In the Matter of DZ-

Asylum granted

We recently represented an independent Russian journalist who was seeking asylum in removal proceedings. In Russia, he ran a website dedicated to covering official corruption and human rights violations in Russia. In order to ensure that readers could trust the information, he made his contact information readily available. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this brought the client to the attention of the very Russian officials whose corruption he was exposing. He was subjected to several threats in Russia by persons he credibly believed to be acting on behalf of the Russian government, and on one occasion he was violently assaulted at a peaceful meeting wherein he and other participants discussed their reporting.

We knew that we had a strong case to present to the immigration court, but we had to ensure that all the facts were in order. We started with the client's powerful personal statement, wherein he clearly and credibly explained the work he was engaged in while reporting in Russia, the threats he and his family received, and why he ultimately decided that he had to flee for his life. We supplemented his personal statement with extensive evidence about country conditions in Russia relating to journalists who work to expose government corruption and human rights violations.

As a threshold matter, we had to navigate one issue in the case, the requirement that an alien must generally apply for asylum within one year of his or her entry. In this case, the client applied for asylum a few months outside of that one-year period. However, after reviewing his case file, we found that the client was covered by a district court decision in Mendez Rojas v. Johnson, No 16-1024, 2017 WL 1397749 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 10, 2017), because the DHS had not notified him of the one-year filing requirement for asylum before releasing him from immigration custody. Due to his class membership, the client's asylum application was deemed timely.

Regarding the asylum claim proper, we made the case that the death threats made against the client in conjunction with the one violent assault he had suffered rose to the level of past persecution. The past persecution question is significant in that if the immigration judge finds past persecution, the asylum applicant is entitled to the presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution on the same basis. However, we did not take it for granted that the immigration judge would agree that the past harm rose to the level of persecution, and we thus argued in the alternative that, regardless of the past persecution question, the facts established that the client had a well-founded fear of future persecution. Fortunately, our second argument proved to be unnecessary because the immigration judge agreed with us that the client had suffered past persecution.

Based on the client's testimony and other evidence, we were able to establish to the satisfaction of the immigration judge that the Russian government was behind the targeting of the client. Cases from countries in Russia and the former Soviet Union can be tricky on this point, for government officials may use third parties to harass their targets, or their own agents may refrain from identifying themselves as such. Having shown that the client was targeted by persons acting on behalf of the Russian government, we were able to also successfully argue that the client would not be able to avoid future persecution by internally relocating within Russia.

Next, we had to prove that the persecution was inflicted on a “protected ground.” We made the case that the client was targeted for his political opinion. The immigration judge agreed with our view, which was supported by ample evidence in the record and in the client's own personal statement, that the Russian government targeted him on account of his political opinions.

Reporting official misconduct in oppressive countries such as Russia requires great courage. Our client put his life on the line to make the truth available. It was our privilege to do our part to help him win asylum — which he richly deserved — here in the United States.