Bloggings On Political Asylum

by Jason Dzubow

Fox News Goes After Syrian Asylee – By Any Means Necessary

On Fox News, the ends always seem to justify the means. It’s acceptable to smear a perceived political opponent based on the most tenuous of evidence. For this reason, even when Fox News raises a legitimate concern, it’s hard to separate truth from half-truth (which reminds me of the old Yiddish proverb: “A halber emes iz a gantse lign” or “A half-truth is a whole lie”). So I am not exactly sure what to make of Fox’s latest campaign to “expose” Syrian asylee Daoud Chehazeh.

According to Fox News:

Daoud Chehazeh is a known associate of the 9/11 hijackers.  The government has spent more than half a million dollars trying to deport him, but has had no success.

Like a Swedish gymnast, Fox News is both fair and balanced.

Like a Swedish gymnast, Fox News is both fair and balanced.

Another (of many) reports by Fox News states:

With nearly 400,000 people waiting for U.S. citizenship, Daoud Chehazeh last November received political asylum for a third time after a series of bureaucratic screw ups at the federal level….

It’s a slap in the face to Americans, especially the victims of 9/11 and the families,” said Jim Bush, who as a New Jersey state criminal investigator was part of the 9/11 investigation code-named PENTTBOMB. His partner in the investigation was Bob Bukowski, a now-retired FBI special agent.

“Three thousand people were murdered,” Bukowski said. “(Chehazeh) was definitely part of that conspiracy…. He facilitated the moves and protection up to the whole flight, basically, of Flight 77. Could we prove that in a court of law? No. But there are other remedies. Deport him. That’s what should have been done in this case.”

Before I get to Mr. Chehazeh’s case, I want to break down some of the Fox commentary. First, it’s true that “Daoud Chehazeh is a known associate of the 9/11 hijackers.” According to a published federal court decision, he met two of the hijackers at a mosque in Northern Virginia. After the September 11th attack, Mr. Chehazeh contacted the FBI and reported whatever information he had on the two men. So to claim that he was a known associate of the hijackers, without mentioning that he went to the FBI to report what he knew about the men, is kind of like calling Woodward and Bernstein “known associates” of Richard Nixon because they reported the Watergate cover-up. At best, it’s a half-truth.

Second, Fox News claims that the “government has spent more than half a million dollars trying to deport” Mr. Chehazeh. How they could possibly know the amount that the U.S. government spent on Mr. Chehazeh’s case is beyond me. Unless they actually know how many hours each government employee worked on the case, it seems impossible that they could know the amount. Here, I suspect that Fox News just guesstimated (which is a polite way of saying that they made it up).

Next, Fox News says that “With nearly 400,000 people waiting for U.S. citizenship, Daoud Chehazeh last November received political asylum for a third time….” I am not sure who these 400,000 people are, or how Fox arrived at this figure. I also am not sure what they have to do with anyone’s asylum case. I do know that Mr. Chehazeh did not receive asylum “for a third time.” He received asylum once (in 2002). The government appealed and later filed a motion to reopen, but he was only ever granted asylum one time.

Finally, the retired FBI agent Bob Bukowski says that Mr. Chehazeh was “definitely part of [the 9/11] conspiracy…. Could we prove that in a court of law? No.” It seems to me, if Mr. Chehazeh was “definitely” part of the conspiracy, Mr. Bukowski could prove it in a court of law. In fact, claiming that someone was “definitely” responsible for murdering nearly 3,000 people when there is little or no evidence to support such a claim, would likely form a strong basis for a libel lawsuit.

Despite the problems in Fox’s reporting, Mr. Chehazeh’s case raises some serous issues.

For one thing, the IJ’s behavior during the case was–to say the least–unusual. According to the government’s brief (as set forth in the Third Circuit’s decision):

[The IJ’s] behavior in this matter… included… ordering the Service… to personally travel to Respondent’s place of detention to assist him in preparing his I-589 [application for asylum and withholding of removal]. When the Service declined, the [I]mmigration Judge advised that she would assume Respondent had a meritorious claim and grant him asylum. Ultimately, the Immigration Judge personally reviewed and completed Respondent’s I-589. At the time of the individual hearing prior to obtaining any testimony from Respondent, the Immigration Judge advised that she was ready to render a decision

The IJ’s actions are strange, and might very well have been reversed on appeal, but the government attorney failed (forgot?) to file a brief, and so the government’s appeal was dismissed.

Another odd aspect of the IJ’s decision is that she found an exception to the one-year filing requirement based on changed circumstances, to wit: the fact that Mr. Chehazeh had recently spoken to the FBI. However, she granted asylum based on Mr. Chehazeh’s particular social group–”hopeless debtors.” It’s questionable whether this is a cognizable social group. Also, if the IJ found an exception to the one year-rule based on Mr. Chehazeh’s cooperation with the FBI, she should have granted asylum on a related ground (such as imputed political opinion since anti-American extremists might view Mr. Chehazeh as pro-American). Instead, the IJ granted asylum on a totally different basis: The fact that Mr. Chehazeh owed a substantial debt to someone in Syria. Since he owed this debt at the time he arrived in the U.S., more than one year before filing for asylum, it is unclear why he would qualify for an exception to the one-year rule.

Despite the difficulties with the case, it appears that the matter is now settled, and–unless new evidence is unearthed–Mr. Chehazeh will be able to remain in the United States as an asylee.

So in the end, Fox News has a point: There are real problems with Mr. Chehazeh’s case, both procedurally and substantively. However, since Fox’s coverage of the case is so distorted and inaccurate, it leaves more questions than answers.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

About The Author

Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.In December 2011, Washingtonian magazine recognized Dr. Dzubow as one of the best immigration lawyers in the Washington, DC area; in March 2011, he was listed as one of the top 25 legal minds in the country in the area of immigration law. Mr. Dzubow is also an adjunct professor of law at George Mason University in Virginia.

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