Monday, May 18, 2015

Asylees, Changed Country Conditions, and the Risk of Deportation

Guest blogger: Adilene Flores Estrada, second-year law student, University of San Francisco

The United States provides safe harbor for people from around the world who fear persecution.

The Refugee Act of 1980 delineates two separate classifications of people who may apply to benefit from this safe harbor: 1) refugees, who apply when they are physically outside of United States borders and 2) asylees, people who when motivated by a similar fear of persecution apply from within United States borders. Both types of applicants must meet the INA §101(a) (42) definition of “refugee” in order to be granted harbor here in the states. Both types of applicants could eventually be granted permanent residence and citizenship. But one key difference between the two groups is that if country conditions change between the time that a person is granted safe harbor here in the United States and becoming a citizen, asylees risk being deported back to their country, while refugees do not. Given the similarities between the two groups, Congress should amend the law so that “changed country conditions” can no longer render asylees deportable.

Asylees apply for asylum because they fear persecution in their home country. Like refugees, their lives were at some point in time in serious danger due to exterior circumstances that they had no power over. They are often persecuted due to traits that are so intrinsic to the asylee’s character that they often cannot be changed. These traits include an asylee’s “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Once protection has been granted, refugees do not have to worry about their country’s conditions jeopardizing their immigration status in the United States. Unfortunately, asylum seekers do have to live with this fear. If a person was granted asylum due to belonging to a certain persecuted religious group in his/her country and later that religious group takes power over the country then the asylee risks being deported back to his/her country of origin despite having built strong roots here in America.

accordingto Human Rights First, an independent advocacy group that matches lawyers with asylum candidates trying to navigate the immigration system, the success rate of asylum seekers is about 25%. Once asylum is granted asylees are immediately authorized to work and can apply for permanent residence after one year. They then must be permanent residents for five years before they can apply for citizenship. During this entire time before acquiring citizenship, asylees risk being deported back to their country due to “changed country conditions.”

If the United States concludes that an asylee’s home country’s conditions have changed to the point that the asylee no longer is at risk of persecution, then the asylee is deportable. But as history has shown, even when there are improvements in country conditions, prejudice against groups who have been persecuted in the past are never completely eliminated. It is difficult to change governments and country conditions but it is still much harder to change prejudice mindsets against certain individuals. Hence, it would seem that there is always a risk that asylees run when being sent to a country in which they once feared persecution.

Moreover, during the time period that asylees risk deportation because of possible changes in their home country, asylees spend time and effort building social, familial, and economic roots here in the U.S. It is outright inhumane to uproot them due to circumstances in their home country that they have no power over. They can be the best teachers, the best parents, the most law abiding individuals, yet they still risk deportation. It is important that this possibility of being sent back to the country where the asylee feared persecution from be eliminated. Eliminating this risk of deportation will help asylees better adjust to this country with more confidence that they will not be uprooted due to circumstances that they have absolutely no power over.

It is destabilizing to know that due to matters completely out of the asylee’s control, deportation might one day be a reality. Historically, most asylum applications are not granted, and most asylum seekers handle their cases completely pro se. Many spend days, weeks and even months in detention centers before their case is heard, all the time fearing that their lives might be in danger if their case fails. This is enough. Asylees should not have to keep feeling this fear of persecution once they have won their case. Once asylum is granted, asylees should not be at risk of deportation due to changes in a country over which they have no power. A change in our immigration law to not allow for the risk of deportation to keep hanging over an asylee’s head even after winning asylum is required.


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