Your lawyer finishes his legal argument, talking about social distinction and imputed political opinion, particular social groups and nexuses. You stand for what seems like an eternity while you wait for the robed figure behind the bench to start speaking.
And in a rushed voice, the robed figure dashes all your hopes into the concrete. Your asylum claim is denied. You are ordered removed. "Best of luck to you," says the robed figure.
Your world has come apart. What about your family? How will you work? What will you do?
Fear not, your lawyer tells you. We can go to the Board of Immigration Appeals; this isn't over. And so you do. The weeks begin to roll by, turning into months. After having waited so long to prove your case, you start wondering, "What if I had not said this?" or "Why didn't I talk about that?" The second-guessing is consuming you as you replay the individual hearing over and over in your head.
One day your lawyer calls you and the ground shakes once again, "The Board has dismissed your appeal. We can go one level up, to the federal Circuit Court, but I'm not too hopeful."
You've been waiting a long time now, and you've set roots in the United States. What to do now?
This was a dilemma facing one of our clients who came to us with a freshly denied asylum claim that had been dismissed on appeal by the Board. And sometimes, it's the fact that the judges are so pressed for time, and have to render decisions so quickly, that they may overlook something. Maybe they didn't do something in the right way.
So we started combing through the trial testimony. We looked at every exhibit to see if it was given proper consideration. Did the judge mischaracterize anything? Did he say we didn't do something when we did? Did he say we did something when we didn't? Was there something he could have done that would have helped? Did he follow the proper procedures and honor due process?
Work like this can be maddening. It's not unlike finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes we might not find a needle, but we find something else that we might be able to use. And we put everything together, filing not only a motion to reconsider with the Board, but (so that we didn't lose out on the chance) a petition for review with the federal Circuit Court. We first saw how the judge had constructed the denial of our client's asylum case, and noticed that the lynchpin of the denial was a "lack of corroboration" - something he used to find that our client could not demonstrate his eligibility for asylum. As an example, if a high school student can't show that he completed a college entrance exam, it doesn't matter whether he did everything else right: he can't get in. But the evidence the judge was insistent on was itself not viewed as favorable evidence by the Circuit Court. A judge shouldn't be permitted to deny a claim based on not having evidence that the higher courts consider weak to begin with.
Today, we received the decision. The Board of Immigration Appeals conceded that the immigration judge's decision - and the Board's own decision to dismiss the appeal was incorrect, and our client should have been given an opportunity to provide the evidence, even if it was weak. In the alternative, our client should have been given an opportunity to explain why that evidence wasn't available, and if good cause shown, for the case to have been continued so he could obtain it.
Judges need to make sure that people are given a fair chance to submit all evidence that could help them in their cases. Sometimes it can be hard to know whether a piece of evidence is required or should be submitted. Judges may be under immense pressure to adjudicate cases quickly, but this cannot come at the price of prejudice to a person's claim.
Our client has won a second chance to convince a judge that he deserves to stay in the United States. This is due process, and it's what makes our country great.
Hassan M. Ahmad, Esq.