Working to ensure all immigrants are treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their human and civil rights

CAIR Coalition Submits Stories of Detained Asylum Seekers for Judiciary Committee Hearings

us-congress-j001On December 12th, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings entitled, “Asylum Laws and Abuse.” The lawmakers who have convened the hearings claim that the asylum process, particularly for those arriving at our borders, is the subject of frequent abuse. We disagree. At CAIR Coalition we provide legal services to countless men, women, and children who are in detention after fleeing unimaginable horrors in their countries. The laws that apply to arriving asylum seekers – referred to as the “Credible Fear process” – are all that stand in the way of their return to certain harm and, in many cases, death. In the written statement below, CAIR Coalition submitted to the Judiciary Committee the stories of three individuals who benefited from the Credible Fear process. These stories, three among many, demonstrate the process’s import and integrity.


Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition
Statement for Hearing on Asylum Laws and Abuse
 

House Judiciary Committee

December 12, 2013

The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition brings together community groups, attorneys, volunteers and immigrants in the D.C. metropolitan area working to ensure that all immigrants are treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their human and civil rights. CAIR Coalition provides legal orientation services and representation to the men, women and children held in immigration custody in Maryland and Virginia. This population includes countless individuals who have fled unimaginable dangers in their countries of origin and seek safe haven in the United States.

The Credible Fear and parole processes are integral to our nation’s ability to protect these most vulnerable individuals. As legal service workers providing information and orientation to hundreds of immigrants each year, we continue to be stunned by the stories we hear from men, women and children fleeing persecution of the most brutal kind. We are proud to have the privilege to inform these individuals of our nation’s asylum laws, the Credible Fear process, and the possibility of parole for those who meet certain demanding standards. The asylum system is rooted in our nation’s history, our international legal obligations, and our very identity as a nation of immigrants.

Nothing demonstrates the import of the asylum and Credible Fear laws and processes better than the stories of those who sought and received gravely needed protection. Below are the stories of three individuals who fled certain harm or death in their countries of origin, sought protection at the border, passed their Credible Fear Interviews, and remained in immigration detention through most or all of their removal proceedings. All three were ultimately granted asylum by the Immigration Court and live safely today as productive, contributing members of our society. CAIR Coalition provided legal orientation services to each of these men and referred their cases for representation by pro bono counsel.

Isaac[1]

Before coming to the United States, Isaac had been forced to spend the entirety of his adolescence and adulthood concealing his true identity. As a gay man in Uganda, he knew from a young age that revealing his sexual orientation to his family or community would result in arrest, severe harm, and perhaps even death. Homophobia in Uganda is so pervasive that the national parliament recently considered a bill that would legalize the summary execution of gay individuals. In 2011, a prominent gay rights activist was beaten to death with a hammer, with the police writing the crime off as a mere robbery.[2]

When Isaac’s relationship with a man was made public against his will, his worst fears came true. The Ugandan police arrested Isaac, beat him, cut his arms with blades, and used electric wires to electrocute his genitals. When he was finally released he was wounded, severely dehydrated, and vomiting blood. Terrified and weakened, Isaac fled to the United States. At the airport, he revealed to a customs officer his profound fear of returning to Uganda. He was taken directly to immigration detention and granted a Credible Fear Interview, which he passed.

Isaac’s request for parole was denied and he remained in detention in Virginia for nearly one year throughout his removal proceedings. Although he had no criminal history and posed no danger to the community, he had no close friends or family in the United States. His attorneys identified a shelter where he could safely stay, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined that this was insufficient for release. Finally, in early 2013, Isaac had his day in court and was granted asylum by the Immigration Judge, who found his fear of return to Uganda to be well founded. He lives today in the United States, finally free to live openly as a gay man.

Eric

Eric and his family have suffered gravely because of their participation in the political opposition in Burundi, a country denounced by Human Rights Watch for the widespread impunity it affords to the ruling party and its affiliates in their execution of politically motivated killings.[3] As a young adult, Eric lost his father to a brutal massacre of political opposition members. His fear for his own life escalated when he began receiving anonymous threats because of his political activism. When his young child was targeted for harm, Eric could no longer remain in Burundi and fled to the United States.

Eric expressed his fear on arrival at the border, and was taken from the airport to an immigration detention facility in Virginia where he would remain for nearly eight months. Eric’s requests for parole were denied despite his lack of criminal history and the fact that his pro bono attorney had identified a shelter where he could remain upon release. Eric and his attorney presented his claim to the Immigration Judge in the summer of 2013, and the Immigration Judge agreed that his fear of return to Burundi was well founded. Subsequent to his asylum grant and release from detention, Eric first stayed at a temporary shelter facility where the staff was impressed by his commitment to developing his job skills and contributing to his new community. He has since transitioned to permanent housing and is working to save the money he needs to move to the countryside.

Joseph

Joseph was only in his early 20s when he was forced to flee his country of origin, Guinea, to seek safety in the United States. Joseph came from a religious Muslim family, but fell in love with and wanted to marry a Christian woman. When he refused to enter into the Muslim marriage his family had arranged for him, Joseph knew his relatives would target him for retributive harm or death, with the Guinean police providing no protection. Afraid for his life, the only way Joseph could arrange to flee his home country was through the use of false travel documents.

Upon his arrival at the airport in the United States, Joseph was taken into criminal custody and criminally prosecuted for his use of false documents, despite his fear of return. After serving the sentence resulting from this prosecution, Joseph was transferred to immigration custody in Virginia. He passed his Credible Fear Interview, but his requests for parole were initially denied. After spending approximately four months in immigration detention, Joseph was paroled into the community. One month later, the Immigration Judge found his fear of return to be well founded and granted him asylum.

These stories are only three among many, and they are illustrative of the integrity and importance of our asylum and credible fear laws and the very real and profound impact they have on the lives of human beings in need.



[1] Names and identifying information have been omitted to protect the privacy of the three men discussed, each of whom remain afraid of harm to themselves and their families following their flight.

[2] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Ugandan Who Spoke Up for Gays is Beaten to Death,” New York Times (Jan. 27, 2011).

[3] “Burundi,” Human Rights Watch World Report 2013, available at www.hrw.org.

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