Who Gets Asylum, Who Doesn't And How That May Change

Guests

Jason Dzubow, lawyer with focus on immigration and asylum
Dan Stein, president, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)
David Welna, Congressional correspondent, NPR

Every year, thousands of immigrants come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution or violence in their countries. Many groups have a hard time qualifying, based on the legal limits of asylum. New immigration legislation could change the process.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Ari Shapiro in Washington; Neal Conan is away. The Gang of Eight immigration bill is creeping slowly toward the Senate floor, and now we're going to look closely at one section buried deep in that legislation. It's official name is Title 3, Subtitle D. Any asylum lawyer can tell you what that represents.

This part of the bill could change the rules about who gets to stay in the U.S. because they're persecuted back home. Right now to gain asylum, people have to prove that they're persecuted because of ethnicity, religion, political ideology or social group, and most applicants are rejected.

This hour we'll explore who gets in, who doesn't and why. If you're a lawyer representing asylum-seekers or if you have been granted asylum in the United States yourself, tell us your story. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, life in wildfire country. But first, Jason Dzubow is an attorney based here in Washington, D.C., and his practice focuses on immigration and asylum cases. He writes the legal blog The Asylumist. He joins us here in Studio 42. Jason, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JASON DZUBOW: Thanks for inviting me.

SHAPIRO: OK, if I were to ask you to design your ideal client, the asylum seeker who is guaranteed to get in, who is that person?

DZUBOW: First of all, any asylum lawyer who tells you they have a guaranteed client (unintelligible) in trouble.

(LAUGHTER)

DZUBOW: For me, you know, I've represented a lot of people from different countries. Right now I'm representing a lot of people from Afghanistan, but thinking about a client that I've had who may have been my strongest case, my most ideal client, was a journalist from Pakistan. The reason he was an ideal client is because he had a lot of documentation about his job. We knew what he did. He had a lot of well-placed people, for example international organizations, that recognized him as a journalist.

He had a lot of written record of what he was doing in terms of his political writings, which made it easy to document that he was a political person. He was from Pakistan, which is a country which has the highest rate of journalism murders, unsolved journalism murders in the world. And so this person really represented someone who was an ideal asylum seeker.

And aside from that, I was just going to say, you know, he spoke excellent English, it's his native language. He's very well-educated and able to understand what was required of him from the system.

SHAPIRO: So to be granted asylum, you have to check one of a number of boxes. You have to be persecuted not just as an individual but as a member of a group. Talk about how those groups are defined.

DZUBOW: That's right, there's five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, particular social group or political opinion, or religion. You need to show that you are being persecuted because you're a member of those groups. So for example, if my religion is Christian, and I'm in Indonesia, and I'm being persecuted by the Muslim majority, I'm being beat up or attacked, the Muslim majority is persecuting me because of my religion, because of my Christian religion, therefore I can claim political asylum, or that's the basis for asylum.

SHAPIRO: How did that apply to your Pakistani journalist client?

DZUBOW: He expressed his political opinion. A lot of journalists, of course, in other countries are less maybe objective than they are in the United States. And he is a person who strongly expressed political opinions in favor of his region of the country called Balochistan, which is sort of an area that has been attempting to break away from the government of Pakistan, the central government.

And in expressing those points of view, many Balochi people have been assassinated and including many journalists. He himself was threatened numerous times by government officials. He was harassed at the airport. It was interesting. Actually, I even went to a speech that he gave after he got asylum, and someone from the Pakistani embassy had come to the speech to observe him.

So he was a person who was being watched by the government, and he had a legitimate fear.

SHAPIRO: Let's take a call from an immigration attorney in Sacramento named Tom. Hi Tom, go ahead.

TOM: Hi, yes, actually I'm driving back from immigration court right now, from San Francisco. I just wanted to share how absolutely difficult asylum is to obtain. I mean you guys are driving the point home pretty well, but asylum is generally used almost as a backup plan for a lot of Mexican immigrants that just don't have any other forms of relief available to them.

And so while most - I mean a majority of them have a fear of going back to Mexico because, you know, they haven't been there in a very long time or of the drug violence, they really have to have a personal tie to it, and most of them don't have that. Even the popular reason, well, you know, the people that have been to the United States, and they are returned to Mexico, and they think everybody will think they have money and be persecuted for that or targeted by the cartels or the government, there's case law that specifically forbids that type of reasoning.

