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Apr 1st 2009

Prediction: Obama’s Illegal Immigrant Aunt Will Get Asylum in the US

Under normal circumstance, she probably wouldn’t. Those seeking asylum in the US have a short period in which to apply, something like one year from the date of arrival here. Once that petition is rejected, as hers was, they don’t generally get to apply again. Making matters worse for Obama’s aunt, she was ordered deported in 2004 and disobeyed the order. US immigration courts take such disregard for their orders very seriously, and that is another reason why a normal asylum applicant would not be getting the treatment auntie Zeituni Onyango is getting. Additionally, she is from Kenya, which is a pretty stable country (as the third world goes). And finally, her judge, Leonard Shaprio, is (statistically) less inclined to grant asylum than other judges.

Compared to Judge Shapiro’s denial rate of 68.3 percent, nationally during this same period, immigration court judges denied 59.8 percent of asylum claims. In the Boston Immigration Court where Judge Shapiro was based, judges there denied asylum 62.2 percent of the time. [Source: TRAC Immigration]

That said, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I don’t think she’ll be deported. First, immigration judges preside over administrative courts. In other words, they answer directly to the president. I’m pretty sure he appoints them and then they serve at his pleasure. Can you imagine issuing the order deporting your boss’ aunt? That would be a pretty stupid thing to do.

Second, having a 2nd degree relative serving as the sitting US president sets up a pretty nice t-ball that any weasely immigration lawyer worth his salt should be able to hit out of the park. The arguments must already be set up, as the judge has taken the unprecedented step of granting a new hearing on the asylum claim.

To qualify for asylum, all auntie Zeituni has to show is that she fears persecution based on her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or her membership in a social group. These criteria are bent and twisted all the time so our immigration judges grant asylum on lots of weird bases. Her lawyer has probably already argued that as a member of Obama’s family (social group) she is in danger in her home country where people will associate her with american politics (political opinion). Additionally, there is probably an argument beyond the traditional criteria, to the effect that if she were removed to a foreign land, it would pose a risk of kidnapping for groups that would use her as leverage in negotiating with her US president relative, and thus compromise our national security.

Her lawyer probably scoured the US State Department report on Kenya, and if she didn’t already remember, couldn’t have missed the reference to Al-Qaeda bombing the US embassy there in 1998. What US judge is going to send the sweet, old aunt of the guy now in charge of running the war on terror against Al-Qaeda back into the lion’s den?

President Obama says he is staying out of this and is letting things run their natural course, but I think that must be because he knows she’ll be granted asylum. I will be very surprised if I am proved wrong on this.

[Story source: Boston Globe: Back in Boston, Obama’s aunt fighting deportation]

5 Responses to “Prediction: Obama’s Illegal Immigrant Aunt Will Get Asylum in the US”

  1. Interesting post. My perception is that Obama is not really that interested in his Kenyan roots, but if he does want his Aunt to stay, yeah, I agree that he would expect her to get an exception without even needing to say anything.

    On a side note, I am thoroughly enjoying the massive increase in activity on this blog. At least I can be grateful to President Obama for that. :)

  2. miguel

    Agreed that she will get asylum. As it stands now, I think immigration judges are just senior immigration officers–you know, the ones to whom you send asylum requests in the first place, who usually do not have qualifications beyond a masters degree. And the attorney general has complete control over them–which means the president has ultimate control.

    BUT, I think you are overstating the tendency to grant asylum–the US is notorious for its hesitation to grant asylum (As an example, at least here in the 6th circuit, some victims of genital mutilation were denied asylum based on the thinking that since the mutilation is in the past, they have nothing else to fear. So go home).

    And I think it is usually the federal courts (not the IJ’s), getting the asylum denials on appeal, that end up granting the asylum

  3. travis

    I think immigration judges are just senior immigration officers–you know, the ones to whom you send asylum requests in the first place, who usually do not have qualifications beyond a masters degree.

    I am pretty sure immigration judges have to have law degrees. my recollection is that postings for immigration judgeships on government job boards say a law degree is required.

    I think you are overstating the tendency to grant asylum–the US is notorious for its hesitation to grant asylum

    I wasn’t saying asylum petitions are granted at high percentages overall, I said the regulatory criteria have been manipulated by skilled (or weasely) lawyers. That is to say asylum has been granted in some cases where it probably wasn’t merited.

    And I think it is usually the federal courts (not the IJ’s), getting the asylum denials on appeal, that end up granting the asylum

    Federal district court judges and federal appeals court judges are way up the ladder on these cases. They do hear the occasional asylum case, but that is not the norm. Asylum cases first get heard at the immigration court level. An appeal would first be to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia. Only after that denial would it go to outside the EOIR to a federal appeals court.

  4. Miguelisimo

    “That is to say asylum has been granted in some cases where it probably wasn’t merited.”

    definitely agree

  5. I’m from Lartrella and I want to seek refuge in America and I am now in Yemen Can anyone help and I fear for the life of the system Aalaratry