“LET THE HAITIANS STAY” — IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!

The NY Times Editorial Board writes:

“The Temporary Protected Status program provides the sort of assistance the United States should be proud to extend to foreigners fleeing civil unrest, violence or natural disasters. Enacted by Congress in 1990, it currently offers safe and legal harbor to 437,000 people from 10 countries. Many stay for a long time, their status regularly extended because of continued turmoil in their homelands.

That, alas, is a far cry from the spirit of the Trump administration. But even President Trump’s bombastic pledges to throw up a Mexican border wall, expel illegal immigrants and bar entry to Muslims are different from expelling people who, though they may have entered the United States illegally, have been allowed to stay legally, often for many years, with solid jobs and large families, while their homelands remain unsettled or dangerous.

On Thanksgiving, of all days, the Department of Homeland Security is to announce whether it will extend the temporary protected status that was granted to about 50,000 Haitians when their country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Their stay has been regularly extended, but in May, John Kelly, then secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, gave them only six more months, explicitly to get ready to go home. Unless their status is extended this week, they must leave by Jan. 22.

By any reasonable measure, Haiti is not ready to take them back. The destitute country has never fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake or the cholera epidemic that followed. Last year, Hurricane Matthew added even more suffering. The country does not have the resources to absorb 50,000 people, and the money they have sent back is a critical source of income for their relatives and homeland.

Every member of Congress who represents South Florida, where most of these Haitians live, is in favor of extending their status. One of them, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami, is among the congressional members of both parties who have proposed legislation that would allow these immigrants to eventually apply for permanent residency, which is not possible under current rules.”

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Read the full editorial at the link.

Haitians seem to have gotten the “short end” of US immigration, refugee, and humanitarian policies over the years.

Let’s take a look at the latest Country Report on Human Rights issued by the US State Department:

“The most serious impediments to human rights involved weak democratic governance in the country worsened by the lack of an elected and functioning government; insufficient respect for the rule of law, exacerbated by a deficient judicial system; and chronic widespread corruption. Other human rights problems included significant but isolated allegations of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials; allegations of use of force against suspects and protesters; severe overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; chronic prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient, unreliable, and inconsistent judiciary; governmental confiscation of private property without due process. There was also rape, violence, and societal discrimination against women; child abuse; allegations of social marginalization of vulnerable populations; and trafficking in persons. Violence, including gender-based violence, and crime within the remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camps remained a problem. Although the government took steps to prosecute or punish government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses, credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged there was widespread impunity.”

Sound like a place where 50,000 additional refugees can be safely returned and reintegrated? Preposterous!

No, the only thing that has changed here is the political motivation of the Administration; TPS — some of the most successful, efficient, and cost effective migration programs the US has ever run — has become a target of the xenophobic, White Nationalist, restrictionist wing of the GOP.

Allowing 50,000 Haitians already residing here to remain costs the US nothing — in fact their continued presence is good for the US economy and our international image. Not to mention that many of the Haitian TPS holders have relatives with legal status in the US.

On the other hand, pulling TPS and removing these individuals could have catastrophic consequences for the individuals involved, their families, and their US communities. And, it’s likely to overwhelm Haiti, a country that has already proved unable to take care of its existing population.

Anywhere but the Trump Administration, extending TPS for Haitians and others while looking for a long-term solution that would give them some type of permanent status in the US would be a “no brainer.” But, in the Trump Administration immigration and refugee policies appear to be driven largely by a policy of “no brains” — just unnecessary cruelty, wasting resources, diminishing our international humanitarian standing, and playing to the xenophobia, racism, and hate of the White Nationalists.

PWS

11-20-17

“BASIC ASYLUM TRAINING FOR LITIGATORS” — Read My July 25, 2017 Pro Bono Training Presentation For Jones Day!

Click on this link for a “Printable Copy”:

JONES DAY TRAINING

Here’s the “complete text:”

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS

 

OUTLINE

 

I.  INTRODUCTION

II. WHO IS A REFUGEE?

A. Refugee Definition

B.  Standard of Proof

C.  What Is Persecution?

D.  Nexus

 

III. PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

A.  The Three Requirements

B.  Success Stories

C.  The Usual Losers

D.  What Can Go Wrong?

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

 

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTNG AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

V.  CONCLUSION

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

 

Good afternoon, and thanks for attending. As a former U.S. Immigration Judge at both the trial and appellate levels, and someone who has spent over four decades working in the field of immigration at all levels, I want to personally thank you for what you are doing.

 

Welcome to the “New Due Process Army” and our critical mission of forcing the U.S. Immigration Court system to live up to its unfulfilled promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Nothing is more important to achieving that mission than providing effective representation to individuals at the “retail level” of the system – the U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

There is a due process crisis going on in our U.S. Immigration Court system that threatens the integrity and the functioning of our entire U.S. justice system. And, the biggest need in the Immigration Courts is for effective legal representation of individuals seeking, expecting, and deserving justice in Immigration Court. Never has the need for pro bono attorneys been greater than it is now!

 

I appreciate the outstanding leadership and amazing commitment of your managing partner Steve Brogan, your Global Pro Bono Coordinator Laura Tuell, and folks like Mary Hale and many others who have been making this happen on a daily basis. It’s what I call “due process in action.” I know that Steve feels very deeply about the overwhelming need for everyone to get a day in court. He has written very forcefully and eloquently on it in the past and has certainly helped to raise the profile of the representation crisis facing our Immigration Courts.

 

Jones Day isn’t just “talking the talk.” Although it’s now been 25 years since the end of my time as a partner in Jones Day’s Washington Office, I am well aware of the tremendous time and financial commitment that your partnership is making to saving and preserving our justice system and in many cases to saving the very lives of the folks who depend on it. For, as Steve and others at the firm realize, our justice system is only as strong as its weakest link. If we fail in our responsibility to deliver fairness and due process to the most vulnerable individuals at the “retail level” of our system, then eventually our entire system will fail.

 

I also congratulate and appreciate your willingness to undertake representation in all types of cases, rather than “cherry picking” likely winners as is always a temptation. As a judge, I found that cases that look like “sure losers” at the Master Calendar sometimes turn into “winners” when a knowledgeable and dedicated attorney enters the picture.

