The U.S. doesn’t, apparently, want asylum applicants to pick and choose among countries when deciding where to seek protection from persecution. U.S. asylum law thus contains various mechanisms by which to prevent people from shopping around – but oddly enough, is silent on the matter of dual citizens, thus leading to a recent decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.).
Let’s start with what is in the law, specifically in Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.) It forbids people from receiving U.S. asylum protection if they have already firmly resettled in another country – even if they otherwise meet the definition of a refugee.
The law similarly says that the U.S. government has the power to send an applicant to a country that offers a legitimate opportunity to apply for asylum or similar relief in cases where the U.S. has signed an agreement with that country. So far, the U.S. has signed such an agreement only with Canada, and it applies only to applicants who arrive at a U.S. land border, however.
Now, for what’s new: A recent B.I.A. decision called Matter of B-R concerns a Venezualan journalist who applied for asylum claiming persecution by pro-Chavez groups. However, his father was born in Spain, a country where the applicant has no fear of persecution. Although the journalist had seemingly never lived in or laid claim to his Spanish citizenship, the immigration judge (IJ) hearing his asylum case, and the B.I.A. on appeal, seemed convinced that it was an option for him – and denied asylum accordingly.
The IJ and B.I.A. decided this not based on either the firm resettlement or the safe third country provision, but on the argument that “he is a citizen or national of a country to which he does not fear returning.” This was despite the applicant’s arguments that “the statutory definition of a ‘refugee’ does not require that an alien claim persecution in every country to which he may be returned . . . [but only in] one of the countries in which he has nationality or citizenship.”
This is one of those decisions that sounds reasonable in part based on individual facts. The Venezualan applicant presumably speaks Spanish, the same language as is spoken in Spain, his country of dual citizenship. And one could do worse than move to Spain. But the same logic is going to look a lot harsher in cases where asylum applicants are forced to continue their flight from persecution and relocate once again to third-world nations where they’ve perhaps never lived and don’t understand a word of the language being spoken.