In his October 12th remarks to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), Attorney General Jeff Sessions lamented the fact that those with a credible claim for asylum have in recent years more frequently exercised the rights and protections provided to them under the Immigration and Nationality Act. He praised a Congress that “rationally passed legislation designed to create an efficient and fair procedure to properly admit persons and expedite the removal of aliens who enter the United States illegally,” while at the same time charging “smart attorneys” with exploiting “loopholes” in these rational, efficient, and fair laws. AG Sessions cites this as the cause of the dramatic increase in asylum claims, conveniently ignoring the unprecedented rise in violence and turmoil leading to refugee crises all over the globe.
It is our duty as attorneys to represent the interests of our clients. Rule 1.1(c) of the rules of professional conduct in New York, where I am admitted, state that a “lawyer shall not intentionally fail to seek the objectives of the client through reasonably available means permitted by law…” In other words, it’s our job to know and understand the law to find solutions for our clients where possible. It is not only appropriate for smart immigration lawyers to advise clients of their ability to seek asylum when they have a fear returning home, it is our duty to do so.
In his remarks, Attorney General Sessions then went on to falsely equate the rise in credible fear claims with fraud and misrepresentation. Without any evidence, he claims that “dirty immigration lawyers” are encouraging their clients to make “false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words.” I have news for the attorney general. There are no “magic words” to claim asylum. Our laws lay out a very specific process that includes checks and balances to root out fraudulent claims. “Open sesame” won’t do it, but an asylum seeker who relates the details of her story, sharing the brutality that she and her family endured because of her race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, may be able to claim asylum.
Yes, smart, ethical immigration lawyers are bound to advise their clients of all possible forms of relief and benefits. Indeed, it would be unethical to withhold options if they are within the bounds of the law and could benefit our clients. Nonetheless, in one fell swoop, the Attorney General smeared good immigration lawyers, as well as genuine asylum seekers, in an attempt to take a swipe at an incredibly small number of those who may make unmeritorious claims.
Smart immigration lawyers who know the law, who aggressively defend their clients within the scope of the law and who are ethical and passionate should be celebrated, not disparaged. I don’t misrepresent my clients’ claims; I don’t encourage my clients to make up stories or request benefits that have no merit. I take my role as an attorney seriously and hold myself to a standard of professional responsibility at the highest level. I am a smart immigration lawyer and will continue to do my utmost to protect my clients as they pursue valid claims of protection under our laws. The Attorney General, as a lawyer, should know that no good lawyer could do any less.