Friday, December 23, 2016

The detention of Singaporean Amos Yee at Chicago Airport

Update 12/28/2016. I have been getting readers who write asking for advice on asylum and national service. If you want advice please write to my Email or call me at (510) 491 8525 California time. Also note, I do not provide free legal advice. Please do not send anonymous comments. They will not be published.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am Gopalan Nair, a Singaporean, now US Citizen and practicing attorney in Fremont (San Francisco) specializing in Immigration law. I can be contacted at my telephone number (510) 491 8525. I have more than 20 years of expertise in my specialty. I am also a dissident against the Singaporean regime which has repeatedly harassed and persecuted me for my political beliefs when I was living in that island. I was also jailed in 2008 when I returned for a short visit for writing a blog criticizing a Singapore judge Belinda Ang Saw Ean for shamelessly abusing the law to punish one of the regime's foremost political opponents Chee Soon Juan. As a result of my imprisonment in the island, and for continuing my criticism, my lawyer license in Singapore was rescinded, and I was disbarred in that island from practicing law there. This did not have any effect on my practicing law in California and United States as the State Bar of California decided that I was not guilty of any improper conduct as the action against me was clearly politically  motivated.

I am also a Barrister on the Rolls in England.

I came to the United States in December 1991 and applied for asylum. I was granted asylum in 1995, and became a United States citizen in 2004.

A short background on Amos Yee. He is a young man about 18 years old blogger and U Tube video producer who has been criticizing the former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew as a dictator. I agree with his observation. He has also criticized Islam. He produced a video caricature on U tube showing the late Prime Minister having sex with the former British Prime Minister of England Margaret Thatcher whom he considers equally objectionable. For this he was jailed and subsequently jailed for his on going criticism in that island.

What I am about to say is what transpired with Amos Yee contacting me seeking asylum advice in the United States. I do not consider my revelations here a breach of professional lawyer client confidentiality since he was never my client and the public are entitled to know these facts.

Several months ago Amos Yee contacted me by Email asking me how he could obtain asylum in the United States.

A point of correction in terminology. The several news reports about him refer to him asking for "political asylum" in the United States. This is incorrect. The correct terminology is "asylum". Not "political asylum". This is because under the United Nation Convention on refugees of which the US is a signatory, asylum can be obtained for persecution by a state by reason of "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion". Therefore it is not just on political grounds that a person would be granted asylum.

I advised Amos Yee that he should somehow try to get to a third country such as Malaysia and apply at the US Embassy there. The problem of course is the ability to leave the island since I was told his passport was impounded by the authorities. I suggested that somehow he should try to smuggle himself out of the island if he could but there was no more discussion on that.

He then asked the procedure for applying asylum in the US. I was not confident he could get a passport since the last he contacted me, his passport remained impounded by the Singapore authorities. I told him that if he could somehow arrive at a port of entry in the United States, he should state that he wants to visit the United States (not ask for asylum at the airport). This is because if an arriving alien arrives at a port of entry in the US and is in possession of a valid travel document, has a return ticket and sufficient funds, he will be allowed entry into the US as a visitor for up to 6 months.

After entry the visitor has 1 year within which to apply for asylum in the US. This is a far better method  of applying for asylum since the arriving passenger is released into the United States and he can take his time to file a proper asylum application  from the comfort of his home.

Also someone who enters on a visitor visa has 2 bites at the apple. He applies firstly to the Asylum Office a branch of the Immigration Service. If his claim is not granted, then it goes to the Immigration Judge, whereas a person is detained and released at the airport, goes straight to the Immigration Judge.

On the other hand there are those who arrive with false documents and would therefore not be allowed entry into the US and would be turned around on the first flight out. In such cases the passenger if he wants to live in the United States would have no choice but to articulate an asylum claim at the airport.

The moment the arriving passenger articulates a fear of returning to his country, the US border agency immediately and automatically goes through a procedure known as "expedited removal proceedings". Under this process the passenger at the airport is taken into secondary inspection and held in custody ordinarily up to 48 hours in a detention facility. During this time an "Asylum Officer" from the Department of Homeland Security visits and interviews the passenger in what is called  a "Credible Fear Interview". Although it is intended to see if the fear of return is real, the threshold of review is very low, meaning as along as one has given a reasonable reason for fear of return, the man is usually released either under bond (bail) or with electronic surveillance such as an ankle bracelet or some other means. In other cases he is released on his own recognizance and given a date to appear in Immigration Court. In the meantime he applies for Asylum.

Amos Yee was wrongly advised to claim asylum at the airport. Since he appears to have a valid Singapore passport ( I am assuming) , he should have simply not mentioned anything about asylum at the airport in which case he would have been allowed to enter the country and not be detained. He could subsequently within 1 year comfortably file his asylum.

