Another New Policy: Indefinite Detention for Some Asylum Seekers

Attorney General William Barr recently issued a decision that overturns a policy that is at least 14 years old, and which threatens to keep many asylum applicants in jail while their cases are pending for months or years.

In Matter of M-S-, issued on April 16, 2019, the Attorney General decided that for persons who enter the United States without permission and who are encountered by U.S. immigration officials shortly after their entry, and who seek asylum, these persons are not eligible for bonds to be released from detention.  The only options for these persons are to remain in detention until the completion of their cases in Immigration Court (which could last for months or years), or to be released from jail on parole from U.S. immigration officials.

The Attorney General’s decision overturns a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals from 2005.

Because the Attorney General’s decision has the potential to require the detention of so many persons, the Department of Homeland Security requested that the Attorney General delay the effective date of the decision.  The Attorney General agreed, and has delayed the effective date of the decision for 90 days, so that U.S. immigration officials may acquire more facilities to detain asylum applicants.  It appears that the new policy will go into effect on or around July 15, 2019.

The Attorney General’s decision appears to be yet another policy shift by the Trump Administration to try to discourage persons from applying for asylum and to make it as difficult as possible for those asylum applicants to navigate the legal system.  Winning asylum in the United States is difficult even under the most favorable conditions.  Those persons seeking asylum while in jail face many more obstacles.  It is much more difficult to meet with attorneys and others who wish to help the persons prepare their cases.  There is much less time to prepare cases, because detained persons are typically on court schedules that progress much more quickly that those who are not in jail.  It is much more difficult for jailed persons to communicate with family and friends to help to prepare the case and obtain documents in their home countries to help prove their asylum claims.

The Trump Administration will also further burden U.S. taxpayers by spending more money on detaining asylum applicants for months or years at a time.

As with other new policies, the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of M-S- will very likely be appealed in court.  The final outcome of the new policy is uncertain.

“Remain in Mexico” Policy: Devastating for Asylum Seekers

By federal law, an immigrant may seek asylum at any port of entry or from anywhere inside the United States.   Immigrants seeking asylum have been allowed to remain in the United States, pending a decision on their case.  A new Trump Administration policy threatens this process.

On January 24, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began carrying out the “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, at the San Ysidro port of entry.  This policy forces immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico until an asylum hearing is scheduled before an Immigration Judge.

There are few exceptions to the policy.  Unaccompanied minors, citizens and nationals of Mexico, and anyone who fears persecution in Mexico may remain in the United States.  However, the burden is on the asylum seekers to establish that they are “more likely than not” to face persecution on the account of a protected ground in Mexico if they wish to remain in the United States.

In addition to imposing a more stringent standard for asylum seekers, the “Remain in Mexico” policy jeopardizes an asylum seeker’s access to legal counsel.  United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has stated that they are unable to provide access to immigration attorneys during the assessment of an asylum claim between the asylum seeker and a USCIS officer.  An asylum seeker may not apply for appeal or reconsideration of the assessment made by USCIS.

Asylum seekers awaiting their hearing in Mexico will face difficulties in finding a U.S. based immigration attorney to guide them and prepare them for their hearing.  The “Remain in Mexico” policy also imposes increased burdens on U.S. based immigration attorneys who wish to represent asylum seekers who are forced to remain in Mexico.  Finding a means of communication between clients and attorneys will prove difficult across international borders.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy jeopardizes the safety of asylum seekers while they remain in Mexico.  It is likely that they will face exposure to kidnapping, murder, assault, and other types of harm based on the current country conditions in Mexico.  While the Mexican government has announced that it will give protection to asylum seekers affected by the policy, no additional details have been given including where asylum seekers will live or in what type of housing.

On April 8, 2019, a federal judge in San Francisco halted the “Remain in Mexico” policy, following a legal suit brought by asylum seekers and other organizations represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The judge issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that the plaintiffs were likely to show that the policy violated federal regulatory law.

The Ninth Circuit appeals court reinstated the policy on April 12, 2019.  This reinstatement will remain in force while the parties submit arguments to the court addressing the government’s desire that the policy remain in place throughout the whole appeals process.  Whether the government at this time will continue returning asylum seekers to Mexico remains to be seen.

