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Survivor’s Asylum Case Stalled

2010 May 3
by Ben Achtenberg

Survivor’s Asylum Case Taken on by ACLU

Asylum grant rates in the United States are abysmal (cited as averaging 37.5% in a recent article), and show shockingly wide variation among the immigration judges in various U.S. jurisdictions. It would seem that an asylum seeker whose application is granted must have a pretty strong case.          Given that, the Boston case of Sri Lankan asylum-seeker Baskaran Balasundaram, is particularly disturbing. Despite having been granted asylum by a Boston immigration judge in February, 2009, he remains incarcerated in the Suffolk County House of Correction more than a year later. According to Boston Globe staff writer Shelley Murphy,

“Balasundaram arrived at Logan International Airport in summer 2008 with a story of torture and survival, seeking refuge from a violent civil war in his native Sri Lanka. He told immigration officials that he had been kidnapped from his parents’ farm by a terrorist group that forced him to live like a slave at a training camp. He said he escaped, only to be captured by the Sri Lankan Army and tortured repeatedly because he is an ethnic Tamil.
…..“But if Balasundaram, now 27, expected to find freedom in the United States, he was mistaken.”

During the young man’s asylum hearing the Department of Homeland Security argued that his request should be denied (and that he should be deported) because he received military training from, and provided “material support” to terrorists (the Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers.)

Tamil Demonstration, London, photo by Lewishamdreamer

…..The DHS’s argument was based on Balasundaram’s own narrative, in which he described being forced, while a prisoner, to watch propaganda videos and training exercises by the Tigers. But immigration Judge Eliza C. Klein firmly rejected the DHS case, writing that “He was forced to watch propaganda training videos and observe [Tamil Tiger] members using weapons and crawling through barbed wire fences…His limited exposure was neither willing nor participatory.”
…..The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed suit in US District Court, demanding Balasundaram’s immediate release. Quoted in the Globe, ACLU attorney Laura Rotolo said, “He managed to escape this Tamil training camp…He comes to the US only to be stuck for 22 months, and who knows how much longer, in a United States jail. It’s just a bitter irony.’’ Murphy’s Globe article continues:

“Balasundaram has not been charged with any crime. He is being held until the Board of Immigration Appeals rules on the government’s appeal, a process that Rotolo says has taken twice as long as usual and could take another year or more.
…….“After arriving in Boston on July 14, 2008, Balasundaram told immigration officials that four members of the terrorist group…forced him into a car at gunpoint. He said he was held captive, along with other young men, at a training camp, where he was forced under threat of death to work in the kitchen and watch demonstrations about avoiding the Sri Lankan Army and ‘strapping a bomb to one’s chest’… Balasundaram never used a bomb or any other weapon and was an unwilling observer, according to the suit.
…….“In October 2007, Balasundaram escaped from the camp, then was captured, tortured, and interrogated by Sri Lankan authorities seeking information about the terrorist group’s activities, the suit says. At a Sri Lankan government camp, ‘army officers beat Balasundaram, hung him upside down, hit his back with barbed wire, and put a bag doused with gasoline on his face until he could no longer breathe,’ the suit says.”

…and now DHS wants to send him back “home.”

Some Other Resources on Asylum Statistics and Issues:

Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Program
Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security
Government Accountability Office
TRAC Immigration


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