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ICC Note: This woman would face persecution not only because she is Chinese but because she is a Christian.

8-year quest for asylum in U.S. nears resolution

Mercury News

12/8/06 Indonesia (Mercury News) Home for Lolong is Indonesia . But as a Chinese Catholic woman, Lolong is certain she will face violence, even death, if forced to return to the world’s largest Muslim nation, where reprisals against Chinese Christians have long been part of the country’s fabric. She has spent the past eight years in legal limbo wondering whether she will be forced back.

“Everything is a roller coaster,” said the 36-year-old Lolong, who lives in San Jose .

Lolong’s quest for political asylum in the United States has thrust her into the middle of an immigration battle with national implications.

Two years ago, a federal appeals court used Lolong’s case to create a new category for asylum seekers in a ruling that found that, as a Chinese Christian woman, she would be “particularly at risk” of persecution if she returned to Indonesia. The ruling established the concept of asylum for a member of a “disfavored group,” and applied to the thousands of immigration cases heard each year throughout the West.

The Justice Department immediately asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the case with a special 15-judge panel, warning that the Lolong ruling would be “opening the floodgates to thousands — if not millions — of otherwise ineligible aliens.”

Lolong, the oldest of three children, came to the United States in 1994 to attend a women’s college in Massachusetts . She planned to return to Indonesia after getting an education.

Then everything changed in 1998.

In the midst of political upheaval that toppled the Indonesian government, Lolong’s native land experienced the worst anti-Chinese rioting in the country’s history. More than a thousand ethnic Chinese were killed. Homes, churches and businesses were looted and burned. Chinese women were systematically raped, including a friend of Lolong’s.

Lolong, who heard of the conflict in telephone calls back home and on television, decided to seek asylum after consulting with San Francisco immigration lawyer Robert Jobe. “From my point of view, if you know you are going to a dangerous place, why would you go there?” Lolong said.

Meanwhile, an immigration judge initially ruled in Lolong’s favor, concluding that she had a well-founded fear of persecution and should be granted asylum. But the Board of Immigration Appeals, the top branch of the immigration courts, overruled that decision, prompting her appeal to the 9th Circuit.

A Mercury News series last year found that the 9th Circuit has reversed the BIA in roughly two-thirds of the most important immigration cases since 2001 on the grounds of flawed reasoning in board decisions. The Lolong case was no exception — a three-judge 9th Circuit panel sided with Lolong in 2004, citing Indonesia ‘s history of violence against Chinese, particularly women.

Now the question is whether that decision will stand.

Tens of thousands of immigrants seek asylum in the United States each year, and typically must show they would face persecution in their homelands based on race, religion, nationality or political opinion. The 2004 ruling in Lolong’s case, by finding she was a member of a “disfavored group,” effectively lowered the threshold.

In the past, courts required a showing of a “pattern and practice” of government-sanctioned persecution in other countries to gain asylum. The Lolong ruling said being in a “disfavored group,” such as ethnic Chinese in Indonesia , was sufficient, even if the government officially promotes ethnic tolerance.

Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Cohn, who argued the government’s position before the 9th Circuit, did not return a phone call seeking comment. But the government has argued that Lolong does not have a legitimate fear of persecution and has not shown that she personally would be at risk in Indonesia .

But that is little solace to Lolong, who says history is full of cycles of violence against Chinese Christians, who make up about 4 percent of Indonesia ‘s 200 million citizens.

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