Amos Yee faces more time in detention as US government appeals asylum decision

Amos Yee arrives at the State Courts in Singapore on Sept 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The US government is appealing a Chicago immigration judge's decision to grant asylum to 18-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee, currently in detention in a facility in northern Wisconsin.

Mr Yee who arrived in the United States last December and applied for political asylum alleging persecution in Singapore, was placed in detention but had his request granted by a court in March. However, he remained in detention pending the appeal.

There will be no full hearing of the appeal; instead it will be a review of written documents.

"We'll be submitting to the Board of Immigration Appeals a written memorandum outlining our arguments why this is a valid asylum case" his attorney Chris Keeler, from the firm Grossman Law, told The Straits Times.

"The government would say why it is not, and the Board will make their decision based on the written memorandums which are due by May 11."

Mr Keeler said it was difficult to predict how long the process would take after the Board received the written arguments. "My estimate would be a month, or month and a half, but it could be a lot shorter or longer, it depends on what's going on in the Board," he told The Straits Times by phone.

The decision of the Board could still be appealed by either party in a federal court, Mr Keeler said.

Further, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the authority to hold an asylum seeker until their immigration decision is final, and as long as an appeal is pending it is not final.

Mr Yee thus faces potentially months more in detention. Grossman Law has made several appeals to get him released, to no avail.

The appeal was not unusual, the attorney said. But he added "we were a little surprised" because "we think it's a fairly straightforward case that Mr Yee was persecuted in Singapore, that the immigration judge laid out very well" in March.

Mr Yee understood the procedure and was fairly confident in his position, Mr Keeler said.

But his case could be caught up in larger changes in the attitude towards immigration in the US.

"He's been detained in the US as an asylum seeker longer than he was detained in Singapore, and I think that says a lot about the US immigration system at the moment" Mr Keeler said.

"Previously, the ICE had a written policy that once an immigration judge grants asylum, the asylum seeker would be released from detention even if there was a government appeal. But Amos has not been released."

"There hasn't been a written change but it's something we have seen in Amos' case and some others as well.So in that way, I suppose things are tightening up."

In general, the US continues to detain people who are fleeing persecution in their countries. This is a good example of how our immigration system is failing those people we need to protect."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.