For eight years, Ranjit Singh lived in almost constant fear of being deported back to India.
Throughout the mid-1980s and early 1990s, the Indian government and its police targeted men like Singh, a Sikh who publicly opposed the widespread oppression of his people. The 54-year-old refugee said Indian police abducted and secretly tortured him on several separate occasions. But his tenth arrest was the worst by far.
Two policemen held him down while another tied his feet together and dropped a large wooden roller atop his thighs. Then two other corpulent cops stepped onto the thick, five-foot-long piece of wood and laughed as their weight slowly crushed the muscles in his upper legs. Waves of pain roiled Singh’s body.
After he was released, it took him several weeks to walk again. And he feared he would not survive an eleventh arrest. So in 1992, the devoutly religious man fled the northern Indian state of Punjab and made his way into the United States, settling eventually in the East Bay. Eight years later, the US government granted him political asylum, which allowed him to stay in America indefinitely. Although the memories of what happened in India still haunt him, the former political activist now lives a mostly quiet life in Union City with his wife and two grown sons. But while the daily torture of Sikhs ended in the mid-1990s, Singh still remains too afraid of the consequences to ever seriously consider returning to India. “I want to see my father,” he said. “My father is ill. He is 85. We feel I can’t see him.”
Yet Singh recently discovered that he may have more to worry about than seeing his dying father again. Last month, President Bush signed into law the Real ID Act of 2005, which makes it tougher for torture victims to gain asylum in the United States. Republicans have championed the law as a new weapon in the war on terror, but immigration lawyers and human-rights groups view it as a misguided assault on the United States’ long history of welcoming refugees who have escaped persecution in their homelands.
Had Real ID been in effect in 2000, Singh might not have received asylum. But far more worrisome for him, and hundreds of thousands of others who have been granted asylum in the past few decades, is that part of the law is retroactive. Real ID allows the government to reopen old cases and deport Singh or other torture survivors back to their tormentors.
Twenty-one years ago, Ranjit Singh was an unlikely candidate for torture. As a longtime member of the Indian Army who regularly served alongside Hindus, he had little time for Sikh customs, religion, or separatism. The husband and father of two rarely went to temple, and certainly never wore the beard and turban that signify religious devotion within the Sikh faith. But everything changed for Singh and millions of his countrymen in June 1984.
Sikhs in the northern Indian state of Punjab had grown increasingly unhappy with the authoritarian central government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Congress Party. There were unresolved disputes with neighboring states, and Sikhs believed that national policies had stymied efforts to transform agricultural Punjab into a manufacturing hub. The primary Sikh political party, Akali Dal, was prone to factionalism but was gaining influence and power in India.
Gandhi hoped to keep the factions from unifying against her by backing the popular, if messianic, politician Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who openly called for Punjabi autonomy from India.
It was a fatal miscalculation. Bhindranwale was a political extremist who was far too independent to fall under Gandhi’s control. While Sikh dissatisfaction threatened the rule of the government, Bhindranwale and a few hundred well-armed followers assembled inside the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, in the city of Amritsar.
In early June 1984, Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star to root out the armed separatists. Tens of thousands of Indian troops — estimates have ranged from fifteen thousand to as many as seventy thousand — amassed outside the temple. When the three-day siege ended, Bhindranwale and about two hundred supporters were dead, along with thousands of innocent pilgrims who had come to the temple to pray.
Most Sikhs were less angry about the death of Bhindranwale than they were about the violent assault on their holiest shrine. That anger boiled over October 31, when Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. In the four days following her death, mobs throughout India retaliated by massacring thousands of Sikhs. Men and boys were doused with kerosene and burned alive, women were gang-raped, and houses and temples were destroyed. Evidence accumulated by human-rights groups strongly suggests that the Congress Party and Indian police instigated, organized, and supplied the violence. In the capital of Delhi, the official Sikh death toll was 2,733, although human-rights groups believe the number killed throughout the entire country was much higher.
As an army clerk stationed at a Punjab train depot, Ranjit Singh kept track of the siege by listening to the BBC. Operation Blue Star angered and scared him, but not enough to make him join a separatist group or quit the military. The massacres of early November began to change his mind.
