Victims of Domestic Violence Can No Longer Seek Refuge in the U.S.

We are saddened and outraged by the latest move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop granting asylum to victims of domestic abuse. The Trump administration is systematically dismantling the U.S. asylum system and attacking the most vulnerable among us.

This administration's flagrant disregard for abused women — at the height of the #MeToo movement — will only empower violent, abusive men around the world. We will never stop fighting for women who flee their home country to protect themselves and their children from abuse.

Sessions, along with White House adviser Stephen Miller, are methodically chipping away at the various paths to access protection in our country: children are being separated from their asylum-seeking parents; for those who have been granted asylum, family reunification appears to be frozen; new asylum interview policies are punishing those who have been waiting for years; and now victims of domestic violence will be denied asylum.

What is next? Will LGBTQ victims no longer be able to apply for asylum because they will be considered “victims of private violence” and, in the words of Jeff Sessions, “the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune”?

As an entry point for asylum seekers who arrive in the city, RIF will continue to offer fast legal advice and orientation for asylum seekers. More than ever, the right initial guidance is key to securing refuge.

In the meantime, we pray that at least the Dreamers will get a path to citizenship.

If you want to learn more please explore our website or contact Maria Blacque-Belair, RIF Executive Director, at maria@rifnyc.org.

The RIF Team remains steadfast in its solidarity with all those working tirelessly on the ground and as advocates for refugees and immigrants.

Thank you all for your caring support.

New Asylum Policy Punishes Asylum Seekers Stuck in Limbo

On January 29, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reversed the order in which it schedules asylum interviews. Under this new policy, asylum offices across the country will schedule asylum intervi.png

Every day, the Trump administration wages war on immigrants. Most notably, the administration has ordered the travel ban, reduced refugee admissions, terminated DACA, ended Temporary Protected Status programs, directed ICE agents to arrest immigrants in courthouses, and targeted immigrant community leaders for deportation.

A few days ago, the Department of Homeland Security quietly - and without warning - reversed the order in which it schedules asylum interviews. This may seem like a minor procedural change, but it massively shakes up the lives of asylum seekers awaiting their interviews.

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Under this new policy, asylum offices across the country will schedule asylum interviews in the reverse order in which the applications were received.

Moving forward, individuals who submit an asylum application will have their interviews scheduled within 21 days. The asylum seekers who filed their applications before the new policy came into effect will be scheduled for their interviews in reverse chronological order.

The most devastating consequence of this new policy is that the several thousand asylum seekers who have already been backlogged for two to four years, and were expecting an interview soon, now have their applications delayed indefinitely.

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According to USCIS, which hears asylum cases on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, “the aim [of this new policy] is to deter individuals from using asylum backlogs solely to obtain employment authorization by filing frivolous, fraudulent or otherwise non-meritorious asylum applications.”

This proposed justification reinforces the dangerous and inaccurate idea peddled by the Trump administration that asylum seekers come to the U.S. not to seek protection from human rights violations, but to seek economic opportunities.

We at RIF Asylum Support know that this is not the case. Most of our clients were professionals or activists in their home countries, and their lives were threatened because of their political views, social activism, or sexual orientation. A great deal of these individuals actually had better economic status in the countries they were forced to leave.

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Whether it was Fatima, involved in fighting gender violence and religious extremism in her native Pakistan, Pap, a journalist imprisoned by his government in West Africa for denouncing corruption, or Julian, a prominent LGBTQ activist in Malaysia, these individuals had no other choice but to flee.

Many of the asylum seekers RIF serves were physicians, journalists, nonprofit   executives, or university professors in their home countries, where they led upper or middle class lifestyles. Several of our clients traveled abroad to attend human rights conferences and workshops, including being invited by the U.S. State Department to present their work.

"Given what we know about the current administration’s disdain for immigrants and  human rights, it is a reprehensible lie that this new policy is about combating fraud or reducing the asylum backlog,” says Caitlin Steinke, an asylum attorney who provides free legal consultations to RIF's community of asylum seekers. “This new policy is just the latest example of the viciously racist and anti-immigrant Trump administration purposefully targeting forms of humanitarian relief for people who have come to the United States seeking protection.”  

