Failures of Refugee Law and the Inhumane Prospect of Deporting Settled Liberians from the United States

This semester I am teaching a seminar entitled Comparative Refugee and Asylum Law, and last week, one of my students in that course, Vintee Sawnhey, sent me a link to a news article about the thousands of Liberians who fear deportation from the United States because the “deferred enforced departure” status that President Bush extended to them in September 2007 is scheduled to end on March 31, 2009.  

I should probably preface the rest of this long post by explaining that the article Vintee sent me was especially interesting to me because I worked with many Liberians during and just after law school, at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, now called The Advocates for Human Rights.  Most of my work for that organization involved interviewing prospective asylum-seekers, to assess their credibility and the strength of their claims for asylum.  My work there happened from late 1996 through early 1999, and many of our clients were Liberians.  Minnesota has a relatively large population of Liberians.  (You may want to check out the Minnesota Star-Tribune’s really nice website about Liberians in Minnesota.)

Anyway, as Vintee pointed out, the situation of these Liberians is “pretty relevant to some of our current readings” in my asylum law seminar. Indeed, the situation of the Liberians facing possible deportation later this year illustrates two of the most important ideas in the course:  (1) the legal definition of “refugee” does not include people fleeing from generalized civil war conditions, and (2) offering “temporary” humanitarian protection in place of permanent refugee status to such individuals is problematic, because countries experiencing civil war do not become stable very quickly, and human beings build new lives in the meantime.

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Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Cloak and Dagger

The Seventh Circuit had only one new opinion in a criminal case last week: United States v. Latchin (Nos. 07-4009 & 08-1085).  Latchin emigrated from Iraq to the United States in the early 1990’s and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998.  However, documents seized by American forces in Baghdad in 2003 revealed that Latchin was in the employ of the Iraqi government.  The documents indicated that Latchin had been sent to the U.S. as a sleeper agent for the Saddam Hussein regime.  It is not clear whether he ever conducted any covert actitivities once inside the U.S., but, somewhat chillingly, he did manage to obtain a job at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  In any event, once his connections to Saddam were exposed, Latchin was prosecuted for procuring citizenship illegally by making false statements on his naturalization application in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a).  He was convicted and then appealed.

The legal issues on appeal were not nearly so colorful as the underlying facts.  Most significantly, the court had to determine what it means to “procure” citizenship through a false statement. 

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Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Nken v. Filip, on Question of Standard of Review for Stays of Removal Pending Appeal

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard the argument in Nken v. Filip (formerly Nken v. Mukasey), which asks whether an alien who seeks a stay of deportation pending appeal must prove by clear and convincing evidence that his deportation is prohibited by law.  The majority of courts have held that the ordinary standard for stays pending appeal continues to apply to such stays despite Congress’s enactment in 1996 of legislation providing that “no court shall enjoin the removal of any alien pursuant to a final order under this section unless the alien shows by clear and convincing evidence that the entry or execution of such order is prohibited as a matter of law,”8  U.S.C. sec. 1252(f)(2).

The question is especially important in cases like Mr. Nken’s, in which the alien’s underlying claim is that he will suffer severe persecution or even death if returned to his country.  If such aliens must demonstrate their right to stay by clear and convincing evidence, i.e., more than a preponderance of the evidence, to obtain a stay, then the expected result would be that some aliens with valid claims would be returned to their home countries and possibly subject to persecution before having the chance to have their appeals decided on the merits.

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