 

Our Government is going to remove those who lose their cases to countries where some of them undoubtedly will suffer extortion, rape, torture, forced induction into gangs, and even death. Before we return individuals to such possible fates, it is critical that they have a chance to be fully and fairly heard on their claims for protection and that they fully understand and have explained to them the reasons why our country is unwilling or unable to protect them. Neither of those things is going to happen without effective representation.

 

We should always keep in mind that contrary to the false impression given by some pundits and immigration “hard liners,” losing an asylum case means neither that the person is committing fraud nor that he or she does not have a legitimate fear of return. In most cases, it merely means that the dangers the person will face upon return do not fall within our somewhat convoluted asylum system. And, as a country, we have chosen not to exercise our discretion to grant temporary shelter to such individuals through Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or prosecutorial discretion (“PD”). In other words, we are returning them knowing that the effect might well be life threatening or even fatal in many cases.

 

I also predict that you will make a positive difference in the development of the law. The well-prepared and articulate arguments that you make in behalf of a detained migrant are going to get attention and consideration from judges at all levels far beyond those presented by unrepresented individuals who can’t even speak English. It’s simply a fact of life. And, if you can win these cases, everything else you do in the law will be a “piece of cake.” I guarantee it.

 

Obviously, in representing your clients it is important to be polite, professional, and to let the excellence of your preparation, research, and arguments speak for you. In an overwhelmed system, judges are particularly grateful for all the help they can get. However, they are also under excruciating pressure to complete cases, particularly detained cases. So it is important to clearly identify your issues, focus your examination, and make sure that your “phone books” of evidence are properly organized and that there is a “road map” to direct the Immigration Judge and the Assistant Chief Counsel to the key points. You want to help the judge, and your opponent, get to a “comfort zone” where he or she can feel comfortable granting, or not opposing or appealing, relief.

 

I do want to offer one important piece of advice up front. That is to make sure to ask your client if her or his parents or grandparents, whether living or dead, are or were U.S. citizens. Citizenship is jurisdictional in Immigration Court, and occasionally we do come across individuals with valid but previously undeveloped claims for U.S. citizenship. You definitely want to find out about that sooner, rather than later, in the process.

My presentation today will be divided into three sections. First, we will go over the basic refugee definition and some of its ramifications. Second, I will provide some basic information about particular social group or “PSG” claims. Third, I will give you fourteen practical pointers for effectively presenting asylum cases in Immigration Court.

 

Please feel free to ask questions as we go along, or save them until the end.

 

II.        WHO IS A REFUGEE?

 

In this section, I will first discuss the INA’s definition of “refugee.” Second, I will talk about the standard of proof. Third, we will discuss the meaning of the undefined term “persecution.” I will conclude this section with a discussion of the key concept of “nexus.”

A.        Refugee Definition

 

An “asylee” under U.S. law is basically an individual who satisfies the “refugee” definition, but who is in the U.S. or at our border in a different status, or with no status at all. Most of your clients will fall in the latter category.

The definition of “refugee” is set forth in section 101(a)(42) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). There are four basic elements:

  1. Generally, outside the country of nationality (not usually an issue in border cases);
  2. Unwilling or unable to return (failure of state protection);
  3. Because of persecution (undefined) or a well founded fear of persecution;
  4. On account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (“nexus”).

 

There are some important exclusions to the refugee definition, the most frequent ones being the one-year filing deadline for asylum, those who have committed serious nonpolitical crimes outside the U.S. or particularly serious crimes in the U.S., persecutors of others, those who have rendered material support to a terrorist organizations, and those who are firmly resettled in another country. I won’t be going into these in detail today, but you should know that they are there, and I’d be happy to take questions on them. The ground most likely to come up in your cases is the one relating to individuals who have committed crimes.

Some individuals who are ineligible for asylum might still be eligible to receive withholding of removal under section 243(b) of the INA, 8 U.S.C., § 1253(b) or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). And, everyone can potentially seek so-called “deferral of removal” under the CAT.

Also, please note that because of the requirement of a “nexus” to a “protected ground” not all types of harm trigger protection. In particular, crimes, wars, random violence, natural disasters, and personal vengeance or retribution often do not qualify individuals for refugee status. However, some of these circumstances might be covered by the CAT, which has no nexus requirement.

The source of the “refugee” definition is he Refugee Act of 1980 which codified and implemented the U.N Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees to which the U.S. adhered in 1968. There are, however, some differences between the U.S. definition and the Convention definition, which I won’t go into today. But, again, you should be aware they exist, since some international or U.N. interpretations of the definition might be inapplicable under U.S. law.

B.        Standard of Proof

 

The standard of proof in asylum cases was established by the Supreme Court in 1987 in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987). In asylum cases, a “well-founded” fear is something far less than a probability. It is an “objectively reasonable fear” or the type of fear that a “reasonable person” would have under the circumstances. Most courts and authorities have adopted the “10% chance” example set forth in Justice Stevens’s plurality opinion in Cardoza.

The BIA’s implementation of Cardoza, the 1987 precedent Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987), makes the point that the persecution can be “significantly less than probable.” Your challenge as lawyers will be to get judges at all levels of our system to actually apply the generous Cardoza-Mogharrabi standard rather than just mouthing it. Sadly, the latter still happens too often, in my opinion.

A different and higher “more likely than not” standard applies to withholding of removal under the INA and to withholding and deferral of removal under the CAT. One great tool for satisfying the standard of proof for asylum or withholding under the Act is the rebuttable regulatory presumption of future persecution arising out of past persecution set forth in 8 C.F.R. 1208.13. This is a really important regulation that you should basically learn “by heart.” I will reference it again in the “practical tips” section of this presentation.

Withholding and CAT are more limited forms of relief than asylum. While they usually provide work authorization, they do not lead to green card status, allow the applicants to bring relatives, or travel abroad. They are also easier to revoke if conditions change. Nevertheless, there is one major advantage to withholding and CAT: they save your client’s life. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do. And, fundamentally, saving lives is really what this business is all about.

C.        What Is Persecution?

 

Remarkably, neither the Convention nor the INA defines the term “persecution.” Consequently, U.S. Immigration Judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constantly referring to certain types of harm as “mere discrimination or harassment” not “rising to the level” of “persecution.” Often these highly subjective conclusions seem to be more in the mind of the judicial beholder than in the record or the law.

