Marathoner Calls for Asylum

Running Away:

Ethiopian Marathoner Makes Defiant Gesture for Asylum at Race’s Finish

If you were watching the Men’s Marathon yesterday at the Olympics, you may have been caught off guard by the actions of the Silver Medalist, Feyisa Lilesa, as he approached the finish line. Comfortably ahead of American and Bronze Medalist, Galen Rupp, and behind Gold Medalist, Eliud Kipchoge, he held his hands up in a seemingly X pattern above his head. In running, making an X signal above your head is a sign of distress and that you cannot articulate it, but you need assistance immediately.

Mr. Lilesa did not need medical assistance. Instead, his X was symbolic, and he was signaling that his life and the lives of his family members and tribe (Oromo) in Ethiopia are in danger. Post race comments that he gave clarified why he made the distress signal. They also elucidated the levels of danger that his family members and tribe suffer in Ethiopia as the ruling government has cracked down severely in certain areas of the country. The state broadcaster in Ethiopia did not air a replay of the finish because the X signal has been a symbol of solidarity among the Oromo tribe.

The comments that made indicate that he will be seeking asylum. Asylum is an internationally recognized basis for migration and countries in the Western Hemisphere often end up providing safehaven for those escaping persecution in other areas of the world. Countries have different laws for obtaining asylum. The United States’ standard for asylum is developed upon establishing past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution. It also requires that persecution to emanate from one of five protected grounds: race, religion, particular social group, political opinion, or nationality. These categories are developed through case law in immigration courts and through the federal courts. The government in the home country is either the persecutor or it is unable or unwilling to stop the persecution from occurring. Asylum can be a difficult proposition because the asylum seeker cannot just claim that his or her country is in chaos, civil war, rebellion, or unrest. The seeker needs to demonstrate past persecution has happened or that there is a well-founded fear he or she will be targeted for harm in the future.

Seeking Asylum in the U.S.

To seek asylum, a seeker must be in the United States. It can be a slog of a process, especially since adjudication times for affirmative asylum have skyrocketed into 2.5-3 years. For those unable to obtain asylum, there may still be an option through withholding of removal. Asylum cases require a lot of preparation and documentation to establish the veracity of the seeker’s claims. Filing for asylum affirmatively (with USCIS and not with the immigration court) requires an interview with an Asylum Officer at a designated Asylum Office.

Refugee into Olympian – MEB

Meb Keflghizi is perhaps the greatest American distance runner. He is preparing to compete in the Men’s Marathon on Sunday August 21, one of the final events of the 31st Olympiad. The marathon is a grueling event, requiring 26.2 miles of endurance, speed, tactics, and mental fortitude. The winning time is expected to be around the 2:10 mark, which means an average mile of below 5 minutes. But Meb, as he is known, is remarkable for another reason. He is a naturalized US citizen, competing under the US flag, as a native born Eritrean. His reason for immigrating to the United States – we accepted him and his family as refugees. From child refugee, Meb has become one of the most decorated runners in American history, and will be looking to add an Olympic Gold Medal in the marathon to his formidable litany of accomplishments.

Meb’s Journey to the U.S.

Eritrea is a small east African nation that suffered a 30 year civil war with Ethiopia, with which it was a part of when Ethiopia became a sovereign nation. Eritrea finally gained its independence, but in the years of civil war, life was dangerous for many Eritreans. Meb’s father was a liberation supporter. With civil war raging, Meb’s family had to escape. They temporarily escaped to refugee camps in Italy. Italy was a colonial conqueror of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In Italy, Meb’s family was accepted as refugees to the United States. They settled in San Diego when Meb was 12 years old. In high school, Meb realized that he had world class speed, and he attended UCLA on a scholarship for track and field. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1998 in Los Angeles. Fittingly, it was at the Los Angeles Marathon on February 13, 2016 that Meb qualified for the Olympics Marathon.

