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Court rules individuals with mental health can be a social group

While Congress continues to debate the benefits of the immigration program and some people talk about whether we should allow anyone into the country, there is one undeniably positive part of the American immigration system: asylum. Granting individuals asylum provides protection from persecution and torture; it gives them a safe place to live their lives. There are many people in Lancaster who have come to the United States as asylum seekers and refugees, but first they had to go through the rigorous process of applying for asylum.

Although asylum is a great program that helps many people escape persecution, there are very strict criteria that every asylum seeker has to meet before he or she will be given help. Not only does an individual have to have a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, political opinion, nationality or membership in a social group, but there must be evidence to prove it. And, if a person cannot meet those criteria, he or she will be sent back to his or her country of origin.

For a Tanzanian man living in Virginia, that would have meant going back to the country where he was detained and beaten because of his bipolar disorder and erratic behavior. His mental health issues were first triggered after he learned his mother had been killed in a car accident. Though he tried to get help, the hospital at which he sought treatment abused him, bound him to a bed for hours at a time and nurses beat him while telling him that he was possessed by a demon.

Despite initially being rejected by an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals, the man finally won his asylum case, granting him the right to remain in the United States.

Source: Courthouse News, “Mentally Ill African Granted U.S. Asylum,” Dan McCue, Jan. 21, 2014

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