In the absence of a firm definition, I have found the most useful practical guidance to be in an opinion by the famous, or infamous, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 case Stanojkova v. Holder, 645 F.3d 943, 947-48 (7th Cir. 2011). Judge Posner gave three examples.

“The three forms are discrimination, harassment, and persecution. The first refers to unequal treatment, and is illustrated historically by India’s caste system and the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. states. Discrimination normally does not involve the application of physical force, except as punishment for violation of the discriminatory laws.”

Second: “Harassment involves targeting members of a specified group for adverse treatment, but without the application of significant physical force. Had [police] furious at [the respondent’s] being soft on Albanians followed his taxi (he was a taxicab driver in Macedonia) and ticketed him whenever he exceeded the speed limit by one mile per hour, that would be an example of harassment. A common form of sexual harassment is pestering a subordinate for a date or making lewd comments on her appearance, or perhaps hugging her, which is physical but generally not violent.”

Third: “Persecution involves, we suggest, the use of significant physical force against a person’s body, or the infliction of comparable physical harm without direct application of force (locking a person in a cell and starving him would be an example), or nonphysical harm of equal gravity—that last qualification is important because refusing to allow a person to practice his religion is a common form of persecution even though the only harm it causes is psychological. Another example of persecution that does not involve actual physical contact is a credible threat to inflict grave physical harm, as in pointing a gun at a person’s head and pulling the trigger but unbeknownst to the victim the gun is not loaded.”

These definitions are, of course, not binding outside the Seventh Circuit. But, I find them to be practical, usable definitions that I certainly found helpful in making asylum decisions in the Fourth and other circuits.

D.        Nexus

 

The concept of “nexus” or “on account of” has become critical in asylum adjudication. Indeed, that is where many of your upcoming battles will be focused. In many cases these days the DHS will concede the “particular social group” (“PSG”) and just argue that the harm has no “nexus” to that PSG or any other protected ground.

The REAL ID Act amended the INA to require that for an asylum applicant to prove ”nexus” or “on account” of any protected ground, he or she must show that the protected ground is “at least one central reason” for the feared persecution. INA § 208(b)(1)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1208(b)(1)(B)(i) While this did not eliminate the frequently encountered “mixed motive” situation, it was intended to “tighten up” prior case law that had referred to the persecution as stemming “in whole or in part” from a protected ground.

The BIA ruled in Matter of C-T-L-, 25 I & N Dec. 341 (BIA 2010) that the “one central reason” test also applies to nexus in the withholding of removal context. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected the BIA’s interpretation in Barajas-Romero v. Lynch, 846 F.3d 351 (BIA 2014), maintaining that the more generous “in whole or in part” test should continue to apply to withholding cases under the INA. To my knowledge, the Fifth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue. So, I believe that C-T-L- would apply in the Immigration Courts in the Fifth Circuit at present.

Unfortunately, the BIA has given a very narrow reading to the “one central reason” test. In a recent precedent, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I &N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), the respondent was a member of a family social group. He clearly was targeted by a cartel in Mexico because he was a member of a family that owned a grocery store. In other words, “but for” the respondent’s family membership, he would not have been targeted by the gang.

Nevertheless, instead of granting the case, the BIA looked beyond the initial causation. The BIA found that “the respondent was targeted only as a means to achieve the cartel’s objective to increase its profits by selling drugs in the store owned by his father. Therefore the cartel’s motive to increase its profits by selling contraband in the store was one central reason for its actions against the respondent. Any motive to harm the respondent because he was a member of his family was, at most, incidental.” 27 I&N Dec. at 46 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the BIA denied the case.

Unfortunately, the BIA cited and relied upon an analysis of nexus in a similar case by the Fifth Circuit in Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485n (5th Cir. 2015). Consequently, you will have to deal with the restrictive interpretation in L-E-A- and Ramirez-Mejia.

The BIA, and to some extent the Fifth Circuit, have essentially used the “nexus” requirement to “squeeze the life” out of the family PSG. We can see that the normal rules of legal causation have been suspended. The respondent would not have been targeted by the cartel had he not belonged to this particular family. Yet, the BIA searched for and found an “overriding motive” that did not relate to a protected ground and determined that to be the “central reason” and the family PSG to be “tangential.”

What kind of case could succeed under L-E-A-? Well, perhaps not wanting to give anyone any practical ideas on how to qualify, the BIA searched history and came up with the execution of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks as an example of a where family was a “central reason” for the persecution. So, maybe if the respondent’s father were a major donor to a political party that opposed cartels, a member of a religion that opposed drugs, or a member of a hated minority group, the respondent’s family membership could have been “at least one central reason.”

But the Romanov family case would have been grantable on actual or imputed political opinion grounds. The other examples I gave would have been more easily grantable on actual or implied political opinion, religion, or nationality grounds. So the BIA appears to made the family PSG ground largely superfluous.

This leaves you as litigators in a tricky situation. The IJ will be bound by L-E-A-, the BIA is unlikely to retreat from L-E-A-, and the Fifth Circuit seems disposed to go along with the L-E-A- view.

On the other hand, to my knowledge, L-E-A- has not actually been considered and endorsed by any circuit to date. To me, it appears to be inconsistent with some of the existing family-based nexus case law in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if a “circuit split” eventually develops and the issue finally wends its way to the Supreme Court. Who knows, maybe one of you will be arguing it.

In any event, in my view, it is too early for you to “waive” strong nexus arguments even if they will be rejected under L-E-A-. On the other hand, that’s not likely to solve your detained client’s current problems.

So, what can you do? First, look for legitimate ways to distinguish L-E-A-. Assume that the DHS will “pull out the stops” in arguing that everything but family was the central reason –greed, lust, crime, random violence, personal vengeance, envy, resentment, etc. Look for evidence in the record that the dispute really was, to a major extent, about family, rather than one of the non-qualifying grounds.

Second, look for some qualifying non-family PSG or a “more conventional” religious, nationality, racial, or political motive.

Third, consider the possibility of CAT protection. The advocacy community probably underutilizes CAT. CAT doesn’t have a specific nexus requirement and often can be proved by extensive documentary or expert evidence, both Jones Day specialties. Sure, the standard of proof is high and CAT is a lesser form of relief than asylum. But, it saves your client’s life! And, if the nexus law changes in your favor, you can always file a motion to reopen to re-apply for asylum under the changed law.