In the days after Gandhi’s death, soldiers, including Sikhs, were dispatched by train all over India to help quell the mob violence. But some of the bloodiest violence was on the trains themselves. Stories were rampant of mobs stopping trains between Delhi and Punjab and hacking Sikh passengers, even soldiers, to death. “Trains coming from Delhi — the windows were broken, there were blood spots — they were empty,” Singh said.
Singh said the commanding officer of his depot could have kept soldiers off the trains by declaring the railway unsafe. But when the commander stopped signing such orders after just one day, Singh said he took matters into his own hands. “I started signing them myself in front of him,” he recalled. “He became very annoyed. He said, ŒWhy are you signing? You’re not supposed to sign.’ But I didn’t care about him. I kept signing for everyone for three days. There were between two hundred and three hundred soldiers at the railway station. I think I saved their lives because I signed for them.”
This outpouring of violence spawned demands for a separate Sikh nation called Khalistan, backed by an armed Sikh insurgency that battled the Indian government for the next ten years. In what would become known as the “Decade of Disappearance,” thousands of militant extremists went missing or were killed in so-called “encounters,” a police euphemism for the capture and execution of separatists.
Although Singh did not join the insurgency, after 1984 he embraced Sikhism like never before. He grew a beard, stopped cutting his hair, donned a turban, and began attending gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship. He also took part in a Sikh initiation ceremony, and in keeping with the religious practices of devout Sikhs, he started wearing both a kara, a thick silver bracelet, and a kirpan, a small ceremonial sword.
But Singh was not ready to leave the army. He stayed on for a few more years because being in the military gave him access to uncensored news reports. “I felt I was doing a good job telling the Sikh people what was going on,” he recalled. “If I left the army, I think it would have been very tough.” Singh also was successful in converting secular Sikh soldiers into devout ones. Eventually, though, his commanders grew frustrated with him. He said he was transferred three times in two years and then was issued an ultimatum: “Either stay in the army or leave the practice of my religion.”
After Singh was discharged, he joined the Akali Dal Mann, an increasingly influential political group that had separated from the more moderate Akali Dal, which had lost popularity because it was viewed as too willing to cooperate with the Indian government. The more vocal Akali Dal Mann strongly advocated Sikh self-determination but neither endorsed nor denounced violence by the armed insurgents, according to Jugdep Chima, a research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for South Asian Studies, whose dissertation was on Sikh political parties.
Akali Dal Mann was named after Simranjit Singh Mann, a senior Punjab police officer who resigned and went underground after the Golden Temple attack. He was sympathetic to the Sikh nationalists, and in 1985 was arrested on allegations that he helped plan Gandhi’s assassination. Although no evidence was ever presented against Mann, police jailed and tortured him for much of the next four years. “Mann became a symbol of Sikh resistance and sacrifice,” Chima said.
In 1989, with Sikh separatism at its height, Mann was elected to the Indian parliament from his jail cell, garnering more than 90 percent of the vote. Within days he was released from custody and took office. Like many Sikhs at the time, Ranjit Singh was a great admirer of Mann, and became an ardent follower. For two years, Singh was a district press secretary for the Akali Dal Mann, and then served as general secretary for two more. But his high profile also caught the attention of Punjab police.
Singh tried to be careful. Although he publicly denounced the oppression of Sikhs at protests and demonstrations, he said he also never openly condoned the violent insurgency. He was well aware that the insurgents had gradually fallen out of favor with many Sikhs, because they too often terrorized innocent citizens. For example, it was not uncommon for heavily armed insurgents to show up at a Sikh family’s door and threaten to kill them if the invaders were not provided with food and shelter. Then, if police found out about it, family members would be arrested and tortured for harboring and aiding insurgents. Police also sometimes posed as insurgents to entrap those who would provide food and shelter.
The police were led by K.P.S. Gill, a government-backed Sikh legendary for his barbarity. He is widely credited with directing death squads and torture sessions throughout the Decade of Disappearance. Singh said he disapproved of the insurgency, but never thought that its transgressions justified state-sanctioned human-rights abuses.
Singh said that when Gill’s police weren’t arresting and killing insurgents, they were lining their own pockets. He said he knew of occurrences when police arrested young men who had bounties on their heads and then extorted money from their families. “Those who could not give the police money, they killed their sons and then collected the money from the Indian government,” he said. The police, he said, would then announce to the press that the young men had died in a violent “encounter.”
