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Concerns And Assistance On Religious Asylum Cases

by Stephen Knight For The Center For Gender And Refugee Studies

Those of you working on behalf of refugees fleeing religious persecution may be aware of troubling recent decisions out of several federal circuits, including the Fifth Circuit's opinion in Li v. Gonzales, No. 03-60670 (Nov. 1, 2005). The decision in Li was vacated with the government's agreement after a broad coalition raised concern about the case, and particularly after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom submitted a detailed letter to the Department of Justice expressing its strong concern. That letter, and an article about the case, are each being published by Interpreter Releases this month.

Similarly troubling arguments were put forward by the DOJ's Office of Immigration Litigation in the Mkrtchyan case, but fortunately rejected by the Ninth Circuit in an unpublished decision. The government there pressed the argument that a woman arrested and beaten for proselytizing was not persecuted on account of religion because proselytizing was supposedly not required by her religion.

Amnesty International USA, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Human Rights First and Jubilee Campaign are working together to ensure that attorneys representing religious refugees are aware of these developments and of the importance of raising the International Religious Freedom Act in your cases. We are concerned that the agency and the Office of Immigration Litigation may continue to make troubling decisions and arguments defending denials of protection to those fleeing religious persecution, and we want to bring to your attention materials to help win these cases.

We are particularly interested to hear from attorneys who are facing similarly convoluted arguments on nexus from either adjudicators or OIL on appeal.

For more information about the Li case and for USCIRF's shorter letter to the Attorney General, see:

About The Author

Stephen Knight is the Deputy Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and Research Fellow, University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

For an emailed PDF copy of the IRFA amicus briefs submitted in the Li case by the Christian Legal Society and many others detailing the relevance of the International Religious Freedom Act to courts hearing religious persecution claims; and the USCIRF's detailed letter, please contact the author by email and including what country your client is from and what procedural stage your case is at.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.