This is an area of the law where creativity, preparation, and persistence often pay off in the long run. So, don’t give up. Keep on fighting for a reasonable and proper application of the “refugee” definition and for the rights of your clients.

III.      PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

 

In this section I will talk about the three basic requirements for a PSG, the success stories, the usual failures, things that can go wrong, and offer you a few practice pointers directly related to PSG claims.

A.        The Three Requirements

 

The BIA has established three requirements for a PSG.

  1. Immutability or fundamental to identity;
  2. Particularity; and
  3. Social distinction.

 

These three requirements are usually used to deny rather than grant protection. Indeed, most of the BIA’s recent precedents on PSG are rendered in a decidedly negative context.

There was a time about two decades ago when many of us, including a number of BIA Members, thought that immutability or fundamental to identity was the sole factor. But, following our departure, the BIA attached the additional requirements of “particularity” and “social visibility” now renamed “social distinction” to narrow the definition and facilitate denials, particularly of gang-based PSG claims.

The particularity and social distinction requirements basically work like a “scissors” to cut off claims. As you make your definition more specific to meet the “particularity” requirement it often will become so narrow and restrictive that it fails to satisfy “social distinction.” On the other hand, as your proposed PSG becomes more socially distinct, it’s likely that it will become more expansive and generic so that the BIA will find a lack of “particularity.”

While the UNHCR and many advocacy groups have argued for a return of immutability as the basic requirement with “social distinction” as an alternative, not an additional requirement, the BIA recently reaffirmed its “three criteria” approach. These cases, Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014) and its companion case Matter of W-E-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014), are “must reads” for anyone doing PSG work.

About the only bright spot for advocates was that the BIA in M-E-V-G– rejected the commonly held view that no gang-based case could ever succeed. The BIA said that its decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. For example, a factual scenario in which gangs are targeting homosexuals may support a particular social group claim. While persecution on account of a protected ground cannot be inferred merely from acts of random violence and the existence of civil strife, it is clear that persecution on account of a protected ground may occur during periods of civil strife if the victim is targeted on account of a protected ground.” 26 I&N Dec. at 251 (citations omitted).

In other words, the Board is asking for evidence intensive case-by-case adjudications of various proposed PSGs. Leaving aside the fairness of doing this in a context where we know that most applicants will be detained and unrepresented, I cannot think of an organization better suited to give the BIA what it asked for than Jones Day – you guys!

B. Success Stories

There are four basic groups that have been relatively successful in establishing PSG claims.

  1. LGBT individuals under Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990);
  2. Women who fear or suffered female genital mutilation (“FGM”) under my decision in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996);
  3. Victims of domestic violence under Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); and
  4. Family under the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th 2011), a case in which I was the Immigration Judge and Jones Day was pro bono counsel.

You should note that the first three of these success stories had something in common: strong support across a wide spectrum of the political universe. In fact, in LGBT, FGM, and domestic violence cases the DHS eventually changed its position so as to not oppose the recognition of the PSG. This, in turn, either facilitated or perhaps effectively forced the BIA to recognize the PSG in a precedent.

Family, on the other hand, has generally not developed the same type of political consensus as a PSG for asylum purposes. I have already discussed in detail how notwithstanding the clear logic of family as a PSG, the BIA uses a highly restrictive reading of the “nexus” requirement that prevents many family groups from qualifying for protection.

You probably will not encounter too many FGM cases at the Southern Border. Nevertheless, there are two additional important points established by Kasinga. First, the respondent does not have to establish that the persecutor acted or will act with “malevolent intent.” Persecution may be established even where the persecutor was inflicting the harm with the intent to “help” or “treat” the respondent. This comes up frequently in connection with LGBT claims.

Second, Kasinga holds that to justify a discretionary denial of asylum for a respondent who otherwise meets all of the statutory requirements, the adverse factors must be “egregious” so as to outweigh the likely danger of persecution.

You are likely to find a number of Southern Border cases involving LGBT individuals, domestic violence, and family. In the Arlington Immigration Court during my tenure these cases succeeded at an extremely high rate, so much so that many of them went on my “short docket.” However, that was then and this is now. And, sadly, you won’t be presenting these cases in Arlington.

Finally, there are some “up and comer” PSG’s that have had success in some of the circuits and might eventually gain widespread acceptance. Among these are witnesses, landowners, and women subjected to forced marriages. The latter often can more successfully be presented under the domestic violence category. The Fourth Circuit actually has recognized “former gang members” as a potential PSG, although many such individuals will have difficulties under the criminal exclusions from the refugee definition. Martinez v. Holder, 740 F.3d 902 (4th Cir. 2014).

C. The Usual Losers

PSGs that don’t fit any of the categories I just mentioned are usually “losers.” Chief among the “usual losers” are victims of crime other than domestic violence, informants, extortion victims, and those resisting gang recruitment. You’ll probably see a fair number of such cases at the Southern border. Your challenge will be how to present them in a way that overcomes the negative connotations normally associated with such claims.

D. What Can Go Wrong?

Lots of things can go wrong with a PSG case. First, there is the issue of “circularity.” Generally, a PSG cannot be defined in terms of itself. For example “victims of crime” would generally be a “circular” social group.

An easy test is to use your proposed PSG in a simple sentence: “This respondent was harmed to overcome the characteristic of being _________. If you can’t say with with a straight face in open court, don’t use it. For example, “this respondent was raped to overcome her characteristic of being a victim of rape” isn’t going to make it as a PSG.

We’ve already talked about how PSG claims can be attacked by denying the nexus. There are also the old favorites of lack of credibility or corroboration. Then, there is failure to meet the one-year filing deadline, no failure of state protection, reasonably available internal relocation, and fundamentally changed country conditions.

That’s why if you’re considering a PSG claim, it’s always wise to have “Plan B.” The problem today, however, is that the Administration has restricted or limited many of the “Plans B.” For example, until recently, the number one “Plan B” was to request prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) from the Assistant Chief Counsel if the respondent had sympathetic humanitarian factors, a clean criminal record, and strong ties to the U.S. However, for all practical purposes, this Administration has eliminated PD.

Nevertheless, its always worthwhile to think about whether things like Wilberforce Act treatment for certain unaccompanied juveniles, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, “T” visas for trafficking victims, “U” visas for victims of crime, or benefits under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) might be realistic possibilities for your client.