As careful as he was not to be associated with the insurgency, Singh and his family could not escape police harassment. “They used to come to our house and put a gun to my head, and tell my mom, ‘If anybody is home, come out,'” one of his sons said. “We told them we didn’t have any connections to anyone they’re looking for, and they were like, ‘We don’t care; we’re going to keep harassing you.'”
According to Singh’s official asylum papers, Punjab police picked him up and tortured him ten times during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sometimes he was caught in mass arrests of fifty to one hundred people and kept in custody for a week or two. Other times, police locked him up for a month. “One time, they beat me with straps with two people holding my hands and two people holding my feet,” he said. “Another time, two people stretched my legs to the side as far as they could go.” He said he was never interrogated, and it was clear that police arrested and tortured him so as to scare him out of being politically active and to convince him to stay clear of the insurgency.
All told, several thousand Sikhs were massacred in 1984, and human-rights observers believe thousands more either disappeared or were executed in the bloody decade afterward. Still more, like Singh, were repeatedly arrested and tortured. Yet in the name of national healing, India has suppressed human-rights investigations and failed to put any significant political figure on trial for crimes against humanity. On the contrary, said Jaskaran Kaur, author of a 2004 report on the 1984 massacre, Twenty Years of Impunity, some of the worst offenders among Punjab police were later promoted within the government.
Sikhs escaping the Decade of Disappearance began arriving in the Bay Area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, joining a Sikh community that has swelled to an estimated fifty thousand. Although the number of torture survivors among them is unknown, Singh believes he is one of several hundred Bay Area Sikhs who were tortured by Punjab police between 1984 and 1993.
They’re not alone. According to estimates by Gerald Gray, director of the Centers for Survivors of Torture in San Jose, fifteen thousand to thirty thousand torture survivors from about ninety different countries now call the Bay Area home. They include refugees from nations friendly to the United States, such as China, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, and Saudi Arabia; and those that are not, including Afghanistan under the Taliban, Bosnia under Slobodan Milosevic, Cuba under Fidel Castro, Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
These refugees seldom share their stories. Many are cab or truck drivers, laborers or dishwashers. They take jobs few Americans want, and hide their deep psychological and emotional wounds. “They often have a problem of feeling damaged and ashamed — outcasts,” explained Uwe Jacobs, a Berkeley psychologist and director of Survivors International, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that assists torture victims. “The typical torture survivor is so avoidant that they only talk to the people they have to talk to.”
Ranjit Singh is unusual in that regard. In the past few months, he has shared his story with Ensaaf, the fledgling human-rights group directed by Jaskaran Kaur, which is recording the torture experiences of Sikhs now living in the United States. Singh said he talked to Ensaaf — which means “justice” in several South Asian languages — because he desperately wants justice for his people in India.
But survivors such as Singh will surely pipe down if speaking up would make the US government more likely to deport them. After all, Singh became vocal only after his own asylum case was finally settled. In the eight years before that, he worried constantly that he and his family would be deported back to India. “It was very hard for me,” he said, noting that he had been questioned by the FBI. And though his fears subsided when he received asylum, they have not vanished completely. “In the nighttime, sometimes when I hear some car stop outside, I get up from my bed and think maybe some police come,” he confided.
The Department of Homeland Security has yet to say how it will implement Real ID, so it’s unclear how the law will affect Singh. But the uncertainty gives him pause. His asylum case was an eight-year white-knuckle experience that he does not want repeated. Consequently, in telling his story, the Express agreed to change his name, omit certain telling details, and not identify him in photographs. He chose the first name, Ranjit, and the newspaper picked the last name, Singh, because it’s used by most Sikh men in honor of the religious tenet that all are created equal.
Waiting for asylum can take a long time, especially if the case ends up in court. And it can be extremely traumatic — second only to the torture itself. “It’s a terrible time; for so many of our clients, it’s a major ordeal,” Jacobs said. “When somebody flees persecution and they’re not certain if they’re going to be protected … there’s nothing more anxiety-provoking than that.” Only when asylum is granted, he said, is that fear relieved, and only then do torture survivors begin to show real signs of recovery.