It just makes it so difficult for these cases to proceed.

SHAPIRO: Interesting, and I understand that the number of asylum cases from Mexico has just boomed in recent years, partially because of the increase in drug violence. Tom, have you seen your clientele boom? Are more people knocking on your door from Mexico seeking asylum than ever before?

TOM: Well, here's how it usually happens, is you don't get people from Mexico that come in just seeking asylum. Usually they're already in immigration proceedings for one reason or another, and they're on a path of deportation. And to qualify for certain forms of immigration relief, the most popular is the cancelation of removal itself, you have to have been here for 10 years, you have to have a qualifying U.S. relative, which is a spouse or a child that's a citizen, and then you have to prove extreme and unusual hardship, which is very impossible to do.

So they use asylum as this backup plan, and so that's where you're seeing the majority of these asylum claims. It's not people just come in and saying, hey, you know, I don't want to go back to Mexico, I'm not in proceedings, what can I do. It's, hey, I'm already here, what can I do to do not go back to Mexico.

SHAPIRO: Interesting, thanks for the call, Tom.

TOM: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: Jason, you know, I understand that Mexico is the second-highest number of asylum seekers. The most asylum seekers come from China. And yet while nearly half of Chinese applicants get granted, something like one percent of Mexican applications get granted. Explain why the disparity.

DZUBOW: Well, there's a couple reasons, but one reason why the Chinese grant rate is so high is because there's special provisions that were passed by Congress to protect Chinese people who were victims of forced family planning. So...

SHAPIRO: The one child policy.

DZUBOW: The one child policy, exactly. So originally that was generally confined to women who were going to face forced abortion or some type of imprisonment for having more than one child, but it's been expanded to men. I mean, immigration attorneys, it's our job to help our clients, and part of doing that is pushing the definition of some of these provisions that allow our clients to win asylum.

So I think that's part of the reason. Another reason is that the government of China oppresses people for different reasons, including religion and - you know, Falun Gong, for example, Christian religions, and including political opinion. So that's why the Chinese cases tend to be a little bit stronger.

The problem with the Mexican cases is exactly what Tom was pointing to, which is many people who come from Mexico, they don't know about asylum. It's not within the culture of that community to seek asylum, as it might in, for example, the Ethiopian community in Washington, D.C., or the Chinese community in New York or San Francisco.

And so what happens is a Mexican person gets in trouble for some reason, they get stopped, maybe a driving infraction, they're put into immigration court proceedings. As a defense to being deported, they seek asylum. Once you're in the immigration court proceedings, it's more difficult to win an asylum case, and part of the problem for the Mexicans is because they're being put into proceedings and because many of them have been in the United States for a long period of time, they're actually ineligible for asylum because to obtain asylum you must apply for asylum within one year of the date that you arrive in the United States.

SHAPIRO: And I understand that's one of things that's being discussed by the Gang of Eight as they talk about an immigration overhaul. If you could change anything in the existing asylum law, as this whole issue gets debated in Congress, what would you change?

DZUBOW: Well, that would be a high priority, to eliminate the one-year bar. Essentially what happened was in the 1990s there were many people from Central America in particular applying for asylum. A lot of those claims were without merit. And what the people did was they would apply for asylum, they would get a work permit, they would work here legally with the work permit while their case was adjudicated; those cases took many years.

So to cut down on that kind of fraud, Congress passed a law saying that you must apply for asylum within one year of arrival. And what happened is that blocked - it turned out it did block some of the fraudulent cases, but it also blocked many legitimate asylum seekers.

And in my practice, what I see is - a good example of this is, you know, LGBT, lesbian, gay asylum seekers who maybe have arrived in the United States, they come from a place where, you know, gay rights are unknown, and they don't even necessarily recognize who they are. And they have to go through the process of coming out. That takes time.

SHAPIRO: And they may have missed the one-year deadline.

DZUBOW: And they miss the one-year deadline.

SHAPIRO: I want to bring another voice into the conversation. Dan Stein is with us, he's president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, and he joins us by phone from his office in D.C. Welcome to the program.

DAN STEIN: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And I understand one reason your group objects to the immigration proposal in Congress is the changes that it would make to asylum law. How do you think asylum laws ought to be changed, if at all?

