Originally: Haiti Democracy Project’s asylum-assistance program

The lawyers were already planning their appeal. The Haitian applicant had filed late. The INS had put out an order for deportation. The government’s argument to the judge was, The law is the law.

What did the Haiti Democracy Project do in this case?

We sensed that the judge was not going to be convinced by a general description of human-rights conditions. Evidence had to be brought forward about this individual’s specific situation.

Immigration officials and judges well know that many applicants will make up any story to win their cases. An argument that general conditions had deteriorated would not be enough. Independent corroboration of this applicant’s claims had to be brought to the courtroom.

But you didn’t know this Haitian from Adam.

No, but after reading her statement we could see that her parents were important in the Mochrena (Christian Movement for a New Haiti) party. We knew the president and vice-president of this party from previous delegations and conferences. We called them in Haiti. The president knew the family, the vice-president knew the applicant as well and even came from the same village as her father. They were lifelong acquaintances.

Casting our net further, we found in Miami another Protestant minister and his wife belonging to the same party and coming from the same area. He had been forced to flee after the Aristide partisans invaded his church. We found this couple not through our political ties, but through another Protestant minister in the Washington area who is a supporter of the Haiti Democracy Project. We interviewed them in Creole. They knew both the applicant and the family.

From two independent sources, one basically nonpolitical, we were able to corroborate the threat scenario this applicant would face if returned to Haiti.

What about your description of general conditions?

This was composed from an unpublished analysis done by a high-ranking foreign diplomat who had served in Haiti during much of the period covered at the hearing. Completed in December 2002, by hearing date it was corroborated by the country reports of the State Department and Amnesty International.

How do you know your approach is effective?

The judge specifically cited the Haiti Democracy Project’s independent corroboration of the applicant’s claim as the deciding factor in his decision.

Will the asylum-assistance program testify for any Haitian?

No. Before we will put the name of the Haiti Democracy Project behind any testimony, we must first independently verify the applicant’s claims. Only then will we offer testimony in support of an asylum case.

Would you testify on general conditions alone?

Only if the applicant had already, through press reports or other independent means, verified her/his individual situation.

Does the program have bias in favor of asylum applicants?

No. We recognize the majority are still economic refugees. But there are a growing number of victims of political violence.

How much does the asylum program’s intervention cost?

That depends on how much research needs to be done to verify the applicant’s claims. If a law firm is handling the case pro bono, the firm must make a judgment as to whether it really needs the specific service the program provides in order to win the case. If it does, we expect it to compensate the project for this work.