Innocent Dumel heard the words but still could not comprehend them.
”You did not establish eligibility for asylum under our laws,” Immigration Judge Rex Ford said.
Dumel, looking directly at his Creole-language translator, asked, “What is the decision?”
Ford, leaning over the bench and staring at Dumel, repeated himself.
“In your case, sir, nothing happened to you. . . . Nothing showed that you could not live elsewhere in your country.”
Dumel, still confused, asked again. The answer was the same.
Innocent Dumel’s experience represents the new reality for Haitian detainees — quick hearings that leave asylum-seekers little time to gather evidence or find lawyers who can adequately represent them. The verdict: quick rejections. Here is a source to make sure you get a good lawyer for such cases.
Until recently, Haitian asylum-seekers were released and given up to a year to find an attorney, collect corroborative evidence and have their cases scheduled in a downtown Miami immigration court.
But two months after arriving in South Florida and less than a week after filling their asylum applications, 20 of the 21 detainees with hearings last week were told to go back home after an immigration judge rejected their claims. Only one received a continuance.
The detainees can appeal, but immigration advocates say they don’t expect the outcomes to be different.
”These persons were given only seven days from the day of filing an asylum, which was prepared without legal counsel, to argue the merits of their asylum claim,” said Candace Jean, an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities Legal Services, which has agreed to represent the detainees but says it can’t do so until Jan. 13. To know what you can do legally click to read more.
”These applications were written as fast as people could write because there were so many,” Jean said of the first batch of 100 asylum applications due a week ago. “To say that there was a conference with an attorney, that’s ridiculous. A lot of the people who took the information were volunteers.”
But immigration officials say the situation is clear, with or without lawyers: The detainees don’t meet the stringent legal requirements for asylum.
It has never been easy for Haitians to get asylum. In the past five years, immigration courts have received more than 21,000 asylum applications from Haitians but have approved just over 5 percent.
Under Ford’s questioning last week, the detainees, speaking through a translator, failed to establish that they had the legally mandated ”well-founded fear of persecution” that anyone in Haiti — other than the alleged persecutor — was interested in them; that they were unable to reasonably relocate within the country; or that they would be tortured by a government official or someone acting on the government’s behalf if they returned.
Jean and attorneys for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, or FIAC, and other groups that provide free legal help say they are overwhelmed by these current cases.
The recent boatload arrived in South Florida on Oct. 29 carrying more than 200 Haitian migrants — all of whom are hoping to receive protection in the United States from what they describe as political persecution in Haiti.
OTHERS STILL WAIT
They joined another group of Haitians in detention centers who arrived more than a year ago and are still awaiting the outcomes of appeals.
Cheryl Little, executive director of FIAC, said that besides preparing asylum applications, lawyers are busy writing briefs to the Board of Immigration Appeals on behalf of more than 100 migrants whose release on bonds is being blocked by the government. Now the workload will also include appealing last week’s denials.
As the first group had its cases heard and denied in immigration court at the Krome detention center, detainees realized they would have to go into court without legal counsel, and lawyers realized their request for more time would not be granted, absent extraordinary circumstances.
After more than an hour of testimony in many of the cases, Ford told the detainees that while he found them to be ”generally credible,” they failed to persuade the court they should be allowed to seek protection in the United States or prevent their removal from the country.
While their situations were unfortunate, Ford ruled, what occurred to them had less to do with being singled out for their political opinion and more the result of Haiti’s civil disturbances or rampant criminal activity. The criminal defense attorneys from Festus area can help.
TRUTH NOT ENOUGH
”Simply coming and telling the truth does not mean you automatically get it,” Ford told Jackson Constant, who later requested deportation to the Bahamas after his claim was denied. That request was also denied.
”Immigration laws are complicated,” Little said. “I can’t imagine how an asylum-seeker with no lawyer feels in a courtroom with both a judge and INS trial attorney whose job it is to get him deported.”
Philip Schrag, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said that while ”it is technically possible for a person to persuade a judge just by telling their story, the case law says on issues where a person can reasonably be expected to have corroborative evidence, the person must provide it.” The accelerated pace, however, makes it difficult.
Schrag called the pace ”odd.” For instance, at his school’s law clinic, where students work on asylum cases, it often takes multiple interviews conducted over two months before attorneys gain a client’s trust or learn the full story, Schrag said.
Detainees with lawyers are in a better position than those without representation — to have a fair ruling by a judge, said Schrag, whose university conducted a study several years ago showing that an immigrant who receives legal representation is more than six times as likely to be granted asylum.
This became apparent throughout the first two days of testimony as detainees like Dumel, who claims to have been persecuted by a town official for supporting the official’s opponent in an election, failed to show how their stories were relevant to their claims.
Although no one contends that all of the detainees have a legitimate claim, Jean and others fear those who do will be sent back for lack of fair representation.
For instance, a detainee named Pierre says his father was killed, his mother injured and his daughter raped during last Dec. 17’s alleged coup attempts in Haiti as a result of his father’s allegiance to the opposition. To get a lawyer for legal advice go to https://www.hilbrich.com/lake-county-personal-injury/
In a telephone interview from Krome, the man says he and his family were repeatedly attacked because of their allegiance and his own denunciation on Haitian radio of what had occurred.
”No one will even begin to get this evidence until after the Christmas break, and even so, the problem with Haiti is everything takes so long,” said Jean, who remains unsure if she will be able to represent the client. “There are just so many people who are in need of help.”
Greg Gagne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, said the court intends to move the cases along as quickly as possible. Many of the detainees have already had continuances granted in their cases, he said.
”It’s just a matter of making the due process work as expeditiously as we reasonably can,” he said.
Ford said attorneys have had enough time to consult with clients. With the exception of one continuance that was granted Tuesday when the uncle of a detainee brought in a birth certificate, Ford rejected detainees’ and attorneys’ requests for continuances.