Fundraising letter Summer 2016


Please click on this link to read our request for funds to use for emergencies. Even if you are not in a position to donate, the letter will give you a feel for the work we do in addition to providing housing and legal representation for asylum seekers. And if you are in a position to donate, hit DONATE  on the menu bar.  You can use Paypal or send a check snail mail.

Thank you!

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One of Lemkin House’s most fervent supporters died one year ago this month. I miss her everyday.  Beyond financial donations, she was in charge of churning out all the tax acknowledgement letters. She kept the mailing list up to date. She helped stuff envelopes. When times were rough, she cheered me up. She cared very deeply about all the people Lemkin House serves and wanted to be kept up on all the news about them.

She had a special place in her heart for Lemkin House because she knew similar places in London back in the days when Jews were fleeing Hitler. Her uncle stayed in such a house there.

Go to and read a memorial written by her son John.

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Working on the Application

First, please take a look at the instructions for filling out your asylum application. Go to, look for ‘Forms’ on the menu, and then scroll down to I-589. There are separate PDF files for the application and the instructions.
The first half of the application is biographical information. Be complete. If there aren’t enough lines for all your schools or all your addresses, attach a separate sheet. Or go to the supplemental sheet provided at the very end of the application.
The second half provides the real meat of your case. WHY are you afraid of returning to your home country? First of all you must choose the basis of your claim, and the choices are: race; religion; nationality; political opinion; membership in a particular social group; Torture Convention. You need to figure out which box or boxes pertain to your case. You are not limited to one.
Some attorneys recommend always checking Torture Convention. Know that it is a difficult standard to meet and is usually checked by those who are not eligible for asylum, either because they are applying past the one year deadline or because they have a criminal background. The U.S. is a signatory to a treaty in which the promise is not to send foreign nationals back to a country where it is more likely than not that they will be tortured. (We will avoid a discussion of Guantanamo!) Torture rising from lawful sanctions does not count. Compare this standard to that for asylum: a credible and well-founded fear that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would fear persecution.
Not marking the appropriate box can doom your case, so think carefully.

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Okay, let’s say you are in your home country and are preparing to escape to the U.S. because you are afraid of being, or you have already been, harmed, threatened, or tortured by your government or their agents. You are being persecuted because of your race, religion, nationality, politics, or membership in a particular social group. (We will explore these categories in a later post.)

I know people may have to leave very quickly, with little chance to prepare. But if you CAN, gather evidence. Imagine you are in front of an asylum officer or an immigration judge, or your lawyer! and you want to prove your story is true. Newspaper articles, birth and death certificates, medical charts if you have been injured and got treatment, police records. Every case has documents specific to it that will increase your credibility. And please, do not, EVER, obtain a fake document. They rarely fool anybody, and will cast doubt upon your whole case.

If you can make notes about your case, do so. If this is too dangerous, go over and over the details in your mind so you will remember your story. Time has a way of diluting or distorting traumatic memories. If you trust that no one is opening outgoing mail, send notes and documents to someone you trust outside your country. If you trust an email address, write your notes and attach documents and photos. Think of those people in country who may later execute affidavits on your behalf; make sure you have contact information for them.

And, lastly, for today anyway, could you relocate to another part of your country and be safe? If you answer this question yes, I could move and be safe, you will lose your asylum claim. So move, and be safe.

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Please address any comments or questions to me at  Or send a tweet to @maiajustine.

I will publish the ones I feel will be most useful for the most readers, and will edit them if necessary.  We are  especially interested in hearing from people in Uganda, where the LGBT community is reeling from the anti-gay legislation just passed by the Parliament.  Perhaps we can be of assistance.

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In the course of my work, I see many asylum claims — some strong, some genuine but weak, some totally made up. Today I want to talk to you about the made-up ones. If you are in another country and thinking of ways to get to the United States, or if you are here in the U.S.  on a student or visitor visa, and want to stay,  here’s some advice. Do not make up an asylum claim, or take one real but minor incident from your life and add a murder or a rape or a torture session to it, or use a story that is passed around among members of a particular community because it ‘worked’ for somebody.

You should know that if an immigration judge rules that your case is “frivolous.” you’re in trouble. In regular English, frivolous means not serious,  silly even. In immigration law, it has the specific meaning that you lied, on purpose,  in your asylum application.  A frivolous finding by a judge means you are not eligible for any U.S. immigration benefit, ever. In your whole life. Unless the law changes at some point, you will never be able to return to the United States, even if you are married to a U.S. citizen, have U.S. children, or are the world’s greatest baseball player.  No matter what you read in an immigration forum, or chatroom, no matter what others tell you, trust me: this is the truth, and I hope you will take it to heart.

Fake asylum claims hurt the people who submit them, but they also hurt those who have really been raped or tortured, and who desperately need protection. It makes convincing a cynical judge or asylum officer that much more difficult.

So sign up for the lottery! and leave asylum to those in need.


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Second Anniversary

We’re coming up on our second anniversay in February, and it seems like a good time to spruce up our website. I am hoping this blog will fill some of the needs that have become apparent over the past months.

This website is not used much by professionals, except to see that we’re here. I believe most of our visits are from asylum seekers, and the way we can help them the most is to give advice on filing their own asylum applications. It is very difficult to win asylum, period, but it is extremely difficult to win without the help of a lawyer who has had some experience with the process. So people who are not physically close to Lemkin House in Michigan, or who do not have money to hire a lawyer, or who are still overseas wondering what it means to apply for asylum in the U.S. –these are the people we will try to reach, and help.

So: more to come!

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