Locked Up for Seeking Asylum

International law holds that asylum seekers should be detained only in unusual circumstances. Yet our detention centers are filling up with people like Samey.

Column (New York)

Elizabeth Rubin
New York Times (NYT)
April 2, 2016

Tags: Asylum, Language Access

Organizations mentioned/involved: Cardozo School of Law, Bronx Defenders, Legal Aid Society (New York City), Immigrant Justice Corps (NY)


On initial review, the Department of Homeland Security found his fear of persecution to be credible. Armed with evidence of his service to the military, Taliban threats and his injuries, Samey assumed that the judge, Robert Powell, would grant him asylum. So he represented himself in court.

This was his first mistake.


For one thing, it says that the system is stacked against the asylum seeker. The immigration judge works for the Department of Justice, and the government’s attorney works for the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the asylum seeker generally has no right to a public defender. Legal representation is crucial: One study found that mothers with children without a lawyer were granted asylum 2 percent of the time while those with a lawyer won 32 percent of the time.