I have an upcoming merits hearing in the Baltimore Immigration Court for a Jehovah’s Witness seeking asylum from Eritrea. I plan to present an opening argument if the judge allows (not all do). For those unfamiliar with Immigration Court, these are bench trials in the nature of evidentiary hearings before an administrative judge. These hearings are usually just a few hours long, and there is a DHS ICE lawyer who will require the asylum-seeker to meet his or her burden of proof of eligibility. I am posting my draft opening argument because it illustrates many of the reasons I am so proud to participate in the asylum process. Asylum is truly an example of America’s greatness. It will be something like the following:
Ms. X has endured seven years of hiding from the Eritrean security forces. During this time, she had no contact with her family whatsoever. When she was discovered, she was forced to endure over two years of detention in crowded, life-threatening conditions with regular beatings. Ms. X was never brought before a court or allowed to contact her family during this illegal detention. Ms. X was so persecuted not because she presented a threat to the Eritrean government but because she is a Jehovah’s Witness, practicing a peace-loving religion in a country that wants none.
Eritrea only allows the practice of four sanctioned religions, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not among them. The Eritrean government has been known for brutality and persecution of many of its own peoples, including shooting anyone who tries to leave the country. There are untold numbers of people who have disappeared in recent years under this government.
But the Eritrean government has special hate for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and subjects them to special brutalities, probably because this faith does not allow its followers to participate in military service, which is mandatory for all in Eritrea. Among the Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested by the Eritrean government are very young, mere children, and the very old.
After Ms. X and her siblings converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, they have been detained and subjected to beatings one by one. Ms. X’s sisters A, F, and S, as well as her mother, have all been persecuted by the Eritrean government and have been granted asylum in the U.S. Ms. X’s brothers have disappeared after escaping with her from their home when the security forces came to their house to forcibly conscript them into military service contrary to their religion. No one knows whether they are alive or dead. Ms. X hopes to avoid their fate.
We are here today to determine whether Ms. X should be granted asylum in this great country where people are free to practice whatever religion moves their souls. We are truly blessed to be in a country where this is possible. This is America at its greatest. I am humbled and proud to be a part of these proceedings.
I hope with practice to improve on this. I welcome any constructive pointers.
Update: See additional analysis on asylum for those opposed to military service here.