Morton Grove attorney Robert Dekelaita has spent more than 15 years helping people gain asylum in the United States. He said the situation involving Michael Bassaly, charged with murder in the shooting death of his mother, has left some area Egyptians worried.
Bassaly, 27, of Downers Grove, is under investigation by Homeland Security for filing false documents on behalf of asylum seekers. The investigation came to light during Bassaly’s bond court hearing Aug. 30, one day after he allegedly killed his mother in the parking lot of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge. He is being held without bond.
Word of the investigation left those who had sought Bassaly’s help in filing for asylum in the United States wondering whether their applications were legitimate, and what would happen next.
“It’s a very, very unfortunate situation,” said Dekelaita.
In the days since Bassaly’s arrest, Dekelaita said he has received calls from Bassaly’s former clients with concerns about their status. Dekelaita declined to say how many calls he had received. Rebecca Michaels, an attorney for the church who also helps people seeking asylum in her private practice, has said she has received hundreds of calls from people in a similar situation.
“We are diligently trying to help all of these people,” Dekelaita said.
Dekelaita said each case is unique. Some applicants are looking to start the asylum process over again, while others are left wondering whether the asylum obtained with Bassaly’s help will be revoked.
The number of Egyptians seeking asylum has increased in recent years, as violence in the country has increased. Nationwide statistics show 837 applications for asylum from Egypt were filed in fiscal year 2011. In fiscal 2012, that number jumped to 1,867.
Marilu Cabrera, public affairs officer with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration office in Chicago, said the statistics are for affirmative asylum applications only. An application for affirmative asylum is filed when a person fears returning to their native country, and no action has been taken to remove the person from the United States.
The process of filing for affirmative asylum begins with the filing of a form, which is followed by a background check and interview. The process is free, and while an applicant is not required to seek the help of an attorney, many do.
Dekalaita said recent violence in Egypt has made it easier for those seeking asylum from Egypt to prove a fear of persecution, which is required in order gain protection in the United States. With more than 100 Christian churches burned in recent months, he said an Egyptian needs to do little more than prove they are a practicing Christian to gain asylum.
National statistics show that more Egyptians are seeking, and obtaining, asylum. Of the 837 applications filed in 2011, 443, or 52.9 percent, were granted asylum. More than 66 percent of those filed in 2012 were successful in obtaining asylum.
Once asylum is granted, a foreign citizen can remain in the United States indefinitely, Cabrera said.
“They’re here. They’re protected,” she said.