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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

Trump’s deliberate precipitation of an immigration crisis

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Since President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, his actions have turned U.S. immigration into a nightmare for countless numbers of lawful immigrants and visa holders and arriving refugees, and even for naturalized U.S. citizens from certain countries targeted by President Trump.  This does not even take into account those currently being processed for visa applications.

He issued three Executive Orders directly addressing immigration.  He did so without consulting the departments and agencies tasked with carrying out his orders.  CNN reported that “A Border Patrol agent, confronted with arriving refugees, referred questions only to the President himself, according to court filings.”  It reads like a line from a future movie.  The three Executive Orders were first issued on January 25, 2017.  The Executive Order addressing the admission of refugees and other non-U.S. citizens from “countries of particular concern” with regard to terrorism was re-issued on January 27, 2017, with a revised title.  I haven’t even had time to read  the two versions side-by-side to see what if anything has changed between the first and the second version.  This detail is telling in that it clearly shows that this administration cares little for getting things right in its rush to roll out its version of government.

This Executive Order, originally titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attack by Foreign Nationals” in its January 25, 2017, version, is now titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” in its January 27, 2017, version.

Like President Trump’s inaugural speech, this Executive Order presumes a nation under imminent attack by sinister forces that must be immediately repelled, at all costs.  This “emergency” mindset attempts to steamroll us to blindly surrender our rights and the rule of law in return for a false sense of security that the Trump administration has shown no ability to deliver.  This Executive Order halts the admission of all foreign nationals from certain countries, and then we had to hunt down which countries the President meant, because it was not provided with the Executive Order, not even as a handy addendum.  By “all foreign nationals,” this Executive Order included lawful permanent residents, as it only specifically exempted certain diplomatic visa holders.  So, if you happened to be a lawful permanent resident on, say, vacation outside of the United States when this came down initially it appeared that you too would be banned from returning to the United States for a period of at least 90 days.  The new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has taken it upon himself to except this category of foreign national, but until that point the Executive Order itself did not.  Can you imagine the havoc this would have wreaked on families and businesses when their lawful permanent resident family members and employees were stuck without warning out of the country for a period of at least three months?

From an immigration attorney’s perspective, let me tell you that the directives of “extreme vetting” in this Executive Order are either in place already, in terms of background checks and confirming that the applicant actually has the proper basis for immigration or admission to the United States, or are so extreme as to be unlawful or impossible to implement and still keep our system of immigration operative.  I have had clients denied visas who from my perspective clearly merited them.  I have had an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Special Forces and who was cleared for that work and had a letter of support from every officer with whom he worked denied a visa, without explanation as to why for over a year and then ultimately denied on a BS reason.  Believe me, the “extreme vetting” already exists and it is a particular nightmare for visa applicants.  It is known by the banal name of “administrative processing.”  Once a visa case is stuck in “administrative processing” the chances of getting an approval or even a cogent reason for a denial shrink to almost nothing.

It is hard to even know how to begin to point out all the things that are wrong with this Executive Order.

It discriminates based on national origin, with no showing of how such discrimination is necessary to serve a compelling governmental interest, pursuant to the strict scrutiny standard of review.  Such national origin discrimination has been banned in our Immigration and Nationality Act since 1965.  There are arguments that the president has the authority to ban foreign nationals on an as-needed basis.  We are about to find out how extensive that power reaches.  Trump is like a two-year-old child here, testing how far he can push presidential authority before we push back.  What is missing, though, is how this Executive Order promotes the interests of our nation as a whole.  Where are the considered arguments for these extreme actions, the effort to persuade the nation that such actions are needed?  Instead, all we have is a a wink and a nod, asking us to, “Trust me!  I alone can and will protect you.”  Well, in a democracy we need to understand why actions are taken, and to judge for ourselves the justification for those actions, not a meaningless reassurance that everything will be fine.  We are not children to be ignored while the “adults” sink our ship.  (And another thing, under this worldview what happens if Trump becomes incapacitated?  If only he and he alone can save us then this must mean that we are all doomed without his most excellent leadership.  He is after all, in his own opinion, irreplaceable.  Next on the agenda will be a life-term presidency.  It’s the only way for us to be safe.)

The Executive Order also bars the admission of Syrian refugees who have been already been subject to the best vetting processes that our Department of State could devise.  By directing that “extreme vetting” be employed, Trump’s Executive Order implies that the vetting conducted by our Department of State personnel was unsatisfactory, without any proof.  Do you really think that any State Department officer involved in vetting refugee applications would really cut any corners or fail to follow up on any indication of fraud or criminal or terrorist involvement?  What have State Department officers been doing all this time in vetting refugees, if not performing “extreme vetting”?  What State Department officer wants to be the one who let through a Trojan horse refugee?  According to a Time magazine article published in November 2015, it takes an average of 18 to 24 months for a Syrian refugee applicant to be approved for asylum in the United States, after being referred by the United Nations.  That is up to two years of life in limbo waiting for sanctuary, in addition to the time you spent escaping from an unlivable situation.