However if he had arrived with a false passport, then what he did was right as he would have had no choice, since he would have been returned immediately to Singapore on the next flight, had he not raised an asylum claim.

Amos Yee had asked me to represent him "pro bono" or free of charge. In my opinion, he did not appear to be lacking in funds since he himself had stated in social media that he was making a lot of money through his videos. Secondly he has his parents who live with him and are fully able to pay for his expenses. I quoted him my normal asylum fee of US$3500.00 but he refused. After that I did not have further communication with him.

Recently a US based Singaporean activist Melissa Chen contacted me. She said she was trying to help Amos Yee and had arranged some lawyers to help him free of charge. She was contacting me probably from Chicago. She asked me if I could arrange accommodation for him free of charge. I told her that I cannot and even if I could I will not. After all he is well able to pay for his accommodation under his circumstances and shouldn't be asking things free.

I have done many cases free for financially deserving clients. In my opinion he is not one of them.

Lastly all reports refer to him as being "arrested". This is incorrect. Amos Yee was not "arrested". The US Border agency had merely been following routine procedures at the airport when they detained him after he had articulated a desire for asylum. This is a normal procedure for anyone articulating an asylum claim to Immigration authorities at an airport. As I said, if I was representing him, I would have advised him not to claim asylum at the airport but to claim it subsequently after he has entered the US as a visitor. In that event he would not have been detained.

Also the news reports state that he arrived on a visitor's visa. This is incorrect. If he was using a Singapore passport, Singapore  island is a Visa Waiver Country. No visa is required for 90 day visit. That is provided he arrived on his own passport and not a forgery.

Finally I had advised him that where I am, at San Francisco, is the best location in all of the US for asylum claims. The success rate is much higher than any other part of the US given its reputation as a "sanctuary city". I had told him that. Obviously he has not taken heed of that in applying in Chicago.

But even in Chicago, I think he will succeed in his asylum claim. The Singapore government has clearly been persecuting him.

Finally a note of personal observation. I found him to be an unduly arrogant young man. He appears to think too highly of himself, a case of misplaced importance. This sort of arrogance will not do him any good in any country, let alone the United States. With an attitude such as this he would find it hard to make any progress in the US, especially someone like him whom no one knows here. I know he has never worked for a living and has been all along supported by and living with his parents. It will come as a rude shock to him in the US with this sort of attitude. Anyone who ever made it in the US had always started with humble beginnings. I think this is going to be hard for him.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Fremont (San Francisco) USA
Tel: 510 491 8525


jacques said...

I can understand why Amos Yee feels the way he does against extremists of the Muslim and Christian faiths, or against fanatics amongst religious people in general. However, he needs to distinguish between extremists and religious moderates and liberals. He is unduly hurting the feelings of moderates and liberals and unfairly reviling them.

True, he is a brilliant prodigy in some ways, but like you say, he needs to get over his arrogant, "primma donna" attitude.

jacques said...

I can see why Amos Yee feels the way he does regarding arrogant religious extremists. However, he needs to distinguish between the fanatics, and moderate or liberal people. He is unduly hurting the feelings of moderate and liberal Muslims and Christians.

Also, as you have said, he needs to tone dowwn his own arrogant attitude. True, he is a brilliant prodigy in some ways, but he's not helping himself by acting like a primma donna.

TY Tang said...

Although I'm a Christian and I don't agree with part of Amos's opinions, I on the other hand support his right to express his opinions freely as long as he does not cause physical harm to others... I mean, that is his right and he has not inflicted physical harm on anybody so far! From my observation of the events that happened in the past 3 decades, I can understand why many people don't like the pappies to the extent that they just feel helpless that they cannot change anything for the better... It's quite sad for the whole country and progress looks like a zero game...

LBC said...

Thank you for giving us an insight into the asylum application process.

Agree with you too on Amos Yee's character.
Hope he learn to see the wisdom in humility.
Overestimating oneself is as bad as having a low self-esteem.


Singaporean said...

Amos Yee is a school drop-out with no certificate whatsoever. Yet he thinks he's somebody great and deserves asylum.

He calls his own mother a "bitch", falsely accused his bailor of molesting him when his bailor did nothing but good to him. He also strongly pushes for legalization of baby sex and child pornography.

He had nothing to say about Lee Kuan Yew when he was alive but jumped at the opportunity to insult him only after his death. That makes him not only a coward but also a desperate attention-seeker exploiting on someone's death to advance himself just so he can be a social media star.

Yes, essentially that's what Amos Yee has amounted to - a social media menace. But even then, several social media platforms such as twitter, facebook and youtube ban him every now and then for his hate speech, controversial or inflammatory posts.

That's a lot more to him ...... I feel sorry for his parents.