STEIN: Well, it's a good question. We think that the asylum laws need to return to their original purposes, which are to provide temporary refuge for people who are working for positive political change back home but because of emergent circumstances need to be given humanitarian shelter here in order to prevent persecution, well-founded fear of persecution, generally speaking, articulated on, you know, some rational or concrete basis.

SHAPIRO: So you would prefer to see the elimination of permanent admission to the United States by people who are persecuted in their home countries.

STEIN: Well, it's just becoming a backdoor immigration program, and you saw...

SHAPIRO: Describe what you mean by that.

STEIN: Well, look, people have enormous incentives to jump around lines that now go on for 10, 15 years. So if you can find a way to make a successful asylum claim by coming here physically first, if you will, and making that claim, you're going to have an enormous advantage. And you know, successively since 1996, Congress has been trying to find a way to discourage fraudulent claims, particularly after - well, after '93 and the first Trade Center bombing.

It was very clear that people were coming in and trying to make a credible fear claim, getting work authorization, getting a date to appear, and then, you know, as a result of that the effort was made to put in some threshold determinations that showed indicia of obvious fraud - for example people had been through five safe countries before they got here, you know, there was no basis for them using, you know, irregular or fraudulent documents, or for example, people who were here for a long period of time but who didn't come forward to make, you know, an affirmative asylum claim on a timely basis.

So as you see from examples with, say, the president's own relatives, I mean people can make a defensive asylum claim for no good cause. There's no rational reason why they waited that long to make the claim.

SHAPIRO: Once we get through the fraudulent claims, do you think there is a better way for the U.S. to help people who may be persecuted in their home countries, a better way besides offering them permanent asylum here in the U.S.?

STEIN: Well, we've always said that - the preference, of course, is always trying to either repatriate people in due course or provide third-country resettlement near their homeland. So the resettlement option of last resort - now, we're talking about refugee resettlement, which is different than asylum. Remember you have two basic categories: asylum and refugee, and the asylum provisions in S744 are being drafted without regard to whether a commission of scholars...

SHAPIRO: S744, the proposed immigration overhaul.

STEIN: Right, and in our view the way the legislation's drafted, it's going to add some layers of procedural process that are going to make it very hard to efficiently administer both refugee and asylum law. And so we think that provisions like this need to be considered, you know, much more delicately, by commissions - by a commission.

SHAPIRO: All right, well...

STEIN: (Unintelligible) would ever put this stuff in a legislative proposal.

SHAPIRO: After a short we're going to hear a little more about the prospects for this bill in Congress. That was Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Appreciate your being with us, Dan.

STEIN: Thanks.

SHAPIRO: After a short break, NPR's David Welna joins us to talk about the Gang of Eight's immigration bill and what it would mean for asylum seekers. If you represent people seeking asylum, or if you've been granted asylum yourself in the U.S., we want to hear from you. Call us at 1-800-989-8255, or email us at talk@npr.org. We'll be back in just a minute. I'm Ari Shapiro, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. There's been a fair amount of discussion on the Hill about the changes in asylum provisions in the Gang of Eight's immigration bill. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who is a member of the Gang of Eight, defended its removal of a one-year deadline for asylum seekers to apply for their status.

Durbin said one year is too little time for many of the tens of thousands of foreigners who seek asylum each year in the United States.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: The immigration judges tell us instead of going to the merits of the claim, we spend most of our time arguing about whether one year has passed. We are getting travel documents and all of these - assembling all this information to see if we can even start considering the merits of the case. So it ends up being an absolute bar to cases which are meritorious where people should be receiving asylum.

So we have removed that one-year bar, and I would argue that we should keep it removed.

SHAPIRO: Senator Durbin also argued that some people flee to the U.S. without realizing they're eligible for asylum and only discover they're eligible when the deadline's passed. But the top Republican on the Judiciary Panel, Iowa's Charles Grassley, proposed an amendment that would keep the current one-year deadline for asylum seekers.

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY: Filing within one year is a very reasonable period, and it helps prevent fraud and meritless application. Under current law, even if the immigrants don't seek asylum within one year, they can be granted a waiver from an immigration judge. All they have to do is to show that they have extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing within that year.

SHAPIRO: If you represent asylum seekers, or if you've been granted asylum in the U.S. yourself, we want to hear your story. Call us at 1-800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now is David Welna, NPR congressional correspondent. He has been covering this Gang of Eight legislation, which should make it to the floor next week. David joins us from his booth at the Senate. Welcome back to the show.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So what was the upshot of this debate we just heard between Durbin and Grassley?

