Political Asylum in the U.S.: Has Colombia’s Politicized Justice Reached U.S. Shores?
If Akerman and Yamhure indeed have sources within the U.S. and Colombian governments leaking information on an asylum case, then U.S. laws have been broken and the matter warrants investigation by U.S. authorities
By Lia Fowler*
In the past week, two colombian columnists have claimed to have inside information regarding the status of a political asylum case in the United States. Miami-based Ernesto Yamhure, director of the web portal Los Irreverentes, and Yohir Akerman, columnist for Colombian daily El Espectador, both claimed that confidential sources told them that ex-Minister of Agriculture Andres Felipe Arias and his family’s petition for asylum would be denied by the U.S. in the coming days. By publishing this information – and only if it is true — both columnists are putting in evidence the fact that U.S. officials have broken U.S. Asylum Laws.
On October, 26, Yamhure posted the following tweet on his personal twitter account, under the banner of Los Irreverentes: “ATTENTION. A source in the Fiscalia [Colombia’s Prosecutor’s Office] has confirmed to Los Irreverentes that the U.S. will deny Andres F Arias’ petition for asylum in the coming days.”
In an October 30 column, Akerman wrote, “ …sources in the Attorney General’s office of that country [the United States] have established confidentially that the Immigration Court in Florida will deny Arias Leiva’s petition for asylum in the next few days…”
Both allegations, if true, point to a serious violation of due process in the United States’ immigration procedures.
Yamhure’s post alleged the disclosure of information regarding an asylum petition to colombian officials.
“That is against the laws of the United States,” explained Laila Hlass, Clinical Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Law Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. “Under asylum law, the US is
supposed to keep that information confidential. The US shouldn’t be sharing with other countries information regarding people who are seeking asylum.”
Regarding Akerman’s assertion, the issue of an official in the Attorney General’s office having information on an affirmative asylum case before the U.S. Asylum Office is also problematic. “For affirmative asylum cases, the asylum claim is supposed to be adjudicated by the asylum officers within the dept of homeland security.” Hlass explained. “They have the sole decision-making authority on that issue.”
As Akerman himself points out in his column, the Arias family arrived in the United States on a valid visa and applied for asylum affirmatively. As such, their application would be before the Asylum Office under the Department of Homeland Security.
In keeping with the core principles of International Human Rights Law, every person petitioning for asylum should be afforded the same right to a fair and efficient asylum procedure. In the Arias case, specifically, that process has to be free of political pressure by the Government of Colombia or anyone acting in its political interest, particularly as the application is based on fear of persecution from elements of the Colombian Government itself.
If Akerman and Yamhure indeed have sources within the U.S. and Colombian governments leaking information on an asylum case, then U.S. laws have been broken and the matter warrants investigation by U.S. authorities. If the claims are unfounded, then these attempts to intimidate the family, disparage them or influence the decision of the Asylum Office go a long way toward validating Arias’ claim of political persecution.
*Lia Fowler is an American journalist and former FBI Special Agent.