Applying for Asylum Using Free Resources
As a summer associate, I worked on a lot of corporate and capital markets matters—subjects that I find interesting, but that don’t exactly make me feel passionate about the law. However I was fortunate enough to work on a pro bono immigration assignment, a matter that reminded me of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. I was asked to work on a brief for an appeal of the Board of Immigration’s decision to deny asylum to a deserving applicant from the Gambia. While I did a lot of my research in Westlaw, I also spent a lot of time, especially in the beginning, in some free resources. Because I hope to do this kind of work when I return to the firm, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit some of these websites as a refresher, while applying some of the techniques that we have discussed in class as a way to find new sources.
My first problem was figuring out how the immigration court system actually works and which law applies. I assumed that it would be federal law, as the decision of whether to grant asylum is a federal concern, but I had no idea if the appeal would take place in a federal district court or what the courtroom procedure would look like. I started with Google, as I so often do, and searched for “Immigration Court.” Immediately, a suggested search of “Immigration Court Practice Manual” popped up. This search led me to some great free resources that described the workings of the immigration court system. The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge provides a detailed practice manual (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/ocij_page1.htm), which I found to be one of my best friends during the brief-writing process. Specifically, the manual has a link to a detailed table of contents, which is great when you don’t know where to begin. By scanning through the descriptions of the headings and subheadings, I was able to focus in on the areas that were most confusing to me. The manual also included citations and references to pertinent sections of the Code of Federal Regulations, which significantly decreased the amount of time that I had to spend searching in Westlaw. The practice manual included such basic information as how to file a motion, what to expect when appearing in front of an immigration judge, the effect of decisions, and basic information about the immigration court and the scope of the practice manual itself. This was necessary information that I don’t think I could have found easily using a paid resource.
Another aspect of the website that I really appreciated was a link to updates to the practice manual (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/updates.html). This made me more confident that I wasn’t relying on old information. Additionally, the website included a link to the Board of Immigration Appeals website, which provided essential information, including sample cover pages for court documents, information on where to file motions, and details regarding the requirements of an appeal of an immigration judge’s decision (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/qapracmanual/apptmtn4.htm). As a downside, there is no way to search the practice manual for a specific term or issue, but my Google search also yielded a full-text copy of the practice manual, so at the very least, searching through the text for a certain word or phrase was possible. (http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/Practice%20Manual%20Final_compressedPDF.pdf).
After getting a better understanding of where I was heading and after reading through many sample briefs, I discovered that the inquiry into whether to grant asylum is highly focused on the facts of each case. My next step then was to develop an informative and persuasive statement of facts, one that would convince any immigration judge to grant asylum for our client. This involved an intensive look into country-specific data, and for this, I found some resources that did a lot of the work for me. In particular, the United States Department of State website compiles country profiles and human rights reports for many, if not most, countries (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/). The website is very easy to search and provided me information that I otherwise would have had to rely on many different sources to obtain. On the right-hand side of the homepage, there is a drop down menu of “country profiles.” After selecting “Gambia, The,” I was provided with information explaining the geography, demographics, political climate, and the country’s history. This gave me an idea of the backdrop against which this application for asylum was made.
Also on the homepage is a link to human rights reports (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/index.htm). It is essential to know this type of information when seeking asylum, and according to caselaw that I later came across, the U.S. Dept. of State reports actually qualify in an immigration court proceeding as official, objective corroboration of country conditions. The human rights reports are grouped by year going back to 1999, and when you select the most recent year (or whichever year is relevant), you are brought to a page with a list of countries. Again, I selected The Gambia, and was brought to the official human rights report written in 2009. These reports include the country’s respect for human rights, instances of discrimination, the freedom of the political system, and the transparency of the law enforcement and judicial system. The reports also give specific instances of violations of human rights abuses, which was particularly helpful as I was trying to craft a convincing statement of facts.
We mentioned in class this week how the websites put forth by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be very helpful when doing foreign law research, and this is equally true when researching a foreign locality itself. I have found that the website for Amnesty International is one of those helpful sites (http://www.amnesty.org/). Because it is not geared to only legal professionals, the site is incredibly user friendly. The main page has a news section and an “in focus” section, highlighting recent events in the international arena, but also includes many useful search tools. You can simply look up information by country by selecting the appropriate country from the drop-down menu at the top of the page, or enter in a country or search term in the search field. On the right-hand side of the page, there is a way to search for human rights information, either by country or by topic. When I looked for “The Gambia” under human rights information, I was brought to a page of Amnesty International news and publications, and also links to the annual human rights reports for those countries. Again, this is very helpful when you are trying to fill in the particulars to make a claim for asylum.
Finally, although I didn’t do this last summer, I decided to try searching twitter feeds for info that might be of use. I’m pretty new to the whole twitter thing, and I always assumed it was just a way for people to follow celebrities or share mundane details of their everyday lives, but I never really thought of it as a way to answer legal questions. I visited the Justia Legal Birds website and entered in “asylum” (http://legalbirds.justia.com/). This generated several tweets that seemed useful, one of which was entitled “Entering Illegally and Applying for Asylum.” There were also a few posts announcing the success of asylum applications, which might contain helpful hints for other asylum attorneys seeking the same thing for their clients. I’m still not sure if I will ever join twitter, but I can definitely see the value in searching these sites for legal professionals who might be share insights and give advice on an important legal topic.