By now, it is no longer a surprise to learn that many immigration lawyers, and the clients they serve, live in certain “hostile jurisdictions,” where it is almost impossible to win an asylum case no matter the facts. In places like Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, people seeking asylum, and the attorneys fighting for them, know they are likely going to lose no matter how strong the case, or how real the fear. Going into this kind of battle expecting to lose takes a special type of courage, and a lot of support, because as a lawyer, you know that no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how much you think the law is on your side, the deck is still stacked against you.
But the deck shouldn’t be stacked against anyone because immigration law in the United States is, after all, federal law, and as such should be applied uniformly, from California to Georgia and from New York to Florida. An asylum claim presented in a court in California should be evaluated under the same law and have the same chances of approval as an asylum claim in Georgia or North Carolina. But AILA members know that this is simply not the case. We know that, no matter the facts, the claim of an asylum seeker in a hostile jurisdiction like Georgia or North Carolina is not evaluated under the same standards as asylum seekers in the rest of the United States.
When it comes to hostile jurisdictions, we as advocates have now reached a point well beyond “mights” or “shoulds.” We have reached a point where we must fight back. Hostile jurisdictions lead to dysfunctional closed circles where poor results lead to poor attorney participation, which in turn leads to ever worsening outcomes for clients who deserve and need protection. The result essentially becomes an “asylum -free zone” in jurisdictions like Atlanta.
Hostile jurisdictions are not only contrary to the freedoms and liberties upon which the U.S. was founded, but also to our obligations under U.S. law—obligations like the Refugee Act, passed in 1980 in order to comply with the 1967 Refugee Protocol, and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. To remind the government of those obligations, a group of advocates I had the privilege to be a part of came together to request a special interest hearing on this matter before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The group, which includes the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Washington and Lee University’s Immigrant Rights’ Clinic, the Latin American Coalition, the University of the District of Columbia’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, the Georgia-Alabama Chapter of AILA, Innovation Law Lab, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at University of California Hastings, argued that the U.S. government has an affirmative obligation to intervene in hostile jurisdictions like Atlanta and Charlotte as a matter of international law—and that it is failing to do so.
We are one step closer. The hearing request has been granted and will be held on December 9, 2016.
In continuing to allow jurisdictions to exist where 98% of claimants are denied, the U.S. is failing in its duty to implement the international covenants it has agreed to follow and uphold. If the phrase “equal justice under law” engraved onto the façade of the U.S. Supreme Court means anything at all, these hostile jurisdictions cannot be tolerated. When it comes to the rights of asylum-seekers, we as advocates must take to heart the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Written by Atenas Burrola, AILA Member and CARA Volunteer