Seeking Asylum from Friendly Countries

by Jason Dzubow on February 21, 2013

in Asylum Seekers

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A couple of recent articles got me thinking about how the U.S. handles asylum seekers coming from countries that we view as friends–Western-style democracies that generally respect human rights.

The first is an article from the Jewish Daily Forward (featuring a quote from my esteemed law partner, Todd Pilcher) about asylum seekers from Israel. The article found that 18 Israeli nationals sought asylum in Fiscal Year 2011. The article found that the asylees were a “strange and quirky mix:”

One, an Arab citizen of Israel, is a gay man who convinced authorities he would face violence from his own family and tribe if forced to return to Israel. Lack of adequate action by Israeli police played a role in the approval of the request, his attorney said. Another is an Israeli woman who suffered domestic abuse. She also received asylum after making the case that Israeli authorities were not protecting her. Yet a third is the son of a founder of Hamas who, after spying on the terrorist-designated group for Israeli authorities, felt unsafe under Israeli protection and fled to the United States in fear for his life [I wrote about this case here].

German citizens react to the news that one of their own has received asylum in the U.S.

German citizens react to the news that one of their own has received asylum in the U.S.

The second article is a follow-up on a homeschooler family that received asylum from Germany.  In that case, an Immigration Judge found that the family faced persecution in Germany after they refused for religious reasons to send their children to public school, as required by German law. The Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the IJ’s decision last May, and the homeschoolers filed a petition for review and a brief with the Sixth Circuit. The case is currently pending.

Other “Western” countries listed as source countries for asylum seekers in the U.S. include Argentina (9 people granted asylum in FY 2011), Brazil (20 people), Germany (4), Latvia (6), New Zealand (5), Poland (6), and the United Kingdom (8). These numbers are pretty small given the total of 24,988 people granted asylum in FY 2011, but such cases raise some interesting questions.

First, how do the source countries feel about a decision from the U.S. government that they are persecuting (or, at best, failing to protect from persecution) their own citizens? When asked by the Forward, an Israeli diplomat said that the scarcity of asylum cases in the United States did not require the Israeli government to bring up the issue with Washington. The official added that the few cases in which Israelis were granted asylum in America represented “unusual circumstances” and did not reflect on Israel’s democracy. I’d bet that like the Israelis, most Western democracies see these asylum cases as aberrations and aren’t particularly bothered by them. One country that is annoyed by our State Department’s practice of evaluating the human rights situation in other countries is China. In “retaliation” for our report, China issues its own report, which describes a litany of human rights abuses in the United States.

A related issue is whether–if the number of asylum cases form a particular allied country increased–that country could raise the issue diplomatically in order to curtail asylum grants. Theoretically, asylum should be independent of politics, but the Forward article raises the example of Israeli conscientious objectors who received asylum in Canada. Apparently, “Canada has approved dozens of asylum requests from individuals claiming political persecution by Israel since 2000.” According to the Forward, in 2006, the Israeli government protested Canada’s asylum policies. And in the past two years the number of Israelis receiving asylum in Canada has declined. If this is correct, and the decline in asylum grants is related to the Israeli protest, it raises serious concerns about the integrity of the Canadian asylum system.

Another question raised by these asylum cases is, how the heck do you get granted asylum from a country like New Zealand or the UK? My guess is that these cases involve very special circumstances, like victims of human trafficking who have not received adequate protection, or maybe sexual orientation cases where the person was subject to severe abuse. Another possibility is that the Immigration Judge and the DHS attorney agreed to grant asylum in order to address an otherwise inequitable situation. For example, I once had a case where my client was convicted of an aggravated felony. She had been here for many years, had a family with a special needs child, and it was obvious that the only reason for her conviction was the incompetence of her criminal lawyer (her crime was very minor). Although it was pretty clear that she did not qualify for withholding of removal, the IJ would have granted relief to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, the DHS attorney did not agree. Had the attorney agreed, the client would have received relief, even though she really did not qualify. Maybe something similar is happening in some of the asylum cases at issue here.

Asylum cases from Western democracies are relatively rare. But there are enough such cases to help prove the adage, no country is safe for everyone all the time.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Cara February 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Really interesting article Jason! Enjoyed reading it! Would love to know more about the asylum cases from the UK and New Zealand!

