When asylum might not be a good thing

shaluja.jpg Sri Lankans Saluja Thangaraja, who is now 26, and Ahilan Nadarajah have been sitting in a U.S. Federal pen for 4 years now. Why? They are victims in a sense of the politics that resulted from 9/11. The SJ Mercury news picks this off the AP wire:

A Sri Lankan woman fleeing persecution in her native country has been released after spending more than four years in federal detention on allegations that she entered the country illegally.

Saluja Thangaraja, 26, was freed from the Otay Mesa detention center late Monday after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of a Sri Lankan man who also spent more than four years in the same facility.

The court ordered the release of Ahilan Nadarajah on March 17, saying the government was violating federal law by holding him even though he wasn’t criminally charged and couldn’t be deported in the foreseeable future.

Nadarajah and Thangaraja both fled Sri Lanka and stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border in October 2001 and were charged with being in the U.S. without a valid visa. Both were granted political asylum but the government refused to release them.

In case you are keeping score at home, this is yet another example of the Executive Branch selectively ignoring the power of the Judicial Branch in the name of “protecting” Americans. The fact that these two were stopped at the Mexican border may have incentivized the government to over-prosecute this case so as to justify their specious arguments connecting illegal immigration on the Mexican border to terrorism. Thangaraja and Nadarajah were kept in jail while the original ruling was appealed by the government. As you have probably already guessed, the U.S. government insisted these two were LTTE terrorists despite evidence to the contrary.

The Sri Lankan army had suspected each of being a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The U.S. government alleged Nadarajah was a Tiger member, but did not make that claim against Thangaraja.

In August 2004, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Thangaraja’s testimony about being abducted, beaten and tortured by government forces in Sri Lanka was credible and ruled that she couldn’t be returned to the South Asian country because her life would be in jeopardy. Last June, an immigration judge granted asylum, but the government kept her in jail while it appealed her case, Thangaraja’s attorney said.

“She did nothing wrong; she just came to this country seeking asylum from persecution,” said Ranjana Natarajan, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Although it isn’t mentioned in the article, these two were probably held by exploiting the material witness statute that I have previously blogged about [1,2]. While the government contemplates their next move, the two are finally free and staying with members of the Sri Lankan community near L.A.

6 thoughts on “When asylum might not be a good thing

  1. They actually weren’t being detained under the material witness statute, but under the immigration laws. Incidentally, desi lawyers representing each of them. See here and here.

  2. Thanks AK. While in DC I am stuck on dial-up so my researching ability is quite degraded. I know the ACLU lawyer mentioned in the article above.

  3. While it is unfortunate that they were stuck in the system, bigger issue is how South Asians are exploiting the asylum system to gain illegal entry to US. There are still hundreds of Sikhs, Tamils claiming fake asylum even to this day claiming that Indian/Sri Lankan police torture them blah blah blah.

    Let us not forget that asylum attornies are big money makers now. The whole system is waiting to collapse with all these fake asylees and equally morally bankrupt South Asian attornies promising moon to the parties.

    Just go through Punjabi/Tamil US weekly and see dozens of these sleazeballs proudly offering their services.

    Someone need to tell 9th circuit court that Khalistan lives only in the gurudwara and homes in Canada/UK/US. Same with the Eelam – it is alive only in the streets and minds of UK/Canada tamilian gangstas who rule the streets of Vancouver,Toronto.

  4. FAS — What evidence do you have for your sweeping, unsupported assertions about “fake asylum claims”? Asylum seekers are subject to intense scrutiny and cross-examination by asylum officers, trial attorneys, and immigration judges at every step of the process. As a result, asylum claims are denied in large numbers. Moreover, the problem of torture by the police in South Asia is well-documented and supported by plenty of credible evidence — not just by human rights NGOs both inside and outside of India, but also by the Indian government itself (the NHRC, the Supreme Court, the Home Ministry).

    Even if some percentage of asylum claims are fraudulent, that would be true in any context — and in this context, many, many claims are denied. Other than your opinion, what support do you have for the assertion that there are “hundreds” of such fraudulent claims that are actually granted, rather than denied, and that thereby make the system on verge of collapse? Experts who look at these issues closely actually tend to find the opposite, that many meritorious asylum and Torture Convention claims are in fact denied.

  5. Bottom line – the system has huge holes in it for abuse (authorities as well as people seeking immigration). That is a cop out answer, but fundamentally the truth. I don’t think immigration is bad, but saying giving illegal immigrants a pass while harping how authorities abuse the system doesn’t make sense (this isn’t directed at anyone here in particular, just a general statement).

    The knee jerk reactions have been to either stop immigration or turn a blind eye to abuses and inefficiencies in the system. Ineffective laws and policies need to shift and change in step with the dynamic realities. Make the avenue for illegal immigrants legal, afterall, we need them. Laws/regulations should not be selectively applied by authorities OR citizens. The law is the law, if it doesn’t work, then change it to make the system better. Not abuse it like this chronicled case, or ‘fake’ folks getting in. Address inefficiences.

  6. It’s sad how an example of the Federal Government unfairly detaining genuine asylum seekers provokes an immediate discussion of abuse of the immigration system. I think it’s a little more than “unfortunate” that these 2 individuals had to spend 4 years in Federal jail and we should instead focus on the abuse of immigrants that takes place by the system. This sort of abuse by the system of asylum seekers takes place because society doesn’t care enough about these people to take notice and these immigrants usually don’t have anyone to effectively advocate on their behalf (I am thrilled to see desi attorneys working on the cases in question here). And I hope that as South Asians, while we recognize there is abuse in all aspects of the immigration process (sham marriages for green cards whatever) we don’t criticize our own people as a whole based on the few bad apples that break the rules. You know the rest of society will be the first to do that for us….