As a nation that works in cooperation with other nations to promote peace and prosperity globally, we are subject to human rights laws and under these laws we have a responsibility to take in refugees, the most vulnerable immigrants who have lost their homes and many other valuable things on their journey to seek a safe place to re-start their lives.  To turn away refugees is to turn our back on the founding principles of America, that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and out of that foundation we have forged one of the most vibrant and diverse societies ever known.  Immigrants are disproportionately the most active entrepreneurs in America.  They create businesses and jobs and bring new thinking and new ideas to play.  As with any group, there are immigrants who are dangerous criminals who should be punished and deported, but the rate of criminality among immigrants, even unauthorized immigrants, is lower than that of the native-born American population.  If the goal is to reduce crime rates, we need to take a good look in the mirror before demonizing immigrants if we are serious about fighting crime.

It discriminates on the basis of religion, prioritizing Christian applicants over others.  Barring discrimination on the basis of religion is a founding tenet of America.  This Executive Order treats that tenet as disposable.  It is not, and our courts will be the proving ground for this.

On a more prosaic note, this Executive Order thrusts a mammoth amount of work on to the departments that handle immigration processes, piling the requirement of report upon report on top of an already full workload.  (Do not get me started on current immigration processing times).  Complying with these reporting requirements will derail the regular workload of these departments for an unknown amount of time.  And where is the money coming from for all this extra work?  Is Congress going to funnel our tax money to the compilation of these reports so that they get done by the unreasonable deadlines in the Executive Order?  Is this the best use of our taxes?  This is what President Trump chose to do as one of his first actions in office?

Let us not forget that President Trump has been busy in other ways, ways that have been roundly criticized by experienced and respected intelligence professionals.  But that is a different topic.


Review of “De Novo – mas alla de las fronteras (beyond borders)”

Friday, March 29th, 2013

I saw the play “De Novo – mas allas de las fronteras (beyond borders)” last night.  It was a beautiful, touching, realistic depiction of what some undocumented immigrant youth face when they are placed in deportation proceedings, produced by Houses on the Moon theater company.

There are so many different meanings of “de novo” that resonate throughout the play.  From a lawyer’s perspective, it is a term of art meaning review by a court from the beginning, without relying on prior adjudications, and assessing all evidence afresh rather than through the lens of another adjudicator’s decision.  In a more general sense, it means taking things from the beginning, or starting anew.  The play invites us to both look at the life of one undocumented immigrant youth from the beginning, and to think about the roots of the circumstances of his life, and the immigration system that we have and how it is should be reformed.  It made me think, “What controlled this person’s life?  What could he have done given his circumstances?  Could he have made different decisions?  What are our responsibilities for the circumstances of his life?  What is the U.S. government’s responsibility here?”

“De Novo” is about Edgar Chocoy-Guzman, a real person.  The play uses language taken from real documents, including letters, psychological evaluations, and court transcripts.  He was born in Guatamala in 1987.  He never really knew his father.  His mother left for America when he was an infant.  He lived in his grandfather’s house but no one really parented him.  He joins the gang Mara Salvatrucha and then leaves it, and leaves Guatemala because the gang has put a hit on him.  He joins his mother in Los Angeles and ends up joining another gang.  He is then placed in juvenile detention and then, after he has served his time, instead of being released he is transferred to immigration detention and placed in deportation proceedings, at age 15.  Knowing that he would still be a target of assassination back in Guatemala, he applies for asylum.

The scenes of immigration court proceedings were spot-on.  This is not your Law & Order polished court scene.  The court scenes in “De Novo” were just like the real thing.

There was a panel discussion after the play, and the moderator took the stage visibly emotionally affected by the performance.  I won’t tell you any more as it would spoil the play for you.  All of the actors were excellent.  The fact that the words used in the play were the actual words uttered or written as Edgar’s story unfolded in reality made the story even more affecting.  That this is a real story makes it even more immediate, compelling and thought-provoking.  This is about someone’s actual life and experience.  If you get the chance to see this, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you go.  If you know people who are hostile to immigrants, bring them along.  Let them see what it’s really like to be an unauthorized immigrant in America, instead of thinking of unauthorized immigrants one-dimensionally as nothing more than law-breakers who need to be deported.


Dos Erres: An international investigation impacting citizenship and asylum

Friday, September 28th, 2012

This is a lengthy but fascinating read:  “Finding Oscar:  Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala.”

It is about a massacre committed by an army unit in Guatemala in 1982, and two young boys who survived the massacre because they were taken by soldiers responsible for the massacres and raised by the soldiers’ families.  One boy, three years old at the time, ended up as an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts.  He now has a family of his own with three children.