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

I’m going to close this section by offering you a few practical tips on presenting PSG cases that will also tie into my next major section.

First, think “25 words or fewer.” Just like the old boxtop contests from my youth. There are few, if any, known examples of success using lengthy, convoluted social group definitions.

 

Second, remember folks, it isn’t “making sausages.” The definition that goes in must be the same one that comes out the other end. Social groups that “morph” during the hearing just have no chance.

 

Third, be prepared to explain how your proposed particular social group meets the current BIA criteria of immutability, particularity, and social distinction, formerly known as “social visibility.”

 

Fourth, make sure that your respondent is actually a member of the particular social group you propose. You would be surprised at the number of counsel who propose a particular social group definition and then fail to offer proof that their client actually fits within that group.

 

Fifth, as I just mentioned, check your particular social group for “circularity.”

Sixth, and finally, be prepared for an onslaught of other arguments against your case, the chief of which probably will be “no nexus.” Normally, the DHS will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the recognition of a new PSG.

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTING AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

You should all have received a copy of my comprehensive three-page treatise on asylum law entitled “Practical Tips For Presenting an Asylum Case In Immigration Court,” Feb. 2017 Revised Edition. I’m going to quickly take you through the fourteen practical tips outlined there.

My first tip is, “Read a Good Book.” My strong recommendation is the one that has always been at the top of the Immigration Court Best Seller List: Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 2017 edition.

 

Specifically, I invite your attention to Chapter 1208, which contains the seeds of all winning theories of asylum law, past, present, and future. It will also give you gems like how to shift the burden of proof to the DHS and how to win your case even if your client does not presently have a well-founded fear of persecution.

 

Second, “Get Real.” The REAL ID Act, P.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231 (2005), deals with credibility and burden of proof issues in asylum and other cases and applies to applications “made” on or after May 11, 2005, which will be all of your cases. Read it and decide how it can help you and how you can respond to DHS arguments.

 

Third, “Know One When You See One.” The one-year filing requirement of section 208(a)(2)(B) of the INA bars asylum in some cases. Your burden of proof on the one-year filing issue is very high: “clear and convincing evidence.” Judicial review might be limited. But, there are exceptions. Read the statute and the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 1208.4 to find out how the filing requirement works and what arguments might be made to preserve a late asylum application. Remember that the one-year requirement does not apply to withholding of removal under the INA or to CAT applications.

 

At the beginning of each asylum case, I asked the parties to identify the issues. Respondents’ attorneys invariably told me about past persecution, future persecution, nexus, gender-based persecution, exceptions to the one year filing deadline, weird social groups, and so forth. The issue they sometimes fail to identify is the one that’s always first on my list. What is it?

 

 

That’s right, credibility, is the key issue in almost all asylum litigation. So, my fourth rule is “Play To Tell the Truth.” You must understand what goes into making credibility determinations and why the role of the Immigration Judge is so critical. Often, adverse credibility determinations are difficult to overturn on appeal. It’s all about deference.

 

But, credible testimony might not be enough to win your case. That’s why my fifth rule is “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.” Both appellate and trial court decisions often recite rote quotations about asylum being granted solely on the basis of credible testimony.

However, to give your client the best chance of winning his or her asylum case in immigration Court, under the law applicable in most circuits, you’re likely to need a combination of credible testimony and reasonably available corroborating evidence. Read Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), largely codified by REAL ID, and find out what it really takes to win an asylum case in most Immigration Court.

 

In this respect, you should remember my corollary sixth rule “Paper Your Case.” According to Fourth Circuit precedent, even a proper adverse credibility ruling against your client might not be enough for an Immigration Judge to deny the asylum claim. The Judge must still examine the record as a whole, including all of the documentation supporting the claim, to determine whether independent documentary evidence establishes eligibility for asylum. Read Camara v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 361 (4th Cir. 2004) and discover how the power of independent documentary evidence can overcome even a sustainable adverse credibility finding. Also, remember that the REAL ID Act directs Immigration Judges to consider “the totality of the circumstances, and all relevant factors.”

 

“Read Your Paper” is my seventh important rule. You and your client are responsible for all the documentation you present in your case. Nothing will give you nightmares faster than having a client present false or fraudulent documentation to the Immigration Court. In my experience, I’ve had very few attorneys able to dig out of that hole. So, don’t let this happen to you.

 

My eighth rule is “Pile it On.” Sometimes, as demonstrated in one of my very favorite cases Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 22 I&N Dec. 23 (BIA 1998), reaffirmed in Matter of L-K-, 23 I&N Dec. 677, 683 (BIA 2004), you will be able to take a series of events happening to your respondent, his or her family, or close associates, none of which individually perhaps rises to the level of persecution, and combine them to win for your client.

 

My ninth rule is “Don’t Get Caught by the Devil.” The devil is in the details. If you don’t find that devil, the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel almost certainly will, and you will burn. Also, make sure to put your client at ease by carefully explaining the process and by going over the direct and cross-examinations in advance. Remember the cultural and language barriers that can sometimes interfere with effective presentation of your case.

 

I found the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington were all very nice folks. They were also smart, knowledgeable, well prepared, and ready to vigorously litigate their client’s positions. They handled more trials in a year than most litigators do in a lifetime. So, beware and be prepared. You would also be wise to contact the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance of any merits hearing to discuss ways of narrowing the issues and possible “Plans B.”

 

My tenth rule is “Know Your Geography.” Not all Immigration Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeals are located on the West Coast. The BIA certainly is not. You must know and deal with the law in the jurisdiction where your case actually is located, not in the one you might wish it were located.

 

For example, the Arlington Immigration Court is in Crystal City. That is in Virginia, which is not presently part of the Ninth Circuit. Nor are the courts in Texas where most of you will be appearing.

 

This is something that I once had trouble with, coming to the Arlington Court from a job where the majority of asylum cases arose in the Ninth Circuit. But, I got over it, and so can you.

 

My eleventh rule is to “Get Physical.”   In defining persecution, some Circuits have emphasized “the infliction or threat of death, torture, or injury to one’s person or freedom.” See, e.g., Niang v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 2007). While the Circuits and the BIA have also recognized non-physical threats and harm, your strongest case probably will be to emphasize the physical aspects of the harm where they exist. Mirisawo v. Holder, 599 F.3d 391 (4th Cir. 2010); Matter of T-Z-, 24 I & N Dec. 163 (BIA 2007).

