On October 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had this to say to Congress:
“We also have dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.”
-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, remarks to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, Oct. 12, 2017
This is how asylum works: It offers protection to a very narrow set of people. It requires a well-rounded fear of persecution by the person’s home country government or by third parties the government won’t protect you from. And the persecution must have at least one central reason among five protected categories: Race, religion, nationality (ethnic groups may fit in here), political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group.
And if you can escape that threat within your country, or your government makes gestures toward protecting you? No asylum.
Membership of a particular social group is a real hocus pocus thing. Other protected grounds are a bit cartoonish. Sure, political belief cases come about, or ethnic cleansing or religious persecution, but not everyone lives in a “Schindler’s List” situation.
There are people with real reasons to fear being sent back to their birth countries. And those don’t always look like World War II movies. And it’s really hard.
Being a member of a particular social group is like alchemy. Immigration judges have recognized a network of groups like jewels in a cobweb of denials. It’s like old causes of action – you have to force meritorious cases into extremely tight constraints that claim to be adaptable but aren’t.
So the “magic words” the attorney general referred to? That’s us trying to get clients to tell their real stories and ensure they raise aspects of their lives that hit at the arbitrary concerns of asylum law.
Dishonest? No. That doesn’t serve anyone. I just explore people’s cases with them, as they really need help. Many of my clients have very low education; some are even illiterate. They’ve never had to talk about such things in a formal setting. They mess up with basic things because of those setbacks in the process.
And yes, dishonest lawyers do exist! They don’t last long. Here’s why:
The “credible fear” interview is just start of process. It filters out cases clearly not raising claims even vaguely relevant to asylum law.
If you get past it, you go to a hearing before a judge where you’ve got to show evidence and be cross examined. If you made your client memorize a lie, they’ll fall flat at this stage and blame you. The court remembers – and the court can start disciplinary proceedings.
“Magic words” won’t save people under cross examination amid demands for evidence. Even many worthy applicants fall at this stage.
And there are many people who deserve asylum but don’t receive it. Women from countries with high rates of femicide (the intentional killing of women or girls simply because they are females), people at the mercy of cartels, and many indigenous groups who don’t fit cartoonish expectations – they have no specific protection under the law.
The system is set up to make most claims fail, and we try to help our clients have a chance at success.
And if that’s dirty, then I’m a #DirtyImmigrationLawyer.