WELNA: Well, Grassley in the end withheld this amendment. There were 300-some amendments offered at the Senate Judiciary Committee's markup of the immigration bill, which went on for a good part of last month. About half of them were considered, and a little more than half of them were actually adopted, but Grassley decided to put this on hold because Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said, well, she too thought that it shouldn't be limitless, the amount of time people have to apply for asylum.

She said maybe two and a half year, maybe five years, and Durbin himself agreed that maybe there should be some other limit. They said let's talk about it. The other thing is that Grassley said those people who apply for asylum on frivolous grounds, if they're denied asylum, should not be able to get this registered provisional immigrant status, which would legalize the situation of some 11 million people here illegally right now under this bill.

And the bill sponsors agreed that maybe that does make sense. And they said let's talk about it some more. That's probably going to be a revised amendment that will be introduced on the Senate floor when the bill hits the full Senate next week.

SHAPIRO: And so is most of the debate in this immigration bill surrounding asylum about that one-year deadline, or are there other substantive changes to the asylum process that could make a difference when this bill finally hits the floor?

WELNA: Well, I think the one-year deadline being removed is the biggest issue. There's another issue that's somewhat important, which has to do with people who are ineligible to apply for asylum because they've committed some felony or something that would be in violation of the law. And they are able right now to be granted a kind of asylum under the protection of the convention against torture by immigration judges.

The bill would change that so that asylum officers could simply grant that refugee status to these people. That's a non-adversarial hearing, so it's just basically the person applying for that status and the asylum officer, and it couldn't be appealed. And Grassley pointed out again that this is something that seems like it might be too easy to grant and could be subject to corruption also.

SHAPIRO: There is a minefield of potential political problems between the two parties in this debate over the immigration bill. How significant is the asylum debate in the grand scheme of things?

WELNA: I don't think it's a big issue, but it's one that's sort of festered for years. Democrats have been much more willing to consider the applications for asylum. About 40,000 of them are granted each year to foreigners in the United States. And at the same time, I think that there are Republicans who realize that, especially because of wars that the U.S. has gotten involved in that were started under U.S. - under Republican presidents, President George W. Bush in particular, there are many people who need a place free from persecution and that they have some moral obligation to make sure that happens.

So you see Republicans somewhat divided on this, and in fact in the Gang of Eight you see some divisions over this as well.

SHAPIRO: There was some question whether Marco Rubio, a senator who's a member of the Gang of Eight, a Republican, was going to leave this week over a debate related to the Boston bombing case. Tell us about that.

WELNA: Yeah, well, actually, I mean it's not just Senate Rubio. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also has real reservations about the way that asylum is granted to people and that right now if these people go back to the country that they said they were being persecuted in, there are no consequences. And Graham actually got a voice vote in the committee approving the denial of (unintelligible) in 2002, saying that he needed asylum because of his activism related to Chechnya.

His father came from Dagestan, but his father went back to Dagestan later, and his son followed him. So questions were raised about the legitimacy of that asylum claim.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional correspondent David Welna, speaking with us from his booth at the Senate. Thanks, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And let's take a call now. We have Juan in San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Juan, go ahead.

JUAN: Hey, how are you, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Fine. thanks.

JUAN: I just, I've been listening to the NPR comments on immigration. I'm an immigration lawyer here in San Antonio. And of course I see the influx coming from the border. And unfortunately, you know, let me just give you an example. I've got clients that are coming from Mexico after being deported that are being, you know, either hurt by the cartels or trying to be recruited by the cartels, being abused by the local police officers who are, you know, being corrupted by the cartels, and then are trying to seek asylum coming back into the United States, which of course they're not eligible for because they've already been deported once.

You're not eligible for asylum after you've been deported. It's not the people that are trying to stay in the United States that creates the influx. It's these people that either have been already been deported once or twice or are coming straight in because of the violence either in Mexico or Central America.

There's a considerable influx of those individuals, and that's what's increased predominately the Mexican side of it. But, I mean, whole towns are leaving Mexico because of the violence.

SHAPIRO: Interesting, thanks for the call, Juan.

JUAN: No problem.

