This post is for consideration by the students in Birdsong’s Refugee and Asylum Law seminar. This week we will be discussing concepts of political opinion, imputed political opinion, and mixed motive asylum cases.
In the late 90’s, before Birdsong left his private law practice to teach at the Barry Law School he was approached by a new, potential client. I will call her Ms. Z. Ms. Z had arrived in the United States a week earlier from Germany. She told me she needed a lawyer. Here’s why.
Ms. Z had obtained a visa from one of our American consulates in Germany allowing her to travel to the U.S. as a tourist. Upon arriving at the port of entry in Washington, D.C. She told the immigration officials that she did not really come to the U.S. to be a tourist. Instead she asked the officials to grant her asylum in the U.S. The inspectors were surprised and detained her for an interview. Ms. Z was put in detention for several days while they investigated. After hearing her story, which I will relate a bit later, the inspectors found that she might have a “credible claim” for asylum. They released her gave her a Notice To Appear in Immigration Court on a date two weeks away. They also gave her a “lawyers list” provided by the U.S. State Department of Washington lawyers who might represent indigent asylum seeks for little or no money.
Because it begins with a “B” Birdsong’s name was at the top of the list. Ms. Z sought me out at my office.
Ms. Z had been in the U.S. one week, had less than $900 and was staying at the Washington YWCA. She spoke fairly good English and very good German. She was surprised Birdsong spoke German and had lived there. We talked. She said she wanted me to represent her in immigration court. I told her she did not have enough money for my representation. She demanded. I refused…however, I listened to her case.
Ms. Z was actually a citizen of Romania. She had fled Romania in the early 90’s when the communist government of Romania collapsed. She had worked at the Romanian National Museum as a cataloguer. She had obtained her education and her job because she had joined the communist party when a teenager. With the communists out of power she feared that there might be reprisals against her by a new government.
She fled to Germany. After being there 18 months Germany granted her asylum and granted her a “laissez passe.” She learned German, got a job cleaning houses, and tried to keep a low profile. However, she did attend several rallies protesting the rise of neo-nazis in Germany. She claimed that after one of these protests a group of young skin head neo-nazis followed her to her home. They taunted her claiming she must be a Jew for attending such a rally. She was not Jewish. Nevertheless she was frightened by these skin head thugs.
Over the next few months groups of skin head neo-nazis continued to taunt her when she left her apartment or when she came home. There came a point when they threw eggs at her second floor apartment windows. She believed they even broke in once when she was not home because food was missing. She became more frightened, She complained to her landlord. Ultimately she went to the German police. They told her there was nothing they could do, especially since she was not Jewish.
The taunts continued. She was never physically accosted however, her tormentors started taunting her by calling her a “Stauffenburg.” Von Stauffenburg was a German military officer who attempted to assassinate Hitler near the end of World War II with a bomb.
Ms. Z decided she must leave Germany for her own protection.
I refused her case on the ground she had little money. She offered to work for me in my office as free paralegal for several weeks if I would only represent her.
What kind of arguments could I make on her behalf that she was being persecuted???