SB February 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Do you know of succesful US asylum seekers abroad? I have only heard of failed applicants, e.g.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_and_Iraq_War_resisters
http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/cth/RRTA/2011/671.html

Wendy Lyon February 22, 2013 at 2:34 am

I don’t know if this is the case for refugee law, but for immigration purposes generally the US categorises people by country of birth rather than country of citizenship. So perhaps those “UK” and “New Zealand” cases were people who were born in those countries of (say) Iranian parents, but were not entitled to citizenship of those countries or to residency on any other grounds.

In the past there would have been some UK citizens granted asylum in the US on account of the Troubles, but that probably wouldn’t explain any of the 2011 cases.

Jason Dzubow February 22, 2013 at 10:31 am

Hi Wendy – Thank you. I did not know that they listed people that way, and it certainly could explain some of the cases.

Jason Dzubow February 22, 2013 at 10:32 am

Hi SB – There are a few examples listed in an article in the Guardian. There is a link to that article (and a quote about US asylum seekers) here: http://www.asylumist.com/2010/10/25/american-citizens-seek-asylum-in-great-britain/

John Franklin March 29, 2013 at 11:40 am

I recently saw the US listed as a source country in refugee statistics in Latin America, and I set about looking it up – I can’t remember the persons’ names, but one successful refugee in Ecuador and another in Costa Rica–as well as an additional case in the Netherlands–were women who had fled abusive relationships where US courts had, inexplicably, granted full custody to the abusive partner (who was potentially abusing the kids?) and in any case the US justice system seemed disinterested in providing legal recourse, so they took the kids and fled. The abusive parent reported the kidnapping and the parent who fled was wanted for kidnapping in the US. I think one of the two Latin America cases was still pending.

@Wendy – I think you might be conflating a few things – refugee law looks at both country of nationality and country of habitual residence, and has to examine state protection provided by any and all nationalities the person holds. The people you are describing may be de facto stateless, as in, not recognized as a national by any country, often but not exclusively in situations such as you describe, where parents of one nationality have children in a country that recognizes only jus sanguinus and not jus solis, i.e. not granting citizenship through birth on the territory of that country as the US does. Stateless people can be refugees as well, but it’s generally a completely separate category of people.

boureima May 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm

hi, i have a asylum pending status and i want to go to school, do anyone knows if i will be allow to pay as resident ?

Jason Dzubow May 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

You should speak with the school, as policies seem to vary from one school to the next. Good luck! Jason

Daniel roberts June 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hi there,
I am planning on seeking asylum in the US due to stuff happening in my life in the UK, I am being discriminated by my sexuality and threats have been made towards me, Is it better o seek asylum while in the US or is it doesn’t make much different if I apply while i’m in the UK? I want the best available advice as I am being 100% serious. I could give all the information to anyone who is willing to give me advice.

Bishop August 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

One UK asylum seeker is former intelligence agent Andrea Davison and she gives a full report of why she is a refugee in her report to the Macur Review on chiuld abuse which you can read here http://macurstatement.blogspot.com

Western Countries are no-longer havens of Human Rights

bheim August 28, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I know this is your website and all, but you didn’t need to delete my comment. It’s as if you only want people to see you answering questions and helping other lawyers. If you didn’t like my comment or question regarding me spending life on probation and trying to seek asylum in another country, with a credible fear of ending up in prison for something that in most countries is legal, you maybe could have said that you simply didn’t know. People spending their life on probation is maybe something you could help fight to change. With only 2% sex offender recidivism rate I would think that more lawyers could practice sex offender reform and rights law and still be able to sleep at night. Maybe you could point me in the right direction of someone that can help me… Thanks for hearing me

Jason Dzubow August 29, 2013 at 6:22 am

I did not delete your comment, and – if I remember correctly – I responded to it. In general, people who are prosecuted for a crime (as opposed to persecuted on account of one of the five protected grounds) are not eligible for asylum. However, where the prosecution becomes so severe that it crosses the (fuzzy and imaginary) line into persecution, they might have a claim for asylum. I do not know of resources overseas for seeking asylum; you would need to contact lawyers or NGOs in the country where you want to ask for asylum.

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