How Russians can get political asylum in the USA: personal experience
The other day, Russian opposition journalist and activist Denis Styazhkin received political asylum in the United States. This status was preceded escape through mexico, more than a year of waiting in the United States, and finally a court hearing in Sacramento Immigration Court. We talked with Denis himself and his lawyer about whether it is difficult for a Russian citizen to obtain political asylum now, what to pay attention to when preparing for the process, and how American judges are aware of what is happening in Russia.
Do not be afraid of publicity and stay confident
Denis Styazhkin assures: if you have had real persecution in Russia, you should not worry. If earlier American judges could sincerely not understand how support for Ukraine or Alexey Navalny may lead to problems with the law, now they are much more aware of what is happening in the country.
«I had a strong case because I was hounded for years. Back in 2008, I ended up in a special detention center - at that time, as the chairman of the Krasnoyarsk regional branch of Solidarity. Since then, I have been repeatedly detained and beaten by the police - first in my native Krasnoyarsk, as the organizer of protest rallies, and then in Moscow, where I already worked at actions as a journalist. All of this was documented, and information about most of my detentions appeared regularly in the media, including Voice of America and the BBC. When the prosecutor saw these materials, he no longer had any questions.", - says Denis.
The main advice that he can give to people who are engaged in public activities and are facing persecution is to make such facts public as much as possible.
«Some people are shy or afraid of publicity. Under no circumstances should this be done. The more publicity your situation has in the press, the easier it will be for you to get asylum.“- he is sure.
On the subject: You can now apply for asylum in the US online
Denis Styazhkin notes that prosecutors and judges pay great attention to how a person behaves in court.
«They have already had precedents more than once when a person could start talking on abstract topics, in some long unnatural sentences, or simply behaved insecurely. For the judge, this is immediately a sign that the case has been invented. You need to speak concisely, within the framework of your business, tell your story. If you really experienced something terrible, you will not be confused when you remember it.", the journalist advises.
How to talk about the situation in Russia
According to Denis, now American courts have become much better versed in what is happening in Russia.
«One of my acquaintances was not a public figure, and when Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, he only once went to the city center with a placard "No to war!". He was detained and imprisoned for 15 days. After serving them, he immediately packed his things and left for the USA. The American court decided that this was enough to obtain asylum: a person spoke out with anti-war views and suffered for it”, says the refugee.
Denis' lawyer Sergey Fedorov confirms that now American judges, for the most part, understand quite well what is happening in Russia. This is especially true in states where many refugees live.
«In these states, judges have already come across specific cases more than once. In addition, they have an idea of what is happening in Russia thanks to the documents submitted by lawyers, including country-specific reviews. However, this does not negate the fact that in each case you need to carefully prepare both your case and a list of similar cases.“, he cautions.
According to the immigration lawyer, in addition to your own reviews, it is important to use reports on the country made by official sources, for example, reports from Human Rights Watch, the State Department and other government and human rights organizations.
«It is important that the situation in the country is monitored not only by the lawyer, but also by the client himself. At the time of the court hearing or interview at USCIS, he must be aware of what is happening in Russia. As a rule, such interviews take place when a person has been living in the United States for at least a year, and therefore the judge may ask how the situation in Russia has changed during this time, whether something is happening there that reduces or, on the contrary, increases his fear of returning. And a person must navigate the situation, especially since it is getting worse every day. The judge must see that the refugee is afraid of returning because he understands well what awaits him, and not because he was frightened by a lawyer”, - emphasizes Sergey Fedorov.
Fear of future persecution
Denis Styazhkin notes that those who have not experienced repression in Russia can also receive asylum if they can prove that they have real reasons to fear future persecution.
«It is best to give examples of victims of repression who are doing the same thing as you. For example, if you are a journalist, you can refer to the arrests of other journalists who wrote on the same topics. It is possible that there is no criminal case against you personally, but the media with which you cooperate has been declared undesirable or a foreign agent - this is also the basis for obtaining asylum. If you are an ordinary person, it is better to give examples from your city, and even better if they relate to your acquaintances or people who are members of the same organizations as you or are engaged in similar activities.", - says the journalist.
Sergei Fedorov also agrees with him - with the caveat that it will still be important for a person to somehow prove that he had certain political views before. For example, if he started attending rallies in defense of political prisoners only in the USA, and previously showed no interest in them, the judge may decide that he attended rallies only to strengthen his case.
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Lawyers note that each case is individual, and modern Russian legislation is such that even the most innocent actions are sometimes enough to arrest. But nevertheless, American courts have learned to identify people who are trying to take advantage of this situation quite well. Therefore, it is important for asylum seekers to think in advance about the evidence of their story and not be afraid to publicly show their position.
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