The investigation into the massacre in the United States involved prosecuting a former Guatemalan soldier who became a U.S. citizen.  Because that man lied on his naturalization application about being in the military and about committing crimes, he was subject to prosecution for criminal violations of U.S. immigration law.  Because of jurisdiction and statute of limitations issues he could not be prosecuted by U.S. law enforcement for the actual crimes in Guatemala, and so the immigration violations were what got him in the end.  (Here’s an example I can use when counseling clients about the consequences of lying on your naturalization application!)  He was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

The boy, now a 33 year old man, Oscar Alfredo Ramirez Castaneda – an amalgamation of his birth and adoptive names, was granted political asylum because if he returned to Guatemala he is living proof that the massacre occurred and a target of dangerous people who want to cover that up.

This is a fascinating look at how a major investigation involved the governments of at least three countries:  Guatemala, the United States, and Canada.  If you have half an hour to spare, check it out.

Tam Tran: Eulogy for a DREAM Act activist

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

If you keep up with immigration news, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about the DREAM Act, and the most recent — and unsuccesful — push to get it enacted.  DREAM stands for the “Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors.”  This post, however, is not about the DREAM Act itself, but about one young woman who would have been a direct beneficiary of the DREAM Act had it become law.

This may be old news to those who keep up with DREAM Act stories, but on May 15, 2010, two DREAM Act activists were killed in a car accident:  Tam Ngoc Tran, age 27, and her good friend, Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, age 26.  It is Tam Tran’s story, in particular, that spotlights the legal limbo that those who come to the United States as children and grow up calling the United States home can find themselves in, although luckily there are immigration lawyers available to assist in such cases before they come to such a tragic point.

I’ll call her Tam, as it feels strange to call someone else “Tran” when that’s my name too.

Tam’s parents, Tuan Ngoc Tran and Loc Thi Pham, escaped Vietnam only to become refugees in Germany after being picked up at sea by the German navy.  Tam and her brother were born in Germany, but because Germany does not grant birthright citizenship neither she nor her brother are German citizens.  When Tam was six, her family came to the United States to be near other relatives already living here.  Upon their arrival, her parents applied for asylum based upon their fear of being persecuted for their anti-Communist political views if they were to return to Vietnam.  Tam’s father had been forced to attend a “re-education” camp before he and Tam’s mother had fled Vietnam.  For those of you who don’t know what “re-education” means, let’s just say it’s not fun and games.

Tam’s parents were denied their asylum application, but eventually, after further lengthy proceedings, were granted withholding of deportation.  This meant they would not be sent back to Vietnam because they would probably be persecuted if returned there.   U.S. immigration authorities then tried to get the family to return to Germany, but Germany refused to issue them visas.  After all, they weren’t German citizens.  So the family was effectively in legal limbo:  they did not have permanent resident status, but they were definitely documented aliens — Immigration knew exactly who they were and where they lived, and issued them work authorization documents on a regular basis.

So Tam grew up in Garden Grove, California, graduated from Santiago High School, then UCLA with honors, and then went on to doctoral program at Brown University.  She was a filmmaker and an activist, testifying on May 18, 2007, before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, in support of the DREAM Act.

In what Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) claims is a random coincidence, three days after Tam’s congressional testimony about her family’s plight, ICE agents staged a pre-dawn raid on her family home, arresting her parents and her brother for being “fugitives from justice.”  Tam wasn’t home at the time but if she had been she, too, would have been arrested.  As far as I can tell, ICE is still trying to deport the family back to Germany.  There is no hint of any criminal actions on the part of any family members.  ICE’s goal appears to merely be to clean house — that is, to deport any deportables and check them off their list.  An ICE spokesperson said that, before, Germany had refused to issue visas when the Trans themselves had made the request; this time, the U.S. government would be making the request, which would more likely result in approval.  A judicious use of immigration resources, indeed.

In researching Tam’s story, I came across a tribute to her on the OC Weekly, “A DREAM Act Undeterred.” Although I learned a lot about Tam and her hopes and dreams from this piece, there is one bit that I have to quibble with.  The article characterized her as undocumented.  She was not undocumented.  She just (just!) did not have permanent resident status.  The only thing that her parents might be guilty of in terms of violating U.S. immigration law was bringing their family to the United States on visitor visas in order to apply for political asylum.  Once here, though, her parents obeyed all the immigration laws and followed all the immigration procedures in their quest for asylum.  The end result was that they did not obtain permanent resident status, but neither were they actually ordered deported.  They remained in the United States on the U.S. government’s explicit permission.  Tam was not an “illegal alien.”  She was allowed to stay in the United States because there was no where that she could safely be sent back to.  But without permanent resident status many of the avenues of support, financial and otherwise, for bright young students and budding young professionals like herself were simply not available to her.

Not everyone who would qualify for relief under the DREAM Act is as sympathetic a figure as Tam.  But her story is an undeniable part of the DREAM Act conversation, and her death at a young age is a loss to America.  I never knew Tam, but I believe that she would have done great things in this country, whether or not she ever become a permanent resident or, eventually, the ultimate goal, a citizen.  I think America would have been proud to claim her as one of its own.

Djung Tran, Esq.

Tran Law Associates

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933