Jayne Fleming, an Oakland lawyer who has handled several pro bono asylum cases of torture survivors over the years, said legal proceedings can be particularly nerve-racking. She has a client who fled Honduras after being gang-raped and is now terrified of what will happen when she steps into a US courthouse. “Every time she has a hearing, even if it’s just to turn in some documents, she feels she’s going to be snatched up by Immigration and sent back to Honduras,” Fleming said. “The experience of feeling that, every time there’s a hearing — it has to have some pretty serious psychological ramifications.”
Under the new Real ID law, such hearings probably will be drawn out further and become even more traumatic. It also will surely add to victims’ fears of being sent home for another round of torture — or worse.
Singh’s worst memories stem from February 1992, while he was assisting an Akali Dal Mann boycott of elections. One morning at 4 a.m., he recalled, ten Punjab police officers showed up at his home and forced him to go to the police station. “As they beat me, they said, ‘We’ll show you how to organize boycotts,'” he said. Singh’s captors tortured him twice a day for a week, he said, often with the large wooden roller. At other times they used an elaborate rope device to inflict severe pain.
Policemen tied his wrists behind his back, he said, and then strung a rope from his hands through a hook in the ceiling. A policeman on the other side of the cell then grabbed the end of the rope, pulled it taut, and hoisted him aloft. Intense pain would shoot through his upper arms, which were forced up behind his back as he dangled above the floor. Then, to deepen the pain in his arms, he said, “They tied my feet together and they put a piece of wood, a roller, between my legs, and then two people sat on the roller.”
Throughout the many torture sessions, Singh’s family had no idea where he was or whether he was dead or alive. “They wouldn’t tell us,” one of his sons recalled. “Me and my brother, we were little, but I remember going around from jail to jail and they would just laugh at us, and they would say, ‘We never even arrested him.’ All we could do is watch the news to see if my dad was one of the cases where he was just killed in a police encounter.”
After he was released, Singh faced the toughest decision of his life. He knew that if he fled India, he risked placing his family in harm’s way. “During the time they were torturing me, they had a list of my family, my relatives,” he said, adding that they threatened to kill his family if he took action against his torturers. But the last session left him unable to walk for weeks, and he and his family knew that he probably would not survive another. So, like many other Sikhs who could afford it, Singh went underground and paid an agent to get him out of the country and provide him with papers to enter the United States.
He made it to California, but back home police harassed his family. “They were like, ‘Where’s your dad? If you don’t tell us, we’re going to kill you,'” one of his sons recalled. “And they wanted our whole family tree. They wanted our relatives, family friends — everybody’s name. They were like, ‘If we don’t find your dad, we’re going to start killing people. ‘” The threats continued, but one year later Singh got his wife and children safely out of India and to the United States.
Once he arrived in the East Bay, Singh took odd jobs and almost immediately applied for asylum. He declined to say how he originally gained entrance to the United States, but immigration lawyers interviewed for this story said most torture survivors come here illegally. After all, it’s next to impossible to convince a government that has arrested and tortured someone to allow that person to freely leave the country.
Today, Singh regularly attends the Fremont gurdwara, where pro-Khalistan sentiment remains strong, and many cling to the belief that Sikhs must carve out an independent state between India and Pakistan. But Fremont is something of an anomaly. As the years pass, more and more Bay Area Sikhs, especially longtime residents or their American-born children, regard the Decade of Disappearance as ancient history. Some even question whether the torture and killings really happened, and tend to equate stories of human-rights abuses with the ever-more-distant dream of Khalistan. They’re in America now, and many prefer to concentrate on being American. “To dwell on the past doesn’t do anybody any good,” said Bob Dhillon, a lay leader of the San Jose gurdwara and a powerful figure among Bay Area Sikhs.
Case in point: The Sikh community was sharply divided when Dhillon declined to let Jaskaran Kaur address the crowd last summer at the grand opening of the new $10 million San Jose gurdwara, the nation’s biggest. Kaur wanted to inform the seven thousand attendees about Ensaaf’s efforts to record the stories of Sikh torture victims. But Dhillon would have none of it. “There’s a time and place for every issue,” he said. “That was not a day that we wanted to show how bad the Sikhs are doing.”
The growing desire among some Sikhs to put the past behind them is not easy for Singh to fathom. “I know what happened to us,” he said. “It’s not a solution to forget.”