SHAPIRO: And we still have with us in the studio asylum attorney Jason Dzubow, and I'm curious, Jason, as you hear that story, how does somebody trying to escape the violence in Mexico prove that they are not just subjected to violence but a member of a persecuted group, which as we said at the beginning of this conversation is one of the boxes you have to check?

DZUBOW: It's a challenging problem. It's the same problem faced by asylum seekers who are fleeing Central America for fear of gang persecution, for example. And the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is the administrative appellate body which makes precedential decisions that regulate how the immigration judges and the asylum offices decide these cases, has basically said if you are a person who the gang tried to recruit or tried to harm, and then you refused to join the gang and you ran away, you are not eligible for asylum.

You do not fall into one of those five protected grounds. And the same problem is for these Mexican asylum seekers who really have a legitimate fear of being harmed by the cartels, and they're caught in the middle of the violence, but the asylum system as it's created does not really provide an easy avenue for them.

So for example, as an immigration lawyer, if I see a Mexican asylum seeker who's fleeing the persecution, generally I'll try to find if there's any facts in the case where we can fit that person's story into one of the five protected grounds for asylum. So for example, a family member. If numerous members of the family have been harmed, family is a protected group, as a particular social group.

SHAPIRO: Is there a foreign policy aspect to this, where by telling Mexico that the United States accepts that the Mexican government cannot provide safety and security for its own people, the U.S. sends a message to the Mexican government that the Obama administration may or may not want to send?

DZUBOW: There is, and there always has been. As a matter of fact, if you look at the history of asylum in the post-World War II era, you'll see that it's very heavily influenced by the Cold War. So you can look and you can see that, for example, we were giving refuge - it wasn't called asylum in those days - but we were giving refuge to people fleeing the Hungarian revolution in 1956.

We were giving refuge to the Mariel Cubans and all the Cubans who were fleeing the country because we were opposing communism. But at the same time, people were fleeing civil wars in, say, El Salvador, where we supported an oppressive, authoritarian regime that was persecuting its people. And the rate of - the grant rate for Salvadorians at that time was much, much lower than for Cubans, for other countries that were communist. And so there is sort of a realpolitik aspect to asylum, which I do think comes into play.

SHAPIRO: We have a call from Russ in Bonner Springs, Missouri. Hi, Russ. You're on the air. Go ahead.

RUSS: Hello, there. It seems there's been a bit of a hole in asylum classifications or refugee status is the 50 percent elephant in the room, and that is women in parts of the world in which it's pretty much guaranteed that you have - if you're a woman, you have no human rights.

An example would be I was putting access control and surveillance in the women's shelter in Kansas City, a women's shelter. And they had an Ethiopian orthodox minister and half his flock out there screaming at me and throwing things because a woman's shelter is an abomination in their eyes, because if a woman's getting beaten up, she deserves it. In places of - in the world in which such religious views prevail, every woman is a - is in a persecuted class, in a political sense.

SHAPIRO: Interesting. Jason Dzubow, does...

RUSS: And I'm wondering if we're ever going to address this.

SHAPIRO: ...does the law acknowledge that? Does the law ever treat women as a persecuted class?

DZUBOW: It's actually a very interesting question, because asylum was really created out of international treaties and laws from the 1950s and '60s, and there, it wasn't necessarily anticipated that women as a persecuted class would be eligible for asylum, and we are now the inheritors of that law.

But what you've been seeing happen is people doing very good work out of, for example, University of Hastings in San Francisco have been pushing the law into particular social groups. So there was a 9th Circuit case recently about two years ago where the 9th Circuit remanded a case to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

And it said to the board: You need to decide whether women in Guatemala - meaning all women in Guatemala - are a particular social group. So there are protections. And there was another case in 1996 which really opened the door to this called Kasinga, Matter of Kasinga, where the Board of Immigration Appeals determined that women who faced female genital mutilation were eligible for asylum. So there are - there has been a development in the law, but that's been a development pushed by lawyers, not by Congress.

SHAPIRO: Boy, it seems like there's a real tension between - there are sort of strategic foreign policy values. There are outcomes that you want to seek. There are values that the country wants to promote as sort of humanitarian ideals. What kind of country do we want to be? Do you sense that one or the other of those tends to prevail most often as these policies are shaped?

DZUBOW: You know, what I see - and I can give an example. You know, we - we've been in Afghanistan now for many - 10 years-plus, 12 years. And I have a lot of clients who have served with the United States military, who get letters of recommendation from everybody, from, you know, privates up to, you know, General McChrystal, General Petraeus, recommending them for protection in the United States. So I do think there is this obligation, this moral obligation that we feel toward our allies, and that's an important aspect of asylum.