One of Meb’s great American moments was winning the Boston Marathon in 2014. The Boston Marathon is the most prestigious long distance event, drawing the best distance runners in the world to compete against each other. His victory was momentous for many reasons, chief among them being that American men do not often win the event and because it was the year after the terrorist bombing at the finish line. Meb ran the race in American flag colors and soared to his personal best time of 2:08:37.

A Small Part of the American Immigration System

The United States accepts thousands of refugees and asylum seekers each year. It is a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship, as well. Meb is a great example of American Olympic spirit, but also of the American immigration system. The immigration system has 4 basic pathways to entry: family, employment, humanitarian, and lottery. The humanitarian aspect can often be lost in the shuffle. On Sunday, it will be on full display when Meb runs 26.2 miles for the United States and aims to capture an Olympic Gold Medal. Both for his athletic prowess and his incredible story of perseverance, Meb is an inspiration for Americans.

USCIS Processing Times Released

USCIS has released processing times for the applications they process. Information is not available for cases pending at the Potomac Service Center. Receipt numbers that begin with the letter string YSC are at the Potomac Service Center. These processing times are as of June 30, 2016. Here are some points of note:

  • O and P visa processing times have been shortened.
  • H-1B processing time has been reduced.
  • VAWA applications are at 5 months.
  • Employment Cards are still taking over 3 months for the most part.
  • U Visa processing is stuck.
  • Most EB-1 and EB-2 petitions are around 4 months at the Texas Service Center, but they are taking more time at the Nebraska Service Center. The National Interest Waiver is taking nearly 9 months in Nebraska.
  • Fiance and many family-based petitions are taking 5 months for processing.
  • An application to remove conditions on permanent residence is taking 10 months for processing.

O-1 Visa Extraordinary Ability

The Atlantic Writes About Extraordinary Ability: The O-1 Visa


The Atlantic has written a lengthy piece on the O-1 visa, which is reserved for individuals of extraordinary ability. With a maximum period of 3 years and indefinite renewals, it is a viable option for individuals who are at the top of their fields. The O-1 is used in the entertainment industry and in athletics. It is also used by scientists and artists.

The piece’s purpose is to show how this visa is used today. It points out that the number of applications and approvals of cases have increased recently. The number of O-1 approved cases has tripled in the past decade and 83,000 visas were approved in 2014. Whereas the H-1B visa is subject to a strict cap, the O-1 is without a cap. It does, however, carry a higher standard for approval. An applicant must meet three out of eight criteria (you can also win a Nobel Prize or Pulitzer Prize). There is still a consular process to undergo and there is a chance the consular officer can deny a visa. The other advantage of an O-1 visa is that support staff can be brought along through an O-2 visa and dependents can tag along with the O-3 visa.  A petitioner or agent is needed to sponsor the beneficiary.

Extraordinary ability is not just used in the non-immigrant context. For immigration petitions, an alien of extraordinary ability is a kind of self-petition that does not even require a sponsoring employer. Except for the upcoming visa bulletin, it is also in a visa category that is always current for a Green Card, meaning that a Green Card application can be filed concurrently with the application. There are three ways to file for an extraordinary ability petition: multinational executive or manager, outstanding professor or researcher, and alien of extraordinary ability. The multinational executive or manager classification requires a sponsoring employer.

Immigration Court Cases

Half a Million Cases and Counting

It is being reported that there are over half a million pending cases in the federal immigration courts. The number has grown by over 200,000 over the past five years, which is attributed to the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border. CBS DFW writes:

Cases of newly arrived immigrants facing deportation have been made a priority, but the backlog still means that many immigrants are likely to face years long delays before a judge makes a final decision on their cases. And while people are waiting to go before a judge, their case could dramatically change, for good or bad.

A spokesperson for the courts reported that there have been 34 immigration judges hired since the beginning of the year and that there are plans to hire an additional 100 judges. A pending budget proposal would allow for a total of 399 immigration court judges.