If not justice, Edmond Demiraj expected at least protection. Ten years ago, the U.S. government asked Demiraj to testify against Bill Bedini, an Albanian mobster living in Texas who was charged, among other things, with human trafficking. In return for providing testimony, Demiraj, who was in the country without documentation, was promised safety for himself and his family.
However, the accused Bedini jumped bail and fled to Albania. No longer needed as a witness, Demiraj was deported to his native Albania. Soon after, and perhaps not surprisingly, Bedini kidnapped, beat and shot him, as payback for his cooperation with the U.S. government. Miraculously, Demiraj survived.
As if this were not enough, Bedini also kidnapped three of Demiraj's nieces, ages 17, 19 and 21, and forced them into prostitution in Italy and Greece. "This is payback to your Uncle Edmond for when I was in the United States," he told the women.
Demiraj and his nieces were fortunate -- they managed to escape and now live legally in the United States, along with Demiraj's two young U.S.-born children. His wife, Rudina, and teenage son, Rediol, who have lived in the U.S. since 2000, are not so lucky. The Department of Justice has denied their claim for asylum and is trying to deport them, planning to send them back to Albania, where their lives will surely be in danger at the hands of Bill Bedini.
The government does not dispute that Ms. Demiraj and her son have reasons to fear this mobster. But it argues that Bedini's persecution of this family is, despite all appearances, not "on account of" their family membership but rather due simply to Bedini's anger at Edmond Demiraj and therefore not the kind of violence that makes one a "refugee" eligible for asylum under federal law. If this distinction seems unclear, it's because it is. We have seen repeatedly throughout history that anger at one individual has ignited persecution of an entire group. The family has filed for relief from the Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether to hear the case. In the meantime the Department of Justice has denied security to keep the family safe from Bedini's relatives, many of whom live in striking distance of the Demirajs' home in Texas.
We do not understand why the government has committed its resources to fighting this family, rather than helping it. As for its legal argument, we have difficulty imagining a form of persecution more closely or inextricably tied to family membership than that suffered by the Demirajs.
The Women's Refugee Commission believes the family is the most fundamental social grouping in our society. Our immigration laws were originally established to protect family unity, but here the Fifth Circuit threatens to gut a core tenet of our asylum