US Rep. James Sensenbrenner may not have had people like Singh in mind when he crafted the Real ID Act, but the new law could ensnare them nonetheless. Citing the need to tighten immigration rules to stop terrorists from entering the country, the Wisconsin Republican introduced his bill last year, but it got nowhere. But when Republicans gained a clear majority in the Senate in the November elections, Sensenbrenner suddenly had another chance.
To overcome the possibility of a Democratic filibuster and ensure easy passage of his bill in both houses, Republicans helped Sensenbrenner pull off a brilliant parliamentary trick. They attached Real ID to an appropriations bill that earmarked $82 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the memory still fresh of the political fallout John Kerry suffered for opposing a previous funding bill, few Democrats voted no. As a result, there was almost no debate about Real ID, and only 58 House Democrats voted against it. Some Democratic senators, including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, decried the lack of debate, but in the end, the appropriations bill sailed through the Senate on a 100-0 vote. Bush signed it into law on May 11.
Much of the mainstream press has focused on the Real ID provision that requires states to verify that driver’s license applicants are in the country legally. State governors have complained that this will overwhelm their motor-vehicle officials, but those changes don’t take effect for three years. By contrast, Real ID’s little-noticed overhaul of asylum rules is immediate and could prove troublesome for victims of torture, especially those who have yet to be granted permanent residency.
To gain asylum, immigration law used to require torture survivors to show that they were persecuted for at least one of five reasons: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. In fact many, including Singh, often were not told why they were tortured. Over time, case law evolved so that if asylum seekers could not prove why they were persecuted, it was essentially assumed that it was because of their political opinion. The key case was a 1995 Ninth Circuit decision involving another tortured Sikh named Singh.
Real ID was designed to overturn that case, and it now requires asylum seekers to prove why they were tortured. The problem is that torture victims seldom possess physical evidence from their ordeals. Due to the often-hurried nature of their flight, survivors usually bring little more than their clothes and a few personal belongings with them to the United States. More importantly, there are rarely records of their arrests in the country they fled, let alone documents to prove they were tortured. “Short of having an affidavit from the man who tortured you, it’s a pretty difficult standard,” said Scott Mossman, an Oakland immigration-rights lawyer. While the new law allows judges to waive this corroborating-evidence requirement, it limits appeals if they choose not to.
Because of the lack of evidence, most asylum cases hinge on statements from the victim. Real ID allows judges to deny asylum based on a person’s demeanor, a provision that people who treat torture survivors believe is too subjective. “Unfortunately, we have a long history of judges and INS attorneys not being able to understand that certain behavior that they think proves a person is lying is actually symptomatic of post-traumatic stress disorder — for example, not being emotional when telling their stories, or not looking a judge in the eye,” said Gray, the psychotherapist who directs the Centers for Survivors of Torture.
For example, when Singh recounts the details of how he was tortured, it’s striking how emotionless he is. He rattles off the gruesome acts as if he’s totally detached from them. That’s not uncommon for torture victims, but under Real ID, it could lead a judge to erroneous conclusions.
Another aspect of the law that concerns immigrant-rights activists and lawyers is that it allows immigration judges to review any statement, written or oral, made by asylum seekers about their torture experience, and to deny asylum based on inconsistencies between them. That may sound reasonable, but many local immigration lawyers believe it’s not.
Oakland lawyer Fleming, who recently critiqued Real ID before the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, said the first person a torture victim meets in the United States is often an immigration officer at an airport. Trauma, shame, or simple nervousness may prompt victims to deny they’ve been tortured. Or they may mix up the details of their stories by accident, or details may get misinterpreted during translation, leading immigration judges to later assume the person had lied. “If you’re not accurate about one thing, you’re wrong about everything,” complained Jacobs of Survivors International. This provision overturns case law holding that minor inconsistencies are not enough reason to deny asylum, Fleming said.
Kathleen Lord-Black, a San Francisco immigration lawyer, said she observed some of the effects of Real ID during a May 17 immigration hearing involving a Yemeni torture victim. The immigration officer, she said, was preoccupied by insignificant discrepancies in her client’s sworn statement and appeared to gloss over the story of his torture and photos of his wounds. “The questions were designed to trip him up as opposed to getting at the heart of what had happened to him,” she said. “The whole focus was on his credibility. It was really, really difficult to see a torture victim essentially being tortured again.” The case is now tied up in immigration court.
