture. Donald Trump will not assume office for another few months. During that time, he will (presumably) begin to articulate how he will translate his promises into actual policy. Given the campaign we just witnessed, it is difficult not to be pessimistic. However, to paraphrase John Donne, No policy is an island, entire of itself. To implement changes to the humanitarian laws will implicate many other important policy areas. Perhaps–we can hope–this will help mitigate the more radical plans raised prior to the election. Here’s John Donne, once more, “Any man’s death diminishes me / Because I am involved in mankind / And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls / It tolls for thee.” Let’s hope Mr. Trump recognizes the gravity of his proposed changes, and the effect they could have on innocent lives. Let’s hope.

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