NICKOLE MILLER IN THE WASHPOST: The Truth About Vulnerable Asylum Seekers Refutes Sessions’s False Narrative!

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.

Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Nickole speaks truth.  Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.

Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.

Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.

In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant.  This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow  at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.

I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials. 

PWS

10-16-17

9th Cir. Remands Reasonable Fear Denial In Reinstatement Case — VALENCIA MARTINEZ V. SESSIONS (Published)

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/07/20/14-70339.pdf

“The government does not offer any argument on the merits of this petition; therefore, it has waived any challenge to the arguments Martinez raised. See Clem v. Lomeli, 566 F.3d 1177, 1182 (9th Cir. 2009) (holding that an appellee who did not address an argument in the answering brief had waived that issue). On remand, the agency is directed: (1) to give proper consideration to Martinez’s testimony about police corruption and acquiescence in MS-13 violence; (2) to accord proper weight to the Department of State Country Report on El Salvador, and in particular, evidence of corruption and inability or unwillingness to prosecute gang violence; and (3) to apply the correct legal standards to Martinez’s Convention Against Torture claim.”

PANEL: Morgan Christen and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges, and James Alan Soto, District Judge.

OPINION BY: Judge Soto

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Read the full opinion at the link. It’s short. Three things stand out.

First, the Respondent’s credible testimony clearly established a plausible claim for CAT relief. If he gets representation, he will be able to show that the authorities in El Salvador do often cooperate with gangs and that the government is willfully blind to the many instances of torture of citizens by gangs. The Asylum Officer’s incorrect analysis along with that by the Immigration Judge show a fundamental misunderstanding of CAT law and the reasonable fear process. How does an Immigration Court system faced with such glaring problems eliminate training and the guidance provided through the former Benchbook?

Second, the 9th Circuit highlights the Byzantine nature of the regulations in this area.  How many unrepresented individuals who been treated in this unfair manner are hustled out of the country because they can’t figure out how to get meaningful review?

Third, this decision shows that there might well be ways to penetrate the general unwillingress of Appellate Courts to review the gross miscarriages of justice and denials of due process going on every day in the expedited removal process which is administered by the DHS and inadequately reviewed by the Immigration Judges. Once they take a look, they will be appalled at what they find!

PWS

07-21-17

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: Katie Shepard Explains How New USCIS Lesson Plans Are Likely To Harm Asylum Seekers!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/28/changes-may-keep-asylum-seekers-getting-day-court/

“Effective February 27, 2017, new changes to the asylum screening process could lead to an increased number of deportations of asylum-seekers who fear persecution upon return to their home country.

On February 13, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its Asylum Division Officer Training Course (ADOTC) lesson plans on how to assess an asylum seeker’s credible and reasonable fear of persecution or torture. The lesson plans were revised to be consistent with the January 25, 2017 Executive Order on border security and immigration enforcement and provide guidelines to the asylum officers when conducting credible fear interviews (for those at the border or port of entry who were never previously deported) and reasonable fear interviews (for those who were previously order deported but who later seek asylum).

The changes to the lesson plans are significant and may cause the denial rate to skyrocket, in which case thousands of asylum seekers would be wrongfully denied a meaningful day in court . Not only does the new guidance provide asylum officers with greater discretion to deny an applicant for reasons which may be out of the applicant’s control, but the applicant will essentially be forced to undergo a full asylum hearing with none of the safeguards in place to ensure a meaningful opportunity to present a claim for relief.”

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Read Katie’s complete analysis at the link. You should also look at Dree Collopy’s short video on the changes which I previously posted.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-qx

If this carries over into Immigration Court where unsuccessful applicants can seek “expedited review,” it would mean that “credible fear reviews” could become more time consuming.

I was usually able to complete them in a few minutes using the Asylum Officer’s notes and asking a few questions. I found that the overwhelming number of those denied had “credible fear,” and probably at least half of those cases eventually resulted in relief. However, over the last year of my career I was primarily on the non-detained docket, so I only did “credible fears” when I was on detail to a detention center or the system was backed up.

As an Immigration Judge, I did not use the USCIS lesson plans. But, I did rely on the Asylum Officer’s notes for a basic understanding of the claim. I then usually asked a few questions to verify that the notes accurately reflected the claim and that nothing relevant had been omitted.

 

PWS

03/03/17

 

AILA TV: In Less Than 5 Minutes, Superstar Attorney Dree Collopy Tells You Everything You Need To Know About The Revised USCIS Guidance On Credible/Reasonable Fear — Must Watch TV!

Here’s the You-Tube link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgVJkysse2Y

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Great job by Dree!

Bottom Line:  Under pressure from the Trump Administration, USCIS is tilting the system against (largely unrepresented) asylum applicants from the Northern Triangle. The only questions are 1) whether the Immigration Courts will follow suit, and 2) if so, whether the Article III Courts will blow or swallow (as they have done so far in the credible/reasonable fear context) the whistle on due process for the most vulnerable.

A good introduction to reality for anyone who believes that conscientious career civil servants will be able to persevere in the face of the Trump Administration’s all-out assault on due process and fundamental fairness.

P

DHS Issues New Training Materials For Credible Fear Determinations — Complete Text Here!

Release lesson plans

credible fear lesson plan

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These were forwarded by Nolan Rappaport. Nolan believes that these guidelines will “raise the bar” substantially for asylum claimants to pass through the credible fear process.

On initial review, I’d be hard pressed to say there was anything “legally erroneous” about these lesson plans. However, they did seem highly “legalistic.”

I have done numerous “credible fear reviews” in my judicial career and found that the determinations were more “holistic” than “legalistic.” Most of the folks I reviewed had credible, legitimate fears that arguably came within the legal definitions of persecution and/or torture particularly if the individual could fully develop the claims with the help of a lawyer.

I did not always retain jurisdiction over the cases once they were allowed into the Individual Hearing system Of the cases the came back to me, I estimate that at least half of the individuals succeeded in getting some form of protection at the Immigration Court level.

Read the lesson plans here and decide for yourself!

PWS

02/27/17