'Tokhang' threat not enough ground for asylum –immigration lawyers
Filipinos who are facing deportation abroad after they got convicted for drug-related charges could not seek asylum and cite the Philippine government's violent war against illegal drugs as reason.
The high death toll — close to 8,000, according to reports — of the Duterte administration's relentless campaign against drug syndicates has been cited by some Filipinos abroad in fighting their deportation to the Philippines.
Carino, 31, was issued a deportation order due to his status as a convicted felon while holding a green card. He has appealed the order.
"Not too promising"
But according to lawyer Carlo Franco Borja, a Filipino lawyer who heads his own immigration law firm in California, persons may apply for asylum only if they will be "persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group."
Applicants, also, "should not have been convicted of a particularly serious crime," he told GMA News Online via email.
"Given that US immigration laws are harsh against drug abusers and offenders and considering the current immigration climate, a claim of persecution on account of being a recovering drug addict may not be too promising," Borja said.
Another immigration lawyer Susan V. Perez, who is based in California, said the four to five years it takes to process asylum cases would be for naught as she "knew for a fact" that an argument using the widely criticized anti-drug campaign in the Philippines is "not going to fly."
"A friend of mine approached me about this. He said that a lawyer in Los Angeles is accepting cases from Filipinos to file asylum based on extrajudicial killings. I told him I won't handle his case because I knew for a fact that it's not going to fly," she said.
"If somebody files an asylum because he used to be a drug addict, he will still be denied visa application because substance abuse history is a ground for denial," Perez added.
Convention Against Torture
However, non-US citizens found ineligible for asylum, "including one who has been denied due to criminal grounds", may still qualify for protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) if they can prove that they are vulnerable to torture in their country of origin.
"Therefore, noncitizens who face removal from the US and fear torture by or with the consent of the government in their home country may be eligible for CAT relief even if denied asylum," Borja said.
But unlike asylum, CAT relief is not a path to a green card and may be terminated at any time if the applicant is no longer at risk of torture.
A third Filipino lawyer based in San Francisco said the US grants either political or CAT asylum.
The indigent, recovering drug user is most likely seeking political asylum based on persecution as a social group, but as Borja and Perez have already noted, his criminal record would bar him from a favorable ruling.
In CAT protection, he faces the barrier of the current stand-off between the Philippines and the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights reports regarding the nature of deaths in the country's ant-drug war.
Despite their objections, the lawyer, who requested anonymity, said a Filipino like Carino still has a chance as "each case will be ruled according to its merits."
"Assuming the asylum or the CAT protection is denied with the Immigration Judge, there is an opportunity to appeal the cases to higher courts," the lawyer said. —KBK, GMA News