The process of seeking asylum in the United States already imposes a high burden on asylum seekers who seek refuge in this country.  The “Remain in Mexico” policy places additional hurdles that jeopardize the safety of asylum seekers as well as their access to legal counsel.  This policy sets forth a more stringent standard that asylum seekers must face in order to establish their fear of return.  Whether this policy will eventually be struck down by the federal courts hangs in the balance.

A few thoughts about affirmative asylum, Part 2

This is the second posting about the “affirmative asylum” process.

Please click here to read Part 1.

As with all applications for asylum, the task for the applicant is to show that he or she has a well-founded fear of being persecuted in his or her country of origin by the government or by individuals or groups that the government cannot or will not control.  In addition, the applicant must show that the persecution (or fear of persecution) is because of at least one of the following five reasons:  the applicant’s (1) race, (2) religion, (3) nationality, (4) political opinion, or (5) membership in a particular social group.

Another important requirement is that the applicant submit the asylum application within one year of the applicant’s most recent entry to the United States.  If the applicant submits the application more than one year after the most recent entry, then the applicant will need to show that there were either exceptional circumstances or changed circumstances that led to the delay in filing.

Back to the five reasons for persecution, let’s discuss “membership in a particular social group” (referred to as “PSG”).  This doesn’t mean that an applicant needed to be a member of an official club, or society, or organization.  It means that the applicant may state that he or she is persecuted because of some particular characteristics that he or she has.  For example, a woman who is fleeing domestic violence in her home, and who is from a country in which women have no real protections from the government against domestic violence, might be in a PSG of “women from Country X who are viewed as property due to their role in a domestic relationship.”

After the very long wait for an interview at at USCIS Asylum Office, and then at some point after the interview, USCIS will issue a decision on the application.  If USCIS approves the application, then the applicant is an “asylee,” and one year after the USCIS decision, the asylee may apply for permanent resident (green card) status.

If, at the time of the USCIS decision, the applicant is in lawful immigration status, then if USCIS does not approve the application, they will simply issue a denial.  The applicant will continue in their lawful immigration status.  On the other hand, if the applicant is not in lawful immigration status, then the applicant will need to appear later in Immigration Court, where an Immigration Judge will take a fresh look at the asylum application.

Asylum law is extremely complex.  If you are considering applying for asylum, you should work with an experienced immigration attorney.

A few thoughts about affirmative asylum, Part 1

I would like to share a few thoughts about the affirmative asylum process.  When I say “affirmative asylum,” I am referring to a person who decides to file for asylum while he or she is not in removal proceedings in Immigration Court.  So, the person “affirmatively” applies for asylum, rather than filing “defensively” in Immigration Court.

When a person files an affirmative asylum application, the application goes to USCIS, which stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  USCIS will receive the application, and, if the application meets certain requirements, such as being filled out correctly, containing the applicant’s signature, etc., then USCIS will send a receipt notice to the applicant, and to the attorney, if the applicant is filing with the help of an attorney.  The receipt will arrive in a small thin envelope, and it will be difficult to read the text on the receipt.

Next, the applicant will receive a biometrics notice.  This notice will be on regular letter-sized paper, and it will be easier to read.  The applicant will be directed to go to a USCIS office to get his or her fingerprints and photograph taken by USCIS.

After that, there is the very long wait for an asylum interview.  USCIS has 8 offices in the United States that are dedicated only for asylum interviews and decisions.  The 8 offices are, roughly from east to west:  New York, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Arlington, Virginia; Miami, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; San Francisco, California; and Los Angeles, California.

The applicant will be interviewed at the Asylum Office that has jurisdiction over the location where the applicant is living.  The waiting time for an interview varies by the office, but at this time, the waiting time for an interview varies from about 1 1/2 years (New York office) to more than 5 years (Los Angeles office).  At the Chicago office, the current wait for an interview is nearly 3 years.