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Unlike in Canada or European countries, asylum seekers in the U.S. do not receive any government support until they are granted asylum. The only “benefit” they receive is a work permit — which reduces the risk of them becoming a “burden” by granting the authorization to work lawfully, obtain a Social Security number, and pay taxes.

With a work permit, an asylum seeker is generally able to secure a survival job, such as a dishwasher or home cleaner. They work long hours for minimum wage in order to rent or share a room — or if they are lucky, to send some money home to their loved ones.

Since asylum seekers can only petition for their spouses and children to join them in safety after they are granted asylum, the backlogged interview process already keeps families separated for years. During these long waits, it is common for the family members back home to be forced into hiding as a method of survival.

Why would anyone choose such a grim life unless they had no other option?

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RIF supports efforts to reduce the asylum backlog, but such efforts should include prioritizing the cases of those asylum seekers who have been waiting the longest. This week’s dramatic change to the interview scheduling policy does not include any mechanism to ensure that those who have already been waiting several years to have their claims heard will be scheduled for an interview in any reasonable amount of time. In fact, the policy keeps them at the very end of the queue.

When asylum seekers came to New York to seek protection, they were caught in the huge backlog in the asylum system. Many of our clients have now been waiting over three years for an asylum interview. To punish those who have already suffered persecution, years of separation from their loved ones, and an indefinite period of uncertainty about their futures, is unnecessarily cruel.

“The asylum interview is the opportunity for asylum seekers to fight for their right to live with human dignity, free from human rights abuses and violence,” says Ms. Steinke. “The indefinite extension of the existing backlog burdening the U.S. asylum program is incredibly traumatic for thousands of asylum seekers, especially because it reinforces the hateful lies and stereotypes promulgated by the Trump administration.”

No, Mr. Trump, asylum seekers are not frauds with bogus claims. They are here because they thought the U.S. would live up to its commitment to human rights and offer protection to those who need it most.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information:

Sarah Cast, RIF Program Coordinator        Caitlin Steinke, Immigration Attorney
sarah@rifnyc.org                                         csteinke@khinelaw.com
(303) 521-8804                                           (212) 786-1500

 

Note: RIF provides information, support, and access to resources for asylum seekers in New York. None of our written publications should be construed as providing legal advice to asylum seekers or creating an attorney-client relationship. We encourage asylum seekers to attend RIF's legal workshops, where they can seek legal advice from volunteer asylum attorneys.

Important Update on the Scheduling of Asylum Interviews

On January 31, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is no longer scheduling asylum interviews in the order the asylum applications were received. Instead, USCIS will implement what it calls a "last in, first out" approach, in which it will work backwards, prioritizing the most recently filed applications for asylum interviews.

How will asylum interviews be scheduled now?

1. Asylum seekers who have already been scheduled for an interview

These interviews will still take place on the scheduled date and time.

2. Asylum seekers who were scheduled for an interview, but whose interview had to be rescheduled

USCIS has made these interviews the first priority. It does not matter if the interview is being rescheduled because the asylum seeker requested a different interview date, or because USCIS had to reschedule the interview. These asylum seekers should expect to receive a new interview date very soon.

3. Asylum seekers who file their asylum applications after today

USCIS has made these interviews the second priority. Once USCIS has interviewed all the asylum seekers whose interviews had to be rescheduled, USCIS will begin scheduling interviews in the newly filed filed cases. USCIS will attempt to schedule interviews within 21 days of the asylum application being filed.

4. Asylum seekers who already filed their asylum applications

USCIS has made these interviews the last priority. Furthermore, USCIS will schedule these interviews by working backwards, by interviewing asylum seekers in the opposite order in which they filed their applications.

What does this mean for New York's asylum seekers?

