AILA South Florida Member Discusses Case of Venezuelan Asylum Seeker Arrested at Miami Asylum Office

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One Terrible Way to Eliminate the Asylum Backlog
by Elizabeth Blandon, Esq.

On April 26, 2017, Marco Coello — a young Venezuelan political dissident who was tortured by his country’s authorities — appeared for an interview at the Miami Asylum Office. But the Asylum Office refused to hear his case. Immigration enforcement officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were waiting to whisk him away into custody at Krome Service Processing Center.

Just a few years ago, the U.S. government had criticized the Venezuelan regime for locking up Marco and other protestors after a student March of February 2014. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned Marco’s arbitrary detention in Venezuela.

Marco entered the United States in September 2015 and filed his application for asylum days after his entry.  At all times, he has been in either status as a visitor or with lawful presence as an asylum applicant.  The only reason given by the ICE officers who took Marco into custody was that Marco had overstayed his visa.

Upon leaving the Miami Asylum Office, I asked my team to begin calling all members of the press.  I also reached out to the office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who helped gather media for a press conference at my office later that day.  The Coello family reached out to Congressman Marco Rubio.  These many efforts — including tweets and Facebook posts — resulted in a media frenzy. Marco was released the next day.

What happened to Marco is an example of the current Administration’s senseless, dragnet approach to immigration enforcement. While the extraordinary response of our community resulted in Marco’s release, he remains in removal proceedings. The Asylum Office will no longer hear his case.

Unfortunately, 8 C.F.R. 208.2(b) gives the Immigration Courts sole jurisdiction to review the asylum application of a foreigner who has been issued a Notice to Appear, which commences removal proceedings before immigration court.  Logically then, ICE officers have the power to completely clear the asylum backlog.  Just issue NTAs to every applicant who is an overstay.