Fault Lines
24 June 2017

With Friends Like USCIS, Who Needs Allies Like Iraq?

January 19, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Bushra Mohammad Salman Al-Mula and her husband are Iraqi citizens caught in a bureaucratic and “diplomatic” limbo involving the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and their native country. Quotation marks adorn the latter because – in a cruel twist of irony — it is the purportedly warm relations between Iraq and the United States that have landed their asylum applications in perennial immigration purgatory.

Now they have sued USCIS under the Administrative Procedure Act, in the hopes that a federal court might compel it to finally adjudicate their applications for refugee status in the U.S. It is undisputed that USCIS has refused to grant/deny their applications for over 3 years, which is an unusually long processing time for these types of applications.

The couple is stateside with their two kids (who stand to benefit derivatively from their parents’ Form I-589s). They worked as officials for the Iraqi government during the American invasion, and their extended family served as translators and advisers for the United States government and military in Iraq.

Their resumes should put the American government in their debt, while also placing them in the cross-hairs of those who wish harm to those who cooperated with the Americans. Hence, their applications for asylum on the basis of “a reasonable fear of persecution based upon their religion, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group of Iraqis who had supported the United States military and government in Iraq.” So why the obfuscation on the part of USCIS? From the Courthouse News Service:

The United States stoutly resists granting political asylum to citizens of U.S. allies, as it would be politically inconvenient to acknowledge that an ally tortures and kills its own people. Numerous immigration attorneys have said that if an immigration office or court receives clear and convincing evidence that a citizen of a U.S. ally faces threats and persecution in his or her homeland, immigration officials simply sit on the case and refuse to rule.

That’s what’s happened to her family, Al-Mula says. After a year’s silence, she and her attorney asked a Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman for assistance in getting her claim adjudicated.

That went on for another year and a half. Finally, she says in the complaint, the immigration service told her to resend affidavits she had filed with her asylum application, because they had been lost. She did resend them, she says, and that’s the last she’s heard about it.

So the sequence, and basis for the “stalling,” goes as follows: to prevail with their asylum claim, they must demonstrate past persecution and a well-founded fear of persecution. If USCIS determines that past persecution occurred at the hands of foreign elements, and (more importantly in this case) that they are likely to face persecution should they be sent back to Iraq (because they literally can’t run, hide, or simply relocate to another part of the country to escape their fate), this means that recipients of foreign aid are failing to protect their own while receiving U.S. taxpayers’ dimes.

To the cynical mind, this turns into an acknowledgement – no, a type of collusion, when it involves a government that received American aid — that these abuses happen in a country that’s buddy-buddy with the U.S. As to USCIS being cynical, the request that they “resend affidavits because they have been lost” fails the smell test.

That, coupled with the repeated requests for updates, while other family members had their papers processed in half the time, is odd and makes USCIS look bad. Either approve their applications, or send them to immigration court where they can have their applications reheard before an immigration judge.

Now, the claim that the asylum applications have not been processed because “it would be politically inconvenient to acknowledge that an ally tortures and kills its own people” may be the case with Mr. and Mrs. Abduljabbar Mahmood Ahme Alhayani, but it goes against the United State’s immigration practice with regards to other foreign allies that failed to protect their own from persecution and torture.

Looking at this map of the distribution of U.S. foreign aid, it’s clear that two allies, Mexico (more than $134 million) and Guatemala (over $145 million) receive a substantial amount of dough to (amongst other things) fight our drug wars. The same goes for Pakistan, who receives in excess of $742 million to stab us in the front for different purposes. Yet, it’s not unusual for the U.S. to process and sometimes approve applications filed by natives and citizens of either country.

The best thing that can happen for this couple is to have the federal judge order USCIS to rule on the applications, so that they may be taken out of USCIS’s limbo and be sent to an immigration court should they be denied relief. At least with the latter, they will appear before an immigration judge, where they can have a pending hearing date, and where they can make a record should they ever need to appeal a decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. It sure beats remaining in bureaucratic limbo with no end in sight, or being stonewalled by the very government you family helped, to your potential heavy peril.

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