In the past month or so, there have been several issues dealing with asylum, which have surfaced in the national stage. The story on which I would like to comment today is the story of the gay Saudi Arabian diplomat Ali Ahmad Asseri, who was denied asylum for allegedly participating in “torture” in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Asseri was a prosecutor before being assigned to a post here in the United States. I find this case fascinating because it has several factors at play. First, there is of course the cultural dimension. Second, there is the geopolitical dimension, which is always present in cases like these. Lastly, there are the apparent inherent problems with our asylum system that desperately need to be fixed.
As to the first point, there is no doubt that the Muslim, Arabic culture has failed to deal with issues of homosexuality in a manner that comports with international norms. The Quran, like every other monotheistic scripture, condemns homosexuality and has vivid stories regarding the punishment God exerted on those who slept with individuals from the same sex. Again, I would like to stress that similar messages are included in the Bible and other religious scripture. While not endorsing either points of view, one banning homosexuality and one calling for outright acceptance, I do believe that some humanism is needed in this case, since if Mr. Asseri’s claims were true, and I honestly do not know if they are, he does face a credible threat to his life if he were forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
The second facet of this case is the geopolitical dimension. The United States would feel embarrassed if it granted asylum to a former diplomat from a friendly and influential Arabic country. This embarrassment would be especially exasperated by Mr. Asseri’s claims. Mr. Asseri’s supporters claim that Saudi Arabia is exerting influence on the Obama Administration to deny Mr. Asseri’s asylum. I initially dismissed some of these claims , maybe because of my inherent belief in our system of justice. However, over the weekend, I discussed some of Mr. Asseri’s claims with a friend of mine who is well connected in the Saudi government, who assured me that a case like Mr. Asseri’s would undoubtedly lead to political pressure from Saudi Arabia. However, I do think that no matter how much influence is exerted, I do believe that our immigration system would be able to deal with this type of cases and if Mr. Asseri’s claims are in fact true, he will undoubtedly receive the relief he seeks.
Lastly, although our asylum system is one of the best in the world, I do believe that such system needs to be revamped. As one of the practitioners of immigration and asylum law, I see the rampant issues with the system. I do believe that the system, as Judge Grussendorf put it, deals with death cases in traffic courts. The system does need to be revamped so the phrase ” Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free [unless they are gay former diplomats from Saudi Arabia]” would not become reality. I will discuss some of the proposed changes in upcoming posts.