Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘Judge Alan Vomacka’

“Refugee roulette” in U.S. asylum courts

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 3, 2011

If you’ve ever been stopped by a cop or had your day in court you’ve probably run up against the problem in which mere mortals, with all their biases and potential for failure, wield enormous power. If they woke up in a bad mood, for instance, the rest of us are going to feel their pain. Asylees face a similar phenomena in our courts in what is known as “refugee roulette”. Some of the judges seem to have almost never heard an asylum story that they didn’t find believable. Others rarely find the stories believable. It turns out that the difficult problem to get around here is the need we have for someone to decide if the asylee’s story is believable – it comes downs to that when actual proof is unavailable. So far we haven’t been able to invent a machine that can make this determination any better. An article in NY Daily News explains how the asylum court works in New York City:

For immigrants seeking asylum, winning the right to stay in the United States is often a game of chance that comes down to one thing: which judge hears their tale.

A report out this month shows two New York immigration judges with strikingly different records on granting safe haven – illustrating what experts call “refugee roulette.”

“One of the most important issues you ask, if they’re in court already, is, ‘Who’s your judge?'” said Zachary Sanders, a New York immigration lawyer.

At 26 Federal Plaza, lawyers hope for Judge Terry Bain, whose asylum acceptance rate is higher than that of any jurist in the nation. From October 2005 through this May, Bain approved 94.5% of applicants, well above the national rate of 46.8%, according to a new report by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse…

…Judge Alan Vomacka sits in the same court, but he’s accepted just 28.3% of the cases he’s seen…

...Asylum law requires that immigrants prove they are fleeing persecution. They must give evidence or provide a reasonable explanation for why they can’t show proof. And they must be consistent. Some judges are more strict than others about demanding actual documentation. Approval ultimately depends on whether or not the judge believes an immigrant is telling the truth.

“Judges are people,” said Sanders. “You have to put yourself in the position of this person. You have to see things through their eyes, and then you have to decide if they’re lying or not.”

The system has come under fresh scrutiny after Nafissatou Diallo, who accused former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape, admitted she embellished her asylum application.

“The system is created to give the benefit of the doubt to the asylum seeker,” said Jason Dzubow, a lawyer who blogs as The Asylumist. “On the one hand, it encourages fraud. But how many legitimate asylum seekers are you willing to send back to their countries, where they face persecution, in order to weed out fraud?”… Read more here

In case your tempted to think that it all evens out, by allowing individual judges of various backgrounds to use their own education and experience in deciding someone’s fate, for the judge who believes almost every asylee it means that crooks and schemers get through — not good for us. Then for the judge that almost never believes the asylees, we end up throwing good people back to the wolves in their countries — definitely not what America is all about.

So, why don’t we have panels decide these cases, e.g a panel of three judges? Wouldn’t that help to even-out judges using their personal education and experience in determining truth? If justice is the goal, this might get the best results.

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