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LIN PIWOWARCZYK

Unwelcome mat

CALL HER Grace. She's a typical asylum-seeker. She was politically active in her country of origin. As a result she was placed in jail, beaten, and tortured. While on work duty she escaped and kept on running. She did not go home because she did not want to place her family at risk -- if she had been caught with them she would have been executed. Friends helped arrange her escape from the country. There was no time to gather documents, no time to say goodbye. When she came to the United States, she had trouble telling her story. She had difficulty trusting others.

This story, though fictitious, is not unlike those of a number of asylum seekers. If a bill proposed in the US House becomes law, someone like Grace could be sent back to the country she came from to be further persecuted or killed. This is in conflict with the Convention Against Torture signed by the United States, which states, ''No state party shall expel, return . . . or extradite a person to another state when there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The fact that someone has been in the United States may in and of itself cause one to be arrested if deported.

The bill proposes that an asylum case without corroborating documents can be denied. As with Grace, it might be unsafe to carry documents. People might try to leave the country under an assumed name, so having documents could place them at risk. There might not be time to go home to gather documents, or it might be dangerous to do so. In the frenzy of escaping, documents can be lost. It might be dangerous for family to obtain documents after one's escape or mail documents out of the country, as it raises suspicion -- particularly if torture has been committed. We have had family members detained and arrested when attempting to get police documents. Generally speaking, countries practicing human rights violations refrain from documentation of abuses and often use psychological torture so as not to leave a trace. When one is escaping rebel groups or religious persecution, government documents might not even exist.

The bill also proposes that a case with any inconsistency in the statements can be denied. Head trauma is one of the most common forms of torture. This can result in cognitive difficulty. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can result from trauma, torture, and loss. Both can be associated with attention and memory problems. Asylum-seekers often leave their families behind, which is a source of great sadness. Instead of protecting those most worthy of asylum because of the trauma they have experienced, this bill, if passed, potentially places them at greater risk, as they may not be able to cogently present their story.   Continued...

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