Written by attorney Nicklaus James Misiti

Coptic Christians and Immigration: Asylum Claims in the US

Coptic Christians in Egypt have a long history of being persecuted, however, with the advent of the Arab Spring they are getting renewed attention, as the danger to them is obviously increasing. A number of experts attribute this increase in violence against Copts to hard-line Salafi groups seeking to apply Islamic Sharia Law. Publicly the Muslim brotherhood has stressed the rights of Coptic Christians, however, many are wary believing the brotherhood is practicing tagiyya in order to dupe their infidel enemies while they make political gains.

Perhaps the truth about the treatment of Copts can be ascertained from following the headlines – which tell a disturbing and escalating story:

  • In January 2010 a gunman attacked the Nag Hammadi Church in Upper Egypt killing 7 as the worshippers were leaving a Christmas midnight mass;
  • In January 2011 a bomb exploded at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria, killing 23 people and wounding about 100 more;
  • On February 23rd, 2011 the Egyptian military fired live ammunition and rocket propelled grenades, against unarmed Copts during a land dispute;
  • On March 4th, 2011 a large group of Muslim villagers destroyed the church of Saint Mina and St. George;
  • On March 8th, 2011 13 were killed in the Mukkatum area of Cairo where Copts had been protesting the lack of response to the destruction of the churches on the 4th;
  • On May 8th 23 were dead and 232 injured when 2 churches were attached and one was burnt to the ground;
  • On September 30th an estimated 3000 muslims looted and burned the St. George Coptic Church;
  • On October 9th 300 were injured and at least 25 killed at a demonstration by the Copts. These headlines elucidate a disturbing trend of escalating violence against Copts in Egypt.

Perhaps this is what is leading to so many Coptic Christians leaving their homeland in search of safety. It is estimated that over 93,000 left Egypt from the period of March, 2011 to September, 2011. The lion’s share of those fleeing have come to the US.

It is estimated that during that period, 16,000 Copts migrated to California, while 10,000 went to New Jersey, 8000 to New York, and 8000 to other American states. Many have family here and are able to gain a legal status through them. However, a second path for Coptic’s to gain a legal status in the United States is to apply for Asylum. For an asylum application to be successful, there are three threshold requirements:

(1) the applicant must establish that s/he fears persecution;

(2) the applicant must prove that the government is involved in, or unable to control, the people responsible for the persecution; and

(3) the persecution must be based on a protected ground, in the case of Copts, this ground is religion.

US asylum adjudicators also look at past persecution. Thus, if an applicant can show that they were previously persecuted, it significantly increases the approval rate. Another aspect looked at is a “pattern and practice" of persecution. This is well documented against Copts in Egypt. The asylum process in the US is fairly straightforward. An attorney prepares and submits the asylum application. The applicant is fingerprinted and scheduled for an interview. A few weeks after the interview, a decision is given. If the interviewer doesn’t approve the application the applicant gets a second chance and can make their case before an immigration judge.

With the current climate in Egypt many Copt’s asylum applications are being granted. The US government is well aware of the danger they are in and both Hillary Clinton and President Obama have made statements against their persecution. Now is possibly the best time in years for Coptic Christians from Egypt to come forward and apply for asylum.

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