But the most troubling aspect of Real ID for the hundreds of thousands of people who already have received asylum is its retroactivity. Real ID lets the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice reopen asylum cases and begin deportation proceedings. The mechanism permitting this is buried in a little-noticed section that expands the definition of terrorism and terrorist-related activities to include — among other things — speech. For example, an asylum seeker is deportable if he or she was a member of a “political, social, or other group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity” even if neither the person nor the group ever engaged in terrorism or poses a threat to America.
It’s a cliché, but one person’s terrorist truly is another person’s freedom fighter. Under a strict reading of Real ID, leaders of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, who helped US forces overthrow the Taliban and hunt for Osama bin Laden, could be deemed terrorists. So too could the nationalists who helped East Timor finally win independence from the brutal Indonesian regime. Indeed, it’s no giant leap to say that the Founding Fathers themselves could have been considered terrorists under the new law, said Bill Frelick, director of the refugee program at Amnesty International USA. “Real ID is inconsistent with American values dating back to the very first pilgrims who came here to avoid persecution,” he said. “The idea that we will turn around and shut the door on people who are fleeing for the same reason now is really disturbing.”
Immigration lawyers doubt that the government will start combing through old asylum cases looking for terrorists. More likely, when existing immigrants apply for green cards or citizenship, officials will review their cases with the new definitions in mind. Lawyers interviewed for this story believe the government will use the broad new definitions selectively to target Islamic terrorists. On the other hand, Cuban immigrants who have called for the overthrow of Castro are unlikely to be deported, even though their actions might also constitute terrorism under the new law. “I think what the government is basically saying is trust us,” Mossman said.
The uncertainty surrounding Real ID makes it impossible to know what the future holds for Ranjit Singh and the thousands of other torture victims now living in the Bay Area. If the government simply uses the new legislation to target bona fide terrorists who somehow managed to slip through the cracks of asylum law, then immigrants such as Singh may have little to worry about.
But if the government decides to broadly interpret the new law, it could be another matter. After all, some members of the Akali Dal Mann were labeled terrorists by the Indian government during the Decade of Disappearance. Indeed, some members of the insurgency did flow in and out of the party; Chima compared their relationship to that of the Irish Republican Army and the political party Sinn Fein. But Singh said many of these charges also were false. “They did that to a lot of people — if they wanted to torture you, they claimed you were part of the insurgency,” Singh said.
Thirteen months ago, observers wondered whether India might finally confront its bloody past when a Sikh economist, Manmohan Singh, became the nation’s prime minister. But Ranjit Singh sees the new leader as nothing more than a Congress Party puppet. He notes that the new prime minister has kept under wraps an extensive new report on the 1984 massacre that was conducted earlier this year by a former Indian chief justice. Some in the Indian press speculate that the report blames his Congress Party for its role in the killings. It’s unclear when or even if the prime minister will release it.
In the meantime, Ranjit Singh will have to be content driving Americans around the Bay Area as he wonders whether the government will ever reopen his case. Like many older immigrants, the Singhs have assimilated in the United States, but only partially so. They obviously still long for their homeland. On the front door of their 1970s-era Union City townhome, a worn sticker reads “Sikhs struggle for Khalistan.” And in their living room, a Khalistani flag rests in the corner, not far from the large framed photo of the Golden Temple that hangs above the sofa. “This is my second life now,” Singh explained as he sat facing his giant Sony plasma TV. “But I feel I will not live long, because I feel pain in my legs always, and my memory also got weak after the torturing.”
The next battleground for Real ID probably will be in the courts. Immigration lawyers say they plan to fight the new law on the grounds that it violates immigrants’ due-process rights by illegally giving the government a second chance to deport someone it already failed to deport once. “Our argument would be that the original decision should remain final,” said Stacy Tolchin, a San Francisco lawyer who works on terrorism and asylum cases.
Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security, said the government is still evaluating how it will implement the new law. She would not say specifically how the agency will address its retroactive aspects. In a short statement e-mailed to the Express, she said only that “some who have been granted asylum or other benefits previously may be subject to termination of that status.”