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Fourth Circuit delivers political asylum victory

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The fight for civil liberties must be waged on both the criminal law and non-criminal law stages, in the legal and non-legal arenas, and with people pushing from both the outside and inside of courthouses.

In that context, before I ever handled a criminal case, in 1987 I handled political asylum, deportation, and other cases with my law school’s immigration law clinic, including two administrative trials. My amiable freshman social studies teacher, who was also very admiring of Reagan, was fond of saying that one benchmark of the openness of a government is whether its citizens are freely allowed to leave the country. However, maybe he did not know that being free to leave one’s country does not mean much when there is no country that will welcome the person, and the United States is not a particularly hospitable place in terms of laws, policy, and governmental actions, for millions of would-be applicants to live and work here lawfully.

In any event, my ears always buzz when a political asylum victory is won in court, including yesterday’s Fourth Circuit reversal of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ stepping on an Immigration Judge’s factfinding function that led the IJ to grant asylum to a gentleman claiming a well-founded fear of persecution if he returned to his native El Salvador. Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir., Feb. ..1623, 2011).

Whether or not I sounded like a party pooper when I forecasted this before his election, Obama has been no more of a friend to civil liberties than was Bill Clinton, who was far from any bleeding heart on civil liberties as president. The Board of Immigration Appeals is part of Obama’s executive branch, and the BIA is doing business as usual in stymying immigrants’ rights too much. Praised be the typically conservative Fourth Circuit for having called the BIA to task in Crespin-Valladares.