My office has helped literally hundred of persons, citizens and non-citizens, with immigration difficulties. Often, these are matters of life and death, oppression or freedom. I offer the following cases to provide you with some sense of our work in this area. Identifying information has been omitted to respect personal privacy.
Immigration judges grant political asylum to persons who can establish a "reasonable fear of persecution" if returned to their country of origin. Asylum will not be granted if the applicant is found to have persecuted others. Denials can be appealed to federal court. I support appeals when my staff has interviewed the applicant and researched the politics of his or her home country:
Case # 1: A young man, the sole survivor of a family slain in an African genocide, owed his life to his godfather, who was a member of the group that committed the atrocities. His parents opposed tribalism and had, for that reason, chosen their son's godfather from among their traditional enemies. He faced renewed danger when "his" people regained power. They attacked all "collaborators" and the moderates among the other group who protected them. He fled for his life and was refused political asylum because "his" people were back in power. I urged reconsideration and asylum was granted.
Case # 2: A young man, seeking to overcome religious and tribal divisions in another war-torn African country, volunteered to serve a political movement he believed would foster national reconciliation. Very shortly, he learned that he had been recruited to spy on his own group. He knew that either the government security forces or militants among his people would kill him if he failed in his task or if he was seen to succeed. He fled and was denied asylum on the grounds that he had been part of a repressive regime. I was convinced that he had been naive, not complicit in tyranny, and he was approved.
But I do not always succeed:
Case # 3: A young man now faces deportation to Haiti because, although immigration authorities do not dispute that his father was brutally murdered, it was impossible to prove that the crime had been politically motivated.
Families are often separated as they flee warring regions. We have helped reunite husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, from virtually every contemporary war zone: the Balkans, Chinese-occupied Tibet, and sub-Saharan Africa:
Case # 4: Doctors at the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights sought our help for the children of a critically-ill woman. Her husband had been murdered and her illness had gone untreated in an endemically violent region in the Horn of Africa. Her doctor hesitated to perform the surgery she needed, which might or might not prolong her life, until her anxieties about her children could be allayed. They remained in Africa, and a refugee agency closed their case because of a minor bureaucratic mix-up. With the help of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, the case was reopened and the children arrived in time for their mother to see them, before and after the successful operation.
Case # 5: A distraught husband called. His wife had just been accosted in a refugee camp by the man who assaulted her and left her for dead some years earlier during a brutal civil war. His faction was now out of power and this war criminal was claiming to be a refugee. My constituent had properly petitioned to bring his wife here. His application was approved the previous year and he was waiting patiently because he knew that refugee processing took a long time. He acted immediately, however, when he learned that his wife was in danger. My office got action within weeks, and his wife reached the United States safely.
In cultures that follow this practice, external genitalia are removed, usually without anesthesia and rarely with sterile instruments. In extreme forms, the wounds are stitched together in order to narrow the vaginal opening in an effort to enforce chastity. The World Health Organization has condemned FGM. Some of its victims die from blood loss or infection. Those who survive suffer significantly higher maternal and infant mortality in childbirth.
Cases #6 and #7: We expedited visas for two young girls, daughters of women who fled this barbarous practice and received political asylum, in one case specifically on grounds of gender-based persecution. Both mothers feared that more traditional relatives would inflict FGM on their young daughters, advancing the ceremony before puberty when it would customarily be performed, in retaliation for their defiance. Both girls arrived in the United States unharmed.
International adoptions are strictly regulated, as they should be, to avoid trafficking in children and/or pressure on birth mothers in poor countries to surrender their children. From time to time, the United States will suspend all adoptions from a country whose practices arouse suspicion.
Some years ago, the US took this action with regard to Cambodia, but babies "in the pipeline," those whose prospective American adoptive parents had been approved by appropriate agencies, could still get visas. This depended on proving that all the preliminaries had, in fact, been completed by a certain date. We were able to accomplish this, and, of the eight "pipeline" babies coming to the district, all eight are here today.
To prevent baby selling, "private" adoptions, those that are not arranged through established agencies, are subject to special rules. In these cases, a child must spend two years after the adoption decree is final in the actual care of the adoptive parent(s) overseas before a visa will be issued.
But in many poor countries, adoptions are rarely formalized. In cases of war or famine, orphans simply enter the household of relatives willing to care for them. We have sought the help of the foreign law experts at the Library of Congress to establish the validity of these traditional or customary adoptions for families from Africa and Southeast Asia.
Cases # 8 and # 9: In two cases, we have been unable to bring adopted children to safety: A child, orphaned in a massacre, was adopted by an uncle but US officials were not satisfied about the validity of the adoption, carried out during years of civil war. Another adopted child was not approved for a visa because her parents did not complete the required two years of custody. They failed to meet this requirement because the mother fled for her life and the father died due to injuries inflicted by security forces that his wife managed to escape.
Persons with HIV may not immigrate to the United States without a special waiver, including a treatment plan, agreed to by the state Department of Public Health, and evidence that sufficient funds exist to carry out the treatment.
Case # 10: Positive: A child became ill within days after American adoptive parents took the baby from an orphanage in the former Soviet Union. The cold became pneumonia and tests confirmed HIV. The parents called our office, and a series of very good events happened quickly. The father flew home and met with doctors at Children's Hospital who produced a treatment plan. His employers assured him that they did not discriminate between biological and adoptive children: there would be no attempt to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. An extraordinarily conscientious official of the Mass Department of Public Health returned from vacation to sign off on the treatment plan. The happy, healthy toddler has visited my office.
Case # 11: Indeterminate/Negative: a young woman in her late teens, the daughter of political asylee, underwent the required HIV testing three times. Each time, the results were indeterminate. The testing took so long that she faced deportation from the country that had offered temporary refuge and return to the very violent country her family had fled. The International Rescue Committee called us about this on the Monday before her scheduled Friday deportation. We called the US consulate and American officials did remarkable service. They prevailed upon the sheltering country to extend her temporary residence permit. They decided that the next blood sample must be sent to a laboratory in Europe or in the United States and, also, found a shipper who would agree to handle a specimen that might be a biohazard. The young woman, was, by then, so dispirited that she did not want blood drawn again. We did what we could to encourage her by phone and email, but, in country, an American diplomat visited her and took her to the doctor's appointment, explaining that her blood would be sent to an excellent lab, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDCP found her HIV status to be negative and she is here now, studying for a health profession. Three American Foreign Service officers had gone above and beyond their normal duties. Based on their exceptional work in this case, I wrote to the Secretary of State to praise and thank them.
Refugees and political asylees are often without passports. Their native country has ceased to exist or the regime that persecuted them will not issue a passport. For these persons, not yet US citizens, our immigration authorities issue documents valid for international travel. Case # 12: We helped a man who escaped slavery in Sudan attend human rights conferences abroad. Case # 13: We made it possible for a young man from the Former Soviet Union to attend an international mathematics competition and win a gold medal for the United States. Cases # 14 and 15: African students have returned to the continent of their origin, but not to their repressive home countries, to teach computer skills or public health measures.
I am privileged to represent great universities, research institutes, and teaching hospitals. In the aftermath of September 11, even internationally regarded scholars and scientists have had difficulty getting US visas. Younger faculty and researchers faced even more serious problems. I have helped individuals, worked with the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and introduced legislation to insure that the United States remain open to talent. More than one third of the Nobel Prizes won by US citizens were awarded to people born elsewhere.