Before this announcement was made, New York's asylum seekers could expect to wait at least two or three years before being scheduled for their interview. For many of these asylum seekers, the backlog in asylum cases caused a great deal of anguish, as it meant being separated from family members for long periods of time. It also meant several years of uncertainty about their future. But this backlog also provided individuals with plenty of time to collect the evidence for their asylum case, including obtaining important documents from their home countries, seeking statements of support from witnesses and experts, collecting reports and news articles that corroborated their stories, and seeking counseling services to help them tell their stories. Asylum seekers were also able to use this time to save money to hire an asylum attorney to assist with gathering the supporting evidence as well as preparing the asylum seekers to testify at their interviews.

 Attorney Caitlin Steinke

Attorney Caitlin Steinke

"USCIS claims that this new policy is being implemented to prevent people from taking advantage of the asylum backlog by filing fraudulent asylum applications in order to obtain work permits," says Caitlin Steinke, an asylum attorney who provides free legal consultations to RIF's community of asylum seekers. "But this policy is just the latest example of the viciously racist and anti-immigrant Trump administration purposefully targeting forms of humanitarian relief for people who have come to the United States seeking protection from human rights abuses."

Under this new scheduling policy, the asylum seekers who have been waiting the longest for their interviews will be kept at the end of the queue, and will be the last to be scheduled for their interviews. Ms. Steinke fears that this new policy will not only discourage immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States, but actually encourage asylum seekers who have already been waiting years for their interviews to just give up. "There are thousands of asylum seekers who have been separated from their family members for years already, and who may be willing to risk persecution in their home country in order to be reunited with their loved ones. This new policy is reprehensible."

Because of this new policy, RIF encourages asylum seekers to gather as much evidence as they can in support of their asylum claim before they file their application. The one-year filing deadline is still in effect, so asylum seekers must be sure to file their applications within one year of their most recent entry into the United States. RIF highly encourages all asylum seekers to find an attorney to represent them throughout the asylum process, as this vastly increases the chances of being granted asylum.

 

Note: RIF provides information, support, and access to resources for asylum seekers in New York. None of our written publications should be construed as providing legal advice to asylum seekers or creating an attorney-client relationship. We encourage asylum seekers to attend RIF's legal workshops, where they can seek legal advice from volunteer asylum attorneys.

The Latest on Immigration Activist Ravi's Detention


A federal court issued both a temporary stay of removal and a temporary order preventing Ravi from being sent away from his family and counsel in New York.

“However, ICE’s detainee locator system currently lists Mr. Ragbir as being detained at Krome Detention Facility in Florida.”

A hearing has been scheduled for late January to "consider whether the actions of ICE are lawful." His lawyers are working to get him back to New York.

Ravi's supporters will hold a protest rally at noon on Monday, January 15th in Washington Square Park. A press conference will follow the action at 1pm.

New Sanctuary Coalition's Excecutive Director Detained

We are very saddened that Ravi Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, was detained this morning. According to the latest news, he passed out when he received the news and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance (see video attached). As you may already know, Ravi is a passionate and caring community leader who has helped countless people facing deportation in spite of his own difficulties with immigration. We are so grateful to the New Sanctuary Clinic for collaborating with RIF over the past year and helping so many of our clients.

We witnessed amazing solidarity in action at 26 Federal Plaza this morning, where the Jericho Walk turned into a protest in support of Ravi and his family, as well as the immediate brutal response of the police toward so many nonviolent protesters, which included many members of the clergy and the city council.

If you want to know more or join the resistance, go to the New Sanctuary website or social media. There will be another protest today at 5pm outside the detention center at 201 Varick St.

Situation Report: Implications of Trump’s Executive Order on Asylum Seekers & Refugees

Photo by Anne Saint Pierre

Our Stance

We stand by our conviction that refugees and asylum seekers deserve a chance to rebuild their lives in a safer land. Regardless of the political hostility and xenophobia hurled towards refugees by President Trump, those forced to flee their homes to survive will continue to find their way onto our shores. We denounce the President’s closed-door policy towards refugees, regardless of their country of origin, as fervently as we denounce the extremists who have taken advantage of the shameful narrative of the West against muslim refugees. Nevertheless, we must continue to take a stand against Trump’s Islamophobic and anti-refugee measures, and ensure that asylum seekers and refugees– the most frequent victims of extremism around the world– are not scapegoated and turned away. 

