Election Day Reflections on Political Asylum

By Shoshana Smolen, Post Bar Legal Fellow

As Election Day draws near, I look forward to voting for candidates of my choosing without fear of being hurt or harassed. That security is not something to be taken lightly.

From the ever-present smile on the face of my client, “Ammar”, I might never guess that he fled from his homeland fearful of being hunted down by the local authorities for his political beliefs.

Yet Ammar had come to seek legal assistance getting political asylum in the U.S.

“Political asylum” often makes us think someone has gone to unimaginable lengths to act out on their beliefs. But Ammar is simply someone who took an active role in a political party he believed in—something many of us in the U.S. have done, and probably take for granted.

As a college student, Ammar became politically conscious and began advocating for his beliefs. He got engaged in the political process, supported candidates, and attended demonstrations, all in an effort to fight corruption. In Ammar’s home country, Syria, these activities are the very things that lead to arrests, detention, torture, and even death.  They are only undertaken with extreme caution, and often in secret, for fear that the authorities will find out and harm the “dissident”.

As I listened to Ammar detail his passion for a free Syria, how he mobilized with others to combat governmental oppression, and how he participated in campaigns to encourage others to speak out, I can’t help but see myself in his stories. As a politically conscious person, I advocate for causes I believe in, attend demonstrations, register voters, and exercise my own right to vote. I do each of these things freely, without fear of repercussions or being persecuted for my beliefs.

But Ammar suffered greatly for his actions. He was put under constant surveillance, harassed, accosted at checkpoints, and received death threats from the Syrian government and their followers, all for vocalizing his uncompromising political beliefs. 

The fact that others live in fear for exercising their basic freedoms only underscores how critical it is to the preservation of our own democracy to offer refuge to people who are persecuted for their political beliefs.

I marvel at Ammar’s courage, and the courage of others like him, who adhere so strongly to their convictions in the face of such grave danger. As I continue to represent clients seeking political asylum, I can only hope that HIAS is able to help them win their cases and to see them through an easy transition to living in the U.S. permanently. I hope that they will be able to build new lives, and never again fear to express their zeal for politics, uninhibited.



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