This week I had the honor of representing a client in the Immigration Court in Detroit. My client had entered the United States in the early 1990s. Although she is from a country that has a history of persecuting persons like herself, she did not apply for asylum. She ended up with a removal order from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). When I met the client in 2012, we decided to ask the BIA to reopen her case so that she could apply for asylum. The BIA agreed to reopen the case, and sent the case to Detroit for a new hearing.
According to U.S. immigration law, in order to be granted asylum, a person must apply within 1 year of entering the United States, unless the person can demonstrate either extraordinary circumstances (which my client did not have), or changed circumstances (which we argued that my client did have).
At the hearing, at first, the attorney representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated to me that he did not think that my client should get asylum, because we had not met any of the exceptions to the one-year filing deadline. I stated that I thought that my client was eligible for asylum because the conditions in her country had worsened in recent years, including from 2012 up through to today. Moreover, I had presented documents indicating that several of my client’s siblings had recently obtained refugee status. Several had recently entered the United States as refugees, and others were in the process of obtaining refugee status and later will settle as refugees in the United States.
The thing that really changed the prosecutor’s mind, though, was a Sixth Circuit case called Mandebvu v. Holder that I brought to his attention. In Mandebvu, the petitioners applied for asylum many years after they had entered the United States. The Sixth Circuit overturned the decisions of an Immigration Judge and the BIA and concluded that the petitioners in that case had met the requirement of showing changed circumstances. The Court reasoned that the petitioners could qualify for the “changed circumstances” exception to the one-year filing deadline by showing additional evidence of the type of persecution that they had already suffered, or that they would be likely to suffer upon return to their country.
Mandebvu was directly relevant to my client’s case. Although my client could have applied for asylum prior to 2012, when we submitted her asylum application, we showed that conditions in my client’s country have deteriorated in recent years, and we also showed that several of my client’s relatives left the country as refugees in recent years. Under Mandebvu, that is sufficient to show “changed circumstances.” After reading the case, the prosecutor agreed with us, and we explained the situation to the Immigration Judge, who then granted asylum to my client.
My client is now an asylee, and in one year she will be eligible to apply for permanent resident (green card) status. Later, she will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. It’s great that my client has status in the United States now, after decades of uncertainty.