 

I particularly recommend the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th Cir. 2011), which found that the BIA erred in rejecting my conclusion that “unrebutted evidence of death threats against [the respondent] and his family members, combined with the MS-13’s penchant for extracting vengeance against cooperating witnesses, gave rise to a reasonable fear of future persecution.” In other words, I was right, and the BIA was wrong. But, who’s keeping track?

 

My twelfth rule is “Practice, Practice, Practice.” The Immigration Court Practice Manual, available online at the EOIR web site http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/ocij_page1.htm was effective July 1, 2008, and replaced all prior local rules. All filings with the Immigration Court must comply with the deadlines and formats established in this Practice Manual. The Practice Manual has a very helpful index, and it covers just about everything you will ever want to know about practice before the Immigration Courts. It contains useful appendices that give you contact information and tell you how to format and cite documents for filing in Immigration Court. Best of all, it’s applicable nationwide, so you can use what you learn in all Immigration Courts.

 

My thirteenth, rule is “It’s Always Wise to Have ‘Plan B.’” As I have pointed out, asylum litigation has many variables and opportunities for a claim to “go south.” Therefore, it is prudent to have a “Plan B” (alternative) in mind.

 

Among the “Plans B” that regularly came up in Arlington were: prosecutorial discretion (“PD”), Special Rule Cancellation of Removal (“NACARA”), Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), non-Lawful Permanent Resident Cancellation of Removal (“EOIR 42-B”), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) status, I-130 petition with a “stateside waiver” (“I-601A”), “Wilberforce Act” special processing for unaccompanied children (“UACs”), T nonimmigrant status (for certain human trafficking victims), and U nonimmigrant status (for certain victims of crime). In my experience, many, perhaps the majority, of the “happy outcome” asylum cases coming before me were resolved on a basis “OTA,” that is “other than asylum.”

 

But, unfortunately in my view, the “Plan B” world is rapidly changing. So, please listen very carefully to the caveat that comes next.

 

Fourteenth, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. As some have said “there’s a new Sheriff in town,” and he’s announced a “maximum immigration enforcement” program targeting anyone who has had any run-in with the law, whether convicted or not. He also intends to detain all undocumented border crossers or applicants for admission at the border. So, you can expect more arrests, more detention (particularly in far-away, inconvenient locations like, for instance, Laredo, TX), more bond hearings, more credible and reasonable fear reviews, more pressure to move cases even faster, and an even higher stress level in Immigration Court.

 

The “Plans B” involving discretion on the part of the Assistant Chief Counsel, like PD, DACA, and stateside processing, and even waiving appeal from grants of relief, are likely to disappear in the near future, if they have not already. In many cases, litigating up through the BIA and into the Article III Federal Courts (where the judges are, of course, bound to follow the law but not necessarily to accept the President’s or the Attorney General’s interpretation of it) might become your best, and perhaps only, “Plan B.”

V. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have told you about the basic elements of the refugee definition and how it is used in adjudicating asylum cases. I have also discussed the requirements and the pros and cons of the PSG protected ground. And, I have shared with you some of my practical tips for presenting an asylum case in U.S. Immigration Court.

 

Obviously, I can’t make you an immigration litigation expert in in afternoon. But, I trust that I have given you the basic tools to effectively represent your clients in Immigration Court. I have also given you some sources that you can consult for relevant information in developing your litigation strategy and your case.

 

I encourage you to read my blog, immigrationcourtside.com, which covers many recent developments in the U.S. Immigration Courts. As you come up with victories, defeats, good ideas, appalling situations, or anything else you think should be made more widely available, please feel free to submit them to me for publication. I also welcome first-hand accounts of how the system is, or isn’t, working at the “retail level.”

 

Thanks again for joining the New Due Process Army and undertaking this critical mission on behalf of the U.S. Constitution and all it stands for! Thanks for what you are doing for America, our system of justice, and the most vulnerable individuals who depend on that system for due process and justice.

 

Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and Due Process Forever! I’d be pleased to answer any additional questions.

 

© Paul Wickham Schmidt, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

(08-01-17++)

 

****************************************************

PROGRAM NOTE: I am a former Partner at Jones Day. resident in the Washington, D.C. Office.

 


 

6th Cir. Says BIA Improperly Required Respondent To Establish “Freedom From Surveillance” In Entry Case — MARCIAL LOPEZ V. SESSIONS

http://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/17a0063p-06.pdf

“In applying this official-restraint test here, the parties agree that surveillance was the only form of official restraint that the government could have used against Lopez before his arrest. Because only the government customarily possesses evidence of surveillance and because an alien cannot prove what he cannot see, we treat surveillance as an affirmative defense, one that allows the government to show official restraint with respect to an individual who crosses the border without being stopped. In this instance, the Board made no factual finding as to whether Lopez was, or was not, under surveillance from the time he crossed the border until the time the border agents found him. The Board sidestepped the question. It instead found that Lopez’s capture a mile from the border and thirty-one minutes after his crossing did not suffice to prove that Lopez had evaded apprehension and was free from official restraint. That conclusion does not follow from the facts. No evidence shows that border agents surveilled Lopez when he crossed the border. And Lopez testified that he was looking for a hotel to check into, all consistent with the border patrol’s report that said Lopez was in “travel/seeking” when apprehended. A.R. 247. Unless and until the Board finds that Lopez was under surveillance when he crossed the border, that means Lopez was free from official restraint and had evaded inspection.”

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PWS

03/22/17

 

Another Installment In The Schmidt Making America Really Great Series: “Refugees And Due Process Make America Really Great” — Read My Speech From Last Night’s “Refugee Ball”

REFUGEES AND DUE PROCESS MAKE AMERICA REALLY GREAT

 

Remarks by Paul Wickham Schmidt,

Retired United States Immigration Judge

 

The Refugee Ball

 

Sixth & I Synagogue 600 I Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 from 5:00 to 9:00 PM

 

Good evening, everyone. I’m honored to be here. Lets have a big round of applause for Jason Dzubow and his staff for coming up with the idea and putting this together!