While RIF’s mission is to support asylum seekers– who remain the vast majority of the refugees that make it to our shores– we are devastated for the refugees who were bound for our country through the resettlement process and have been stalled or turned away. Likewise, we stand in solidarity with our friends and partners in this cause: organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Charities who have successfully resettled refugees in the US for decades. 

For immigrants and Americans alike, the messy implementation of the ban left airports and asylum offices in chaos. Employees of federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), were left with little to no instructions on how to actually implement this ban. In the following report, we will illustrate the implications of this ban as they apply primarily to asylum seekers. We are currently awaiting more information regarding the federal court’s decision regarding this executive order. 

Important Distinction: Resettled Refugees +  Asylum Seekers

In order to understand the way that the executive order will affect the people that RIF serves, we must first distinguish asylum seekers from resettled refugees. Both groups are considered “refugees” in the general sense of the word, but legally speaking, they achieve this status through different processes, and therefore will face distinct implications as a result of the executive order. 

In essence, refugees who are resettled are seeking safety in the US but are not yet in the US, whereas asylum seekers are seeking safety upon arriving in the US. Likewise, the Syrians sailing to Europe for safety are also asylum seekers rather than resettled refugees. 

The executive order suspended the refugee resettlement process for the next 120 days. It also prohibits the US government from granting any kind of visa to people outside of the US who wish to travel to the US and are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. This ban is in effect for 90 days. 

Since asylum seekers enter the country with various visas, citizens of the aforementioned countries will no longer be able to obtain visas and seek asylum in the US as long as the ban continues. However, it is worth mentioning that citizens of these countries have already had a very difficult time obtaining visas to the US. For this reason, the ban will likely not drastically change the demographic makeup of the asylum-seeking population. Additionally, this is the reason why even prior to this executive order, Syrian refugees have not often able to seek asylum in the US the way they have been fleeing to Europe en masse. 

Implications of the Executive Order on Asylum Seekers

The executive order does not suspend the asylum program. As far as we have been instructed by attorneys, asylum seekers from the seven banned countries can still apply for asylum. Their cases should continue to be processed by the asylum office in the regular way, and their interviews are still being scheduled. 

However, immigration officers were told last week that they are not allowed to make final decisions in cases concerning people from the seven banned countries until they receive further guidance (expected to come out any day now). This would extend to final decisions in asylum cases, and possibly to work permit applications for asylum seekers from the seven banned countries. Further, the executive order calls for additional detention centers at the border which may divert asylum officers away from the affirmative asylum process– the process our clients undergo– to the defensive asylum process which takes place in detention centers. As we have seen with the surge of Central American minors into the defensive asylum process in 2013, this would further create a backlog and extend the waiting period for the asylum interview beyond the already lengthy current waiting time of 2-3 years. 

The asylum program grants asylum to the spouses and children of people whose asylum cases are granted. These family members – called derivatives – are automatically granted asylum if they are inside the US. Family members outside the United States can apply for a visa to join the principal asylee in the United States. However, derivatives who are citizens of the seven banned countries will not be granted visas to come to the US as long as the travel ban is in place.

As asylum seekers most commonly enter the US on their own, they are often forced to leave behind their families with the hope of reuniting when they are granted asylum. If the ban is put into effect, asylum seekers from those seven countries will no longer be able to bring their spouses and children to the US: a devastating outcome for the many parents who sacrificed everything for a chance to reunite their families in safety.

Conclusion

As the executive order does not suspend the asylum program, it will not stem the tide of asylum seekers fleeing to the US. It will, however, make the process of seeking asylum increasingly arduous and taxing on those who flee here. The current political climate, with its rhetoric of banning refugees and muslims will continue to force thousands of asylum seekers into the shadows where they will be preyed upon by unscrupulous providers. If the process now takes even longer, asylum seekers will be stuck in a painful limbo, away from their families and in dire need of our support. 