SHAPIRO: We have a call here from Esther in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hi, Esther. Go ahead.

ESTHER: Hi. I am a recent law school graduate, but I have represented asylum seekers both in immigration court, and I've also worked for an immigration court. And I just think it's really important to reiterate: There are a lot of people who come here with meritorious claim for asylum who are not sophisticated or not English-speakers, and frequently are pretty afraid of government.

They have a lot of reason not to trust government, and it takes them more than a year to figure out here what my rights are. And the senator who is opposed to having - to extending this one-year bar, said, oh, well, there are these excuses, these kind of extraordinary circumstances or achieved circumstances. Those are extremely difficult to get, and saying I didn't know I have these rights is not sufficient. So I feel pretty strongly the one-year bar to be abolished - if not, extended significantly.

SHAPIRO: All right. Thanks for the call, Esther.

DZUBOW: She's right. And, in fact, I can give you an example of a case I worked on. There was a woman who was a lesbian, who was gang-raped in Serbia. She came to the United States. She didn't file for asylum within one year, and it seems to be the reason was because she was so traumatized by the events that took place in her country, that she just didn't - wasn't able to put it down on paper, essentially, to prepare for the asylum case.

What happened was she was granted withholding of removal, which is a lesser form of relief. It's not as good. It's actually more difficult to get than asylum. The standard of proof is higher. But she was granted withholding of removal, and she's allowed to stay here.

We said, well, no. The trauma that she suffered is what caused the extraordinary circumstances, which should excuse her failure to file within one year. The case is currently on appeal.

SHAPIRO: Hmm. You're - we're talking about asylum-seekers in the United States and how the policy facing asylum may change with the immigration bill. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

We have an email here from Amanda in Madison, Wisconsin, who writes: My husband came here from Colombia in 2000, and he was 21 years old. His family was being targeted for their money. And now, 13 years later, he is still here as an illegal immigrant because his lawyer didn't file an important document. We've tried to work with a few lawyers, and they won't take his case now. Because he came here legally, he is now here illegally, they say his case would be too difficult to argue. We're so frustrated, she writes, and we don't know what to do. We are good working people who just want a chance to live like everyone else does.

Jason Dzubow, asylum lawyer, is this a common story?

DZUBOW: It's a common story. I had a case similar to that, where a woman came to the United States legally. She applied for asylum. She was denied. She had some bad representation. You know, a couple of years later, she ended up marrying a United States citizen. Sounds similar to the case of the emailer.

And what we did in that case was we asked the Department of Homeland Security to agree to reopen the case so that the woman could get her green card based on the marriage. In that case, there were some sympathetic factors, and they did agree.

So I would say that it's not beyond hope, the situation that the emailer is describing, but it's a very difficult situation, and it's not uncommon.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, we have an email from Kelly in Naples, Florida, asking: Where does Cuba fit into this?

DZUBOW: Well, there's a law that allows Cubans who land to the United States to get their green card automatically after one year in the United States. It's called the Cuban Adjustment Act. You know, it exists because we have this idea that we oppose the Fidel Castro and Raul Castro regimes, and we are going to offer protection to the people who flee that regime and come to the United States.

From the point of view of an asylum lawyer, it doesn't make a lot of sense, because I'm seeing people come from other countries which are much more oppressive - Eritrea, for example, which enslaves much of its population with this mandatory service, which is supposedly military service, but really it's a form of modern day slavery.

And there's many countries that are very oppressive to their minorities and kill people and kill religious minorities and ethnic minorities, a much more severe circumstance than you face in Cuba, which is - can be, for dissidents, can be quite severe. But, you know, from my point of view, just in terms of the morality of protecting people, it makes sense to evaluate each claim on the merits.

SHAPIRO: Sort of a balance there between the political values, the moral values and so on that we were discussing. That's Jason Dzubow, an immigration and asylum lawyer. His blog, The Asylumist, is dedicated to covering asylum in the United States, and he joined us here in Studio 42. Jason, thanks for being on TALK OF THE NATION.

DZUBOW: Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: When we come back, writer Susie Cagle joins us to talk about what it's like living in wildfire country. Stay with us. I'm Ari Shapiro, and this is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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