As you can probably tell, it was a battle getting into my “Jones Day Spring Prom Era Tux” tonight. As I walked out the door, my wife Cathy said: “Are you actually going to be able to breathe, let alone speak, in that thing?”

As a “regular” at the Arlington Immigration Court, Jason obviously is quite familiar with my habits. I noted that on the advance program he took the extreme precaution of not only putting me in a “10-minute slot” near the end of the program, but also adding in parentheses in big bold letters “10 minutes max.” So, I get the picture, Jason. I’m going to briefly address two things that make America great: refugees and due process.

I’m pleased to back in the old ‘hood, although it’s hard to recognize. For about twelve years in the 1970s and 1980s I worked in the General Counsel’s Office of the “Legacy INS” in the famous Chester Arthur Building – the only monument in Washington to our great 21st President –at 425 Eye St., NW, just down the street. And, one of my most memorable accomplishments during that time was being part of the “team” that helped the Refugee Act of 1980 become law. It was a chance to make a positive difference in America’s future, indeed in the world’s future, while coming into contact with some of the finest intellects in the business: David Martin, Alex Aleinikoff, Doris Meissner, the late Jerry Tinker, and the late Jack Perkins come immediately to mind. So, I have what you might call a “vested interest” in U.S. refugee and asylum system.

I worked with refugees and their cases almost every workday for more than 21 years during my tenure as a trial and appellate judge with the United States Immigration Courts. And, I’ll admit that on many of my “off days” the challenges, stories, human drama, triumph, and trauma of refugees and refugee law bounced around in my head, much to the dismay of my wonderful wife, Cathy.

Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for the inspiring life stories of refugees and their contributions to the United States, I have never, for even one second, wanted to be a refugee. Like all of the speakers tonight, I see refugees as a huge asset to our country. It says something about us as a nation that so many great people from all over the world want to make this their home and to contribute their talents, some of which were on display here tonight, to the greatness of America. So, to all of you out there who came as refugees or asylees, thank you for coming, for your service, and for your dedication to making our great country even greater.

The other topic I want to address briefly, that is near and dear to me personally, is the overriding importance of due process in our refugee and asylum system. Each of you who came as a refugee or asylee is here because an adjudicator at some level of our system carefully and fairly gave you a chance to state your claim, listened to and reviewed the support you provided for your claim, and made a favorable decision in your case.

For some of you, that decision was made by a DHS Refugee Officer or an Asylum Officer. Others of you had to rely on different levels of our system – a U.S. Immigration Judge, the Board of Immigration Appeals, or in some cases, a U.S. Court of Appeals to have your status granted. In all of these instances you received something very precious under our Constitution: due process of law.

Unfortunately, there currently is a “due process crisis” in our overloaded Immigration Court System.   With over one-half million pending cases and waiting times of many years in some courts for final hearings to be held, our Immigration Court System is under intense pressure.

Sometimes, that results in approaches that generally have a favorable impact for individuals seeking protection.   For example, grants of Temporary Protected Status and work authorization take many cases off the Immigration Court docket and legislation such as NACARA for Central Americans or HIRIFA for Haitians permanently resolves many cases favorably at the DHS without requiring a full-blown asylum hearing before an U.S. Immigration Judge.

But, when backlogs build up and enforcement pressures mount on our Government, less benign approaches and suggestions sometimes come to the fore. Adjudicators can be pressured to do counterproductive things like decide more cases in less time, limit evidence to shorten hearings, and make “blanket denials” based on supposed improvements in country conditions.

Other times, placing more individuals in civil immigration detention is looked at as a way of both expediting case processing and actively discouraging individuals from coming to the United States and making claims for refuge under our laws in the first place. Or, moving cases though the system so quickly that applicants can’t find pro bono lawyers to represent them is sometimes incorrectly viewed as an acceptable method for shortening adjudication times, thereby reducing backlogs.

Another method far too often used for discouraging asylum claims and inhibiting due process is placing asylum applicants in DHS Detention Centers, often privately operated, with “imbedded” Immigration Courts in obscure out of the way locations like Dilley, Texas and Lumpkin, Georgia where access to pro bono attorneys, family members, and other sources of support is severely limited or nonexistent.

When these things happen, due process suffers. So, while I’m always hoping for the best, it is critical for all of us in this room to zealously protect the due process rights of all migrants and insist on full due process being maintained, and, ideally, even enhanced. This includes both supporting individuals in the system by helping them obtain effective legal representation and, where appropriate, vigorously asserting the due process rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants in the Article III Federal Courts.

Only by insisting on due process for those already in the system will we be able to insure a fair and effective system for future refugees. And, welcoming and fairly treating future refugees is a key to making and keeping America great.

So, that’s my message: due process can’t be taken for granted! It must be nurtured, protected, expanded, and vigorously and proudly asserted! Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and due process forever!

(Rev. 01/18/17)

 

 

 

 

“AYUDA — MAKING AMERICA REALLY GREAT, EVERY DAY” — Meet A Spectacular Nonprofit Legal & Social Services Organization That “Walks The Walk and Talks The Talk” In The DC Metro Area — Read My Recent Speech Here!

AYUDA — MAKING AMERICA REALLY GREAT, EVERY DAY

 

January 11, 2017

 

Verizon Building

 

1300 Eye St., N.W.

 

Washington, D.C.

 

Remarks By Retired United States Immigration Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt

 

Good evening. Thank you Christina,[1] for that wonderful introduction. Thank you, Michael,[2] for extending your hospitality in Verizon’s “state of the art” training center. And, of course, thank you Arleen[3] for inviting me, and for all that you and AYUDA do for our community and for our nation.

 

Even more important, thanks to all of you here for your continued support and promotion of AYUDA’s essential mission — to help hard-working individuals in our community help themselves, through legal assistance and a variety of educational and social support programs. You are AYUDA, and without your continuing support, encouragement, and active participation there would be no AUYDA and hence no place for those vulnerable individuals to seek assistance. Our community and our nation would be immeasurably poorer if that happened.

 

By coincidence, I began my professional career in immigration law in 1973, the year AYUDA was founded. On a personal level, and I know that this touches on only one narrow aspect of AYUDA’s ambitious program, I want to thank all of you for the unwavering support, assistance, and consistent professional excellence that AYUDA provided to the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia during my 13-year tenure as a judge, and, of course, continuing on after my retirement.

