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March 19, 2004

Asylum News 25

Viktor and Oleksiy Released!

Continued Action Needed in Support of Detained Asylum Seekers Take Action Now! Write Ridge to Improve Detention Policies for Asylum Seekers! On Monday, March 8, Viktor Odnovyun and Oleksiy Galushka, refugees seeking asylum from persecution they faced in the Ukraine, were released on bond from the Queens Contract Detention Facility (formerly Wackenhut Correctional Corporation Detention Facility). Viktor and Oleksiy had each been detained for a total of nearly four years. They are currently living in Pennsylvania amidst their friends and colleagues in their community while awaiting the result of their case. On November 5, 2003 we asked you to take action on behalf of Viktor and Oleksiy by urging Secretary Ridge to release them and to improve detention policies for asylum seekers. You responded – hundreds have participated in our online and postcard campaign to Write Ridge since early December. Along with Viktor and Oleksiy, we thank you and urge you to continue making a difference by making your voice heard. If you haven’t already participated in our online action campaign to urge Ridge to improve detention policies for asylum seekers, do so now by visiting our website. You can also make a difference by forwarding this message to your friends and colleagues and urging them to take action as well. Background on Viktor and Oleksiy and the Detention of Asylum Seekers Viktor and Oleksiy were each detained for a total of nearly four years, first at the Wackenhut facility, then at York County Prison in Pennsylvania, and then again at the Wackenhut facility. They are represented pro bono in their asylum claim by volunteer attorneys through Human Rights First’s pro bono asylum representation program. The Department of Homeland Security had denied Viktor and Oleksiy’s requests for parole despite the fact that an immigration judge had granted them withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture while it appealed the immigration judge’s decision. This denial was issued even though Viktor and Oleksiy’s parole applications were supported by 28 letters of support from their employers, friends, and fellow parishioners in Pennsylvania and even though the two men appeared for all immigration proceedings when they had been previously paroled. Viktor and Oleksiy’s story was highlighted in the New York Times in a January 15, 2004 article entitled “Out of Repression, Into Jail.” The article reported that “detention for … asylum-seekers has become increasingly automatic, arbitrary and open-ended since the Department of Homeland Security absorbed the Immigration and Nautralization Service last year.” Under a draconian immigration law passed in 1996 and policies which have become increasingly restrictive since September 11, 2001, asylum seekers arriving in the U.S. are subject to an “expedited removal” process, are automatically detained and are often denied parole. The decision to deny parole is entrusted to the Department of Homeland Security (formerly the INS), and cannot be appealed to an immigration judge or an independent authority. In January 2004, Human Rights First released a new report entitled In Liberty’s Shadow: U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Era of Homeland Security. The report highlights the plight of refugees who arrive in the United States seeking asylum only to be detained in jail-like conditions, and urges Secretary Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security to make the necessary changes to improve detention policies. Read the report online. For more information on the detention of asylum seekers, visit our website. Court TV Film Airing Again on Sunday April 18 – Sheds Light on the Detention of Asylum Seekers “Chasing Freedom,” an original Court TV Film which first aired in January 2004, tells the story of a young Afghan woman (played by Layla Alizada) who is persecuted by the Taliban for running a school for young girls and the pro bono attorney (played by Juliette Lewis) who reluctantly takes on her asylum case after the woman is detained when she arrives at a U.S. airport in search of refuge. The film was inspired by a real asylum case handled by a team of dedicated pro bono attorneys for Human Rights First. It is a sobering depiction of the nearly insurmountable obstacles that asylum seekers face when they arrive in the U.S. The movie’s next airing date is Sunday April 18, 2004 at 2:00 PM on Court TV. To learn more about the film, visit our website. For information on the Chasing Freedom Campaign, a national effort aimed at raising public awareness about asylum and detention, please contact Projects at Active Voice or visit the Active Voice website. Take Action! For more information on asylum in the U.S., visit our website. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here