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“Particularly Serious Crimes”

The United States has long offered protected status to those fleeing persecution abroad in the form of Asylum and Withholding of Removal. Under its obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention to which the U.S. is a party, only the most serious criminal convictions that present actual danger to the community in the United States can bar a person from receiving refuge under the immigration laws. In recent years, however, the federal government has applied this “particularly serious crime” designation to bar more and more immigrants from protected status in violation of the Refugee Convention. IDP advocates for change in U.S. policy to bring the country into compliance with the Refugee Convention and actively supports litigants in the Circuit Courts of Appeals contesting “particularly serious crime” determinations that prevent them from obtaining Asylum and Withholding of Removal.

Briefs and Litigation Tools for “Particularly Serious Crime” Cases Before the Agency and Circuit Courts of Appeals

In the fall of 2018, IDP and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical program issued a report entitled United States Failure to Comply with the Refugee Convention: Misapplication of the Particularly Serious Crime Bar to Deny Refugees Protection from Removal to Countries Where Their Life or Freedom is Threatened. This report, which examines how U.S. implementation and interpretation of the “particularly serious crime” bar to withholding of removal and asylum in the U.S. fails to comply with the Refugee Convention, contains useful information for challenges to federal government “particularly serious crime” designations.

As the government classifies more and more past offenses as “particularly serious crimes,” regardless of whether the individual involved poses any current threat to the community, IDP and allies are appearing as amici curiae to educate the federal courts that these applications of immigration laws violate both domestic and international law. These amicus briefs may also be useful to those litigating “particularly serious crime” issues before the immigration agencies and federal courts.

First Circuit

Valerio-Ramirez v. Sessions, Nos. 16-2272, 17-1402: This amicus brief argues that the federal government’s application of the “particularly serious crime” bar to Ms. Valerio-Ramirez’s identity theft offense conflicts with the treaty obligations of the United States under United Nations Refugee Conventions because it applies to an offense that is not sufficiently grave and because it fails to conduct an assessment of current dangerousness.

  • Brief of amicus curiae, including IDP, submitted in Valerio-Ramirez v. Sessions (February 2017) (prepared and submitted by Philip L. Torrey of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program)

Second Circuit

Abankwah v. Holder, No. 14-2146: This amicus brief argues that the federal government’s application of the “particularly serious crime” bar to Ms. Abankwah’s fraud offense conflicts with the treaty obligations of the United States under United Nations Refugee Conventions because it applies to an offense that is not sufficiently grave and because it fails to conduct an assessment of current dangerousness.

  • Brief of amicus curiae, including IDP, submitted in Abankwah v. Lynch (November 2014) (prepared and submitted by Nancy Morawetz, Antonia House, and Tianyin Luo of NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic)

Vaskovska v. Lynch, Nos. 14-4382, 15-145, 15-265: This amicus brief argues that the federal government’s application of the “particularly serious crime” bar to Ms. Vaskovska’s simple drug possession offense conflicts with the treaty obligations of the United States under United Nations Refugee Conventions because it applies to an offense that is not sufficiently grave and because it fails to conduct an assessment of current dangerousness.

  • Brief of amicus curiae, including IDP, submitted in Vaskovska v. Lynch (May 2015) (prepared and submitted by Philip L. Torrey of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program)

Ninth Circuit

Hernandez v. Lynch, No. 14-74033: This amicus brief argues that the federal government’s application of the “particularly serious crime” bar to Mr. Hernandez conflicts with the treaty obligations of the United States under United Nations Refugee Conventions because it applies to an offense that is not sufficiently grave and because it fails to conduct an assessment of current dangerousness. Mr. Hernandez’s offense of conviction was for driving under the influence where no person or property were injured.

  • Brief of amicus curiae, including IDP, submitted in Hernandez v. Lynch (September 2015) (prepared and submitted by Trina Realmuto of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild)
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