Refugee law does not get all that much attention in the blogosphere, even on the immigration-related blogs, probably because the numbers of refugees and asylees are so low in the context of U.S. immigration as a whole. This week, though, there was a little discussion of a new study showing that asylum-seekers’ success rates have gone up to about 50%. The study also confirms that asylum requests (that is, requests for refugee status made by people who are in the United States already) continue to fall. The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog mischaracterized the study to some extent, asserting that “Recently revealed statistics show that illegal immigration is down. But another method of gaining residence in the U.S. is up: seeking political asylum,” when, as I just explained, asylum requests actually continue to fall. It is only the rate of success that has gone up.
The increased success rate is surely due to the fact that more asylum seekers are finding legal representation: as the study explains, unrepresented asylum seekers have a success rate of about 11%, while those with attorneys have about a 54% chance of winning asylum. The study also shows that the dramatic disparities in grant rates by different judges continues (e.g., in the New York Immigration Court, judges’ asylum grant rates ranged from 6% to 70%).
In any event, the other statistics referred to in that WSJ Law Blog post are from a Pew Hispanic Center study showing a dramatic decline in the population of undocumented immigrants in the United States over the past few years. ImmigrationProf’s take on this data is that “It’s the (Labor) Market, Stupid.” In related news, Edward Schumacher at the Washington Post shared data that he received from the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration that undocumented immigrants’ contributions to Social Security represent between 5.4 and 10.7 % of the fund’s total assets, roughly twice as much as previous estimates. The decline in the undocumented population thus increases the Social Security trust fund’s solvency crisis.
There were a few other interesting legal developments in immigration law this week. The Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, overturned the conviction of a humanitarian border activist, who had been convicted of littering because he left water in the Arizona desert, in an effort to prevent migrants from dying of thirst. As the court explained,
Millis concede[d] that he placed water on refuge trails, but argue[d] that his conduct did not violate § 27.94(a) because the bottles of purified water did not constitute “garbage, refuse, sewage, sludge, earth, rocks, or other debris” within the meaning of the regulation. The United States counter[ed] that the bottles constitute “garbage.”
The majority, applying the rule of lenity and the ordinary meaning of the word “garbage,” decided that it was ambiguous whether jugs of water left for human beings to drink in the desert were “garbage,” and therefore threw out the charges. The dissenter, Judge Jay Bybee would have upheld the conviction, unconvinced that there was any ambiguity as to whether leaving the bottles of drinking water in the desert was “littering” or the discarding of “garbage.” David Luban over at Balkinization couldn’t help but point out that this same Jay Bybee “thinks that terms like ‘torture’ and ‘severe suffering’ are so vague that it would be unfair to apply statutes prohibiting them to interrogators who waterboard people and keep them awake for a week at a time, naked and hanging in chains.”
And I cannot help but point out that 170 human beings have already died trying to cross the border this year, mostly due to heat-related illness.
In other news, there were a couple more skirmishes in what seems to be a brewing battle over the vitality of Plyler v. Doe. Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Social Justice filed an amendment to its claim against the state of New Jersey for its new policies eliminating Medicaid benefits for some legal immigrants. And the DOJ reportedly has sued a network of Arizona community colleges because they required noncitizens to provide their green cards in order to be eligible for hiring.
Finally, a busy week for the DOJ: the agency just filed a new lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief forcing the Sheriff to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation into national origin discrimination that allegedly pervades the Sheriff’s police and jail operations.