Five months after the applicant submits the original asylum application to USCIS, the applicant may submit an application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  By federal regulation, USCIS is supposed to issue the EAD within about 30 days of the application, but in reality, USCIS often takes about 90 days to issue the EAD.

Once the applicant receives an EAD, the applicant may file for a Social Security Number at the nearest Social Security Office.  The applicant may also apply for a driver license or state-issued ID, depending on the regulations in the applicant’s state.  The EAD will be valid for 1 year.  The applicant may renew the EAD each year, while the asylum application remains pending.

After the applicant has the asylum interview, then begins the wait to receive the decision from the Asylum Office.  The wait time for the decision after the interview varies quite a lot, but some wait times of 2 years or more are common.  Again, while the case is pending, the applicant may continue to renew the EAD.

In a later post, I will discuss more about the details of the asylum application process.

 

Welcoming Syrians

“You’re safe at home now.”  These are the words of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to a group of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada.

I would like to present a few facts about the Syrian refugee crisis, with a goal of providing a bit of perspective.

Canada has agreed to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016.  Canada has a total population of approximately 35 million people.

The United States has committed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of 2016.  The United States has a total population of approximately 319 million people.

Taking a look at these numbers, we see that Canada has committed to accept about 1 Syrian refugee for every 1,400 persons in Canada.  Meanwhile, the United States has committed to accept about 1 Syrian refugee for every 31,900 persons in the United States.

As a proportion of total population, Canada has agreed to accept almost 23 times more Syrian refugees than the United States has committed to accept.

Refugees to the United States undergo an intense level of screening before they are permitted to enter the United States.  In fact, they undergo a higher level of screening than any other persons who are permitted to enter the United States.

Steven Katz, a U.S. war veteran who served from 2003 to 2009, including two tours of ground combat duty in Iraq, pointed out that in a recent poll, a majority of Americans support U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq to combat ISIS (also known as ISIL), but don’t share the same enthusiasm for accepting Syrian refugees.  Mr. Katz summed it up nicely:  “We’re willing to bomb, but not provide refuge to those trying to escape from the bombing. What does that say about our national character?”

I am distressed that so many of my fellow citizens appear to be closing their hearts to persons who so desperately need our help.  We are a nation of immigrants.  We can and should open our hearts and do more.

A plea for sanity and compassion

These are some of the words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

From American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887), written in 1883.

France presented the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States in 1886.  It has been regarded as a symbol of this country’s welcoming approach towards immigrants and refugees.

In the wake of the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris earlier this month, and the possibility that some of the perpetrators were Syrian or spent time in Syria, some politicians are calling for a reduction or an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

I believe that such a response would be a mistake.

In our history, we have had periods of hostility towards immigrants and refugees.  Many different groups have felt the sting of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, including Chinese, Irish, Mexicans, Africans, African-Americans, Germans, Italians, and many other groups.  During the Second World War, our government put law-abiding persons of Japanese ancestry (including about 80,000 American-born U.S. citizens) into internment camps.  Although it seems that xenophobia – fear of foreigners – is a part of being human, it is an irrational fear.

By rejecting refugees, we are caving in to the terrorists’ desires.  We become afraid of everyone and everything.  But we can do better than to revert to our xenophobic instincts.

With the exception of Native Americans, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.  We are part of a wonderful diversity of persons from around the world who are proud to live and work in the United States, and to call America “home.”

The United States conducts an extensive and thorough security screening of all potential refugees.  In fact, refugees are subject to more intense scrutiny than any other persons who enter the United States.  By continuing our proud tradition of welcoming refugees, including Syrian refugees fleeing war and persecution, we build upon our strong foundation as a nation of immigrants, and as a place where persons have an opportunity to live in peace and to contribute to our great diversity.

Asylum

You might be eligible to apply for asylum if:

1. You have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in your country by government agents, or by people whom the government cannot or will not control,

AND

2. The persecution is based on one or more of the following reasons:  Race, Religion, Nationality, Political opinion, or Membership in a particular social group.

Under the “Resources” section of our website, we have some brief documents that outline various aspects of Immigration Law.

We have provided some basic information about asylum.  Please take a look.