Regardless of whether or not the ban is in effect, asylum seekers will remain at a severe disadvantage in terms of support upon arriving to the US. For perspective, in 2016, 40,000 individuals applied for asylum in NYC, as compared to 283 refugees who were resettled in the city. 

RIF is one of the few non profits  in NYC that focuse on on welcoming and supporting asylum seekers through legal and psychosocial support. The phrase, “more important than ever” has been used a lot lately, but this singular moment calls for that level of urgency. Asylum seekers need us more than ever, and so, we are thankful to you for standing with us and supporting our work during these trying times.

Direct Actions to Support Asylum Seekers in NYC!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support and involvement that we have witnessed this week in response to President Trump’s executive orders. From the rallies in Washington Square park and Battery Park, to the lawyers and protesters who quickly mobilized at airports across the country, you have showed refugees your true colors: that you are people who resist the fear and hate, and welcome refugees with open arms.

 

Already, your actions and voices have brought life-changing results. We are excited to continue building this movement together, and we know that the work has just begun. It is acutely palpable that our resistance is working, but also that it must persist and endure the relentless wave of human rights violations to come.

RIF is here to fight these injustices with you, side by side. We will continue to keep you regularly informed of what these unjust measures mean for asylum seekers and refugees, and how you can best take action.

We invite you to join us this Friday, February 3rd, as a volunteer immigration lawyer, Caitlin Steinke, presents on the implications of the recent executive orders at Fordham University from 1-3pm. We will be live-streaming the presentation on Facebook for those of you who cannot attend.

Moving forward, we will continue to take action in the following ways:

  • Remain a beacon of support and accessible information for asylum seekers and refugees in NYC by translating how these policies will affect them, and instructing them on how they should act accordingly.
  • Continue providing support in an accessible and trustworthy environment that makes our clients feel comfortable reaching out to us about personal concerns.
  • Partner with local musicians and chefs to spearhead a series of advocacy events that will challenge the status quo, invite refugees into citizen-led sanctuaries, and keep our community intimately engaged with welcoming refugees.
  • Keep you informed on how to take action!

As a small grassroots organization, we unfortunately will not able to incorporate all volunteer requests right away, but we will continue to find creative ways to keep you all involved. We greatly appreciate all the offers to help and do not want anyone to lose their enthusiasm to act. Currently, you can best support our work in the following ways:

  • Donate food to our food drives.
  • Organize a food drive in your office or neighborhood to be dropped off and distributed at one of our food drives.
  • Have ties with local businesses? Reach out to them to donate food or new clothing to our drives!
  • Offer asylum seekers skill-building internships at your company.
  • Provide French or Arabic translation for clients.
  • Are you a social-media buff? Teach us how to best use these tools to get our message out!
  • Getting a few bands together for a show or organizing a get together with friends? Consider collecting funds for RIF at the door!

Lastly, we will regularly share local events, rallies, and actions via social media so please like us on Facebook to stay in the loop!

Sincerely,

Maria & Ellie

 

Using Desserts to Drive Global Change

We are overjoyed to share a new initiative by our dear friend, Rose McAdoo of Whisk Me Away Cakes, called "Using Desserts to Drive Global Change." We met Rose at Brooklyn Grange in 2015 when she farmed alongside our Urban Farm Recovery Project (UFRP) fellows. Ever since, she has collaborated with RIF on many of our events including our World Refugee Day Fundraiser and our Farm to Film and Back event. In addition to her extraordinarily generous spirit and her talent as a baker, Rose has shown a profound desire and ability to build meaningful and lasting relationships with asylum seekers. In her upcoming trip to East Africa, she will be visiting the family of one of our UFRP fellows in Rwanda. 

You can contribute to her initiative at the following link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/using-desserts-to-drive-global-change-africa#/