Asylum News 53
New Study Reveals Disparities in Asylum Decisions A new study has comprehensively analyzed the decisions of asylum officers, immigration judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals across the nation and revealed vast differences in their asylum grant rates, even within the same office or court, or for asylum seekers from the same country. Specifically examining immigration court decisions, the authors of “Refugee Roulette” found significant correlations between a judge’s grant rate and factors including whether or not the applicant had legal representation, the judge’s gender, and the judge’s prior work experience. The authors also document a notable decline in the granting of asylum appeals at the BIA in the wake of changes made by former attorney general John Ashcroft in 2002. The study, by Philip Schrag and Andrew I. Schoenholtz of Georgetown University Law Center and Jaya Ramji-Nogales of Temple University, was posted today on the web site of the Social Science Research Network (www.ssrn.com) and will be published in November in the Stanford Law Review. It includes specific recommendations to further professionalize the asylum adjudication system. To read the May 31 front-page article in the New York Times, click here. For an abstract of the study, click here. Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Asylum Update As the immigration reform debate continues in Congress, various provisions are being advanced that could impact asylum seekers. These provisions include some that would eliminate safeguards against long-term detention. Others would subject refugees who flee to this country on false documents to criminal prosecutions and then bar them from asylum. The exception to these provisions, which is intended to protect refugees, will leave some refugees unprotected, as Philip Schrag, law professor at Georgetown University, recently explained in an op-ed in the Washington Post (5/23/07). To read the op-ed, click here. For more information, see the Rights Working Group website. USCIS Fee Increases U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that its new fee structure will go into effect on July 30, 2007. Applications or petitions filed before July 30 will be subject to the old fee structure. Fee waivers and exemptions will be available to certain classes of immigrants. Among other rules, the new fee structure provides that asylees who apply for adjustment of status will be eligible to request a fee waiver. (USCIS has not yet issued updated fee waiver guidance. To view the current fee waiver policy, click here.) To read the USCIS press release, click here. To read the USCIS Q&A, click here. To see the new fee structure, click here. U.N. Special Rapporteur Visits United States The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge G. Bustamante, recently concluded a two-week official visit to the United States. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert whose mandate is to observe conditions and treatment of migrants by governments around the world and report his findings to the UN Human Rights Council. For more information, click here. Mr. Bustamante had planned to visit three detention facilities in the course of his examination of the immigration system in the United States – T. Don. Hutto Residential Center (Taylor, TX), Monmouth County Jail (Monmouth County, NJ), and the detention center in Florence, AZ. At the last minute, he was denied access to both Hutto and Monmouth. To read the May 15 New York Times article, click here. During his visit, Mr. Bustamante held a town hall at Cooper Union in New York City, during which he heard from representatives of many refugee and immigrant advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, and Human Rights First. He should issue a report on his U.S. visit in the coming months. Material Support: Little Progress for Asylum Seekers On May 10, 2007, a fact sheet issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services made clear that the Department of Homeland Security will only begin considering “waivers” for victims of duress at the hands of designated “terrorist organizations” (Tier I and II groups) after DHS has “identified” the specific group as one that will be included within the exemption. The name(s) of the group(s) will be published on the USCIS website. DHS has not provided a time frame for identifying these groups. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who have been victims of these groups remain in limbo. Human Rights First documented the cases of some of these asylum seekers in its September 2006 report “Abandoning the Persecuted,” including some who have been victimized by the FARC in Colombia, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and the Maoists in Nepal. In January 2007, the administration announced some steps to address the material support problem. However, the administration has still not implemented a process for asylum seekers in immigration courts to receive exemptions; a process for cases pending before USCIS is expected soon, but has not yet been announced. Only four asylum seekers have been reported to have received exemptions from the material support bar. To read the USCIS fact sheet, click here. To read DHS Secretary Chertoff’s April 27 exercise of authority relating to victims of these groups, click here. To read “Abandoning the Persecuted,” click here.