David Bennion: December 2009 Archives

The NY Times reports that Cambodia is deporting Uighur political refugees back to China to be detained, tortured, or killed.

Under pressure from China, and despite the objections of the United States and the United Nations, the Cambodian government on Saturday deported 20 members of the Uighur minority who had sought asylum after fleeing a government crackdown in China.

The U.S. government is unhappy with Cambodia's explanation that it is just "implementing its immigration law," as a spokesman of the Cambodian government put it. "They came illegally without any passports or visas, so we consider them illegal immigrants."

The United States and the United Nations have urged Cambodia not to deport the group. "We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Cambodian government might forcibly return this group of Uighurs without the benefit of a credible refugee status determination process," said John Johnson, an American Embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh. "The United States strongly urges the Cambodian government to honor its commitments under international law."

I am glad to see the State Department take a stand on behalf of members of this long-suffering ethnic minority.

I wonder, though, if any DOS spokesperson would like to weigh in on the U.S. government's prolonged detention at Guantanamo of Uighur men it knew for years were innocent, and the U.S. refusal to allow any "credible refugee status determination process" for them.

I wonder if the DOS will opine on the cases of any Uighurs currently in removal proceedings in the U.S. and whether they should be sent back to China given the capricious asylum system they must navigate in the U.S. to avoid deportation. One might assume from the NY Times article above that the U.S. has a practice of not deporting Uighurs to face their fate in China. If DHS does have such a policy, I've never heard of it.

Given the U.S.'s substantial credibility gap on the issue of honoring treaty obligations to Uighur refugees, I would suggest that someone explain U.S. immigration policy to DOS employees before they make demands of other countries. But I know that newly-minted Foreign Service Officers typically work in the consular section of whichever U.S. embassy they are first assigned, so they should know the law pretty well. Perhaps the experience of denying visas every day for a couple of years is useful in inoculating FSOs against outside criticism of U.S. immigration law and foreign policy. I suspect that is one reason that FSOs are first sent to Consular.

Drone.jpgToday's New York Times story titled "Pakistan Reported to Be Harassing U.S. Diplomats" highlights the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government in accepting U.S. aid and military support while refusing to renew visas of U.S. personnel and subjecting American diplomats to routine vehicle checks. Certainly Pakistan's government doesn't have to accept the billions of dollars the U.S. government is giving it. But there is more to this story.

First of all, the U.S. wrote the book on denying visas for opaque, often senseless reasons.

The State Department has a history of denying visas for political reasons, and should not be surprised when other countries do the same from time to time. (I believe denial of the right to travel is rarely justified, but this is an oft-used tool of U.S. foreign policy.)

Second, the U.S. is unpopular in Pakistan because it bombs Pakistanis using unmanned drones and has this year pressured the Pakistani military to take action that led to societal upheaval and mass suffering. This has had the not unforeseeable consequence of making the current Pakistani government's relationship with the Americans somewhat toxic.

But this is mostly missing from the Times story. Only near the bottom of the article do we get any indication of why Pakistanis might not be grateful for the presence of the Americans in their country:

Thumbnail image for pastor-parishioner.JPGNina Bernstein wrote recently in the NY Times about a New Jersey pastor who became an advocate for Indonesian Christians facing deportation and worked out an unusual deal with the government under which many at risk of deportation turned themselves in, agreeing to appear at regular appointments with immigration officials.

The financial crisis that swept through East Asia in 1997 sparked anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia that prompted many ethnic Chinese to flee the country. After 9/11, immigrant men from predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia, were required to register with DHS in a sweeping program of racial and religious profiling (pdf) called NSEERS engineered by restrictionist Kris Kobach, then an aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In the past few years, NSEERS began to impact the Indonesian congregation that shared the building with Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale's flock in Highland Park, New Jersey. Families were ripped apart and fathers of U.S. citizen children were deported back to Indonesia. After going to great lengths to prevent one of his own congregants from being deported, Pastor Kaper-Dale negotiated a supervised release for the man. Raids had the community living in fear. So Pastor Kaper-Dale decided to be proactive and urged more Indonesians in the community to come forward and cooperate with DHS.

Under an unusual compact between the pastor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been released from detention in recent weeks, and 41 others living as fugitives from deportation have turned themselves in under church auspices. Instead of being jailed -- as hundreds of thousands of immigrants without criminal records have been in recent years -- they have been released on orders of supervision, eligible for work permits while their lawyers consider how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials say the arrangement is simply an example of the case-by-case discretion they often use, the outcome has astonished advocates and experts in immigration enforcement, and raised hopes that it signals some broader use of humanitarian release as the Obama administration vows to overhaul the immigration system.

Reading this story as an immigration attorney, I almost feel sick to my stomach. If Pastor Kaper-Dale has tapped into a kinder, gentler side of Barack Obama's DHS, it is one that has persistently eluded the majority of faith-based and nonprofit immigration attorneys in the U.S. These parishioners have traded their fear of home raids for fear that the next visit to DHS on an order of supervision could be their last, as those with previously-denied cases could at any moment be placed on a plane back home. Recently, a DHS official in Philadelphia frankly acknowledged that ICE prefers not to give advance warning of detention at a scheduled appointment under an order of supervision, since it only makes it harder to locate and deport the person. I have clients on orders of supervision with final orders of removal, and the anxiety that situation produces can be intense. Those parishioners with no previous interaction with the system and no clear path to relief who brought themselves to the attention of the government as part of this deal are making a leap of faith. I hope they each individually had the opportunity to hear from an immigration attorney about the potential downside to this arrangement, which is sudden, unannounced deportation:

for those who turn themselves in, the leap of faith carries big risks. For now, they can check in at a federal office every three months and, if granted a work permit, can secure a driver's license. But they are also vulnerable to immediate deportation. Just this fall, nine Indonesian Christians in Seattle who had been on supervised release for years were abruptly detained, and some were deported.