 

The sole role of an U.S. Immigration Judge is to provide fair, impartial hearings that fully comply with the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution to individuals whom the Department of Homeland Security (the “DHS”) has charged with being removable from the United States. Without competent legal representation of the individual before the court, known as a “respondent,” the job of insuring due process can be totally daunting. With dedicated professional groups like AYUDA coming to the defense, my task of conducting fair hearings magically went from “daunting” to “doable.”

 

Representation makes a real difference in the lives of individuals. Represented individuals succeed in securing relief in Immigration Court at a rate of at least five times greater than those appearing without representation. But, for some of the most vulnerable populations, such as “recently arrived women with children,” bureaucratic lingo to describe actual human beings seeking protection from rampant violence in Central America whose removal has been “prioritized” in Immigration Court, the “success differential” is simply astounding: 14 times!

 

I am honored tonight to be in the presence of two of the “real heroes – or, more properly, heroines,” of due process at the Arlington Immigration Court: your own “Hall of Famer,” the incomparable Anya Sykes,[4] and your amazingly talented newly appointed — great choice guys –Executive Director, Paula Fitzgerald. Both were “regulars” in my courtroom.

 

Quite simply, Anya and Paula save lives. Numerous hard working individuals and families in our community, who are contributing at the grass roots level to the greatness of America, owe their very existence to Anya, Paula, and AYUDA.

 

For example, last year alone, AYUDA helped a remarkable 1,900 individuals resolve more than 3,500 matters in our legal system. And, Immigration Court is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Much of the work was done with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, with domestic violence victims in local courts, and through AYUDA’s superstar Social Services and Language Services branches.

 

I know we all want to get back to main event – eating, drinking, and being merry. So, I’m going to limit myself to one “war story” about my time with Anya and Paula in court.

 

As some of you probably know, there is a wonderful law enacted some years ago known as “NACARA.” It really could be a model for future laws enabling earned membership in our national community. NACARA has allowed thousands of individuals in our community who decades ago fled violence in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and have lived law abiding, productive lives here for many years, often in valid Temporary Protected Status, to obtain green cards and get on the track for U.S. citizenship and full participation in the vibrant political life of our community and our country.

 

The basic NACARA criteria were fairly straightforward, and most individuals were able to have their applications granted at the Asylum Office of the USCIS.   But, as with any mass adjudication program, there was group of so-called “dog cases” left over at the end.

 

Most of those involved individuals who had served or were believed to have served with the Salvadoran military or Civil Patrol during the civil war that raged in the 1980s. If you remember, the U.S. supported the Salvadoran government during that civil war, and some of the individuals who served in the Salvadoran Army actually received training or instruction at military installations in the United States.

 

At that time, international human rights groups claimed that the Salvadoran government and military were engaging in large scale human rights violations, many directed against innocent civilians, in an effort to suppress guerilla insurgents. Our Government denied, downplayed, or outright ignored most of these claims and refused asylum to almost all Salvadorans on the grounds that no persecution was occurring.

 

Times change, however, and at some point somebody in our Government actually looked at the evidence and agreed, long after the fact, that the Salvadoran government and military had committed large scale “persecution of others,” even though many of the “others” had been denied asylum in the U.S. based on inability to establish that persecution.

 

By the time I arrived at the Arlington Immigration Court, the DHS was taking the position that nearly all individuals connected with the Salvadoran military were presumed to be “persecutors,” and therefore should be denied NACARA unless the individual could prove, by credible evidence, that he or she did not, in fact, engage in persecution decades earlier during the civil war. These cases were routinely declined at the Asylum Office and “referred” to our court for re-adjudication.

 

As you might imagine, such cases are extremely complicated, requiring the individual not only to have detailed knowledge of the structure and activities of the Salvadoran military during the civil war but also specific knowledge of what individual units and soldiers were doing at particular times, places, and dates, and to be able to coherently account for and corroborate their own activities at those times.

 

Most of those “referred” were hard working, tax paying, law-abiding individuals who had lived in the U.S. for decades, and supported their families, but did not have the necessary funds to pay for good lawyers familiar with, and willing to handle, this type of sophisticated case. The chance of an individual being able to successfully present his or her own case was approximately “zero.” Most were completely bewildered as to why service with the U.S.-supported government of El Salvador, once considered a “good” thing, was now a “bad thing,” requiring mandatory denial of their NACARA applications.

 

This is where talented NGO lawyers like Paula and Anya stepped in. With their help and legal expertise, notwithstanding the passage of decades, individuals were able to document, corroborate, and testify convincingly about their “non-persecutory” activities during the civil war. I recollect that every such NACARA case handled by AYUDA before me eventually was granted, most without appeal or with the actual concurrence of the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel.

 

As a direct consequence, hard working, productive, law-abiding, tax-paying individuals remained in the community, continued to support their families, and, with green cards in hand, could now find better work opportunities and get on the path to eventual U.S. citizenship and full participation in our national community. This is “Lifesaving 101” in action, and Anya, Paula, and AYUDA are the “lifesavers.”  If there were an “Arlington Immigration Court Hall of Fame,” they would certainly be in it. In addition to their outstanding services to AYUDA’s clients, Anya and Paula are inspiring mentors and role models for lawyers just entering the field.

 

In closing, I’ve always tried to keep five important values in front of me: fairness, scholarship, timeliness, respect, and teamwork. Dedicated individuals like Anya and Paula, and great organizations like AYUDA, embody these important values.

 

And, beyond that, these are your values. Your investment in AYUDA and its critical mission is an investment in social justice and the values that have made our country great and will continue to do so into the future.

 

Thanks for coming, thanks for listening, and, most of all, thanks for your investment in AYUDA and turning your values into effective action that saves lives, builds futures, and insures the continuing greatness of America.

 

 

 

 

[1] Christina M. Wilkes, Esquire, Partner, Grossman Law Firm, LLC – Chair, AYUDA Board of Directors.

[2] Michael Woods, Esquire, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Verizon — Director, AYUDA Board of Directors.

[3] Arleen Ramirez Borysiewicz, Director of Program Initiatives, AYUDA.

[4] Unfortunately, Anya was unable to attend. But, almost everyone in the room was mouthing “Anya” when I said the word “heroine” so I realized that she was “there is spirit” and proceeded accordingly. Anya Sykes was inducted into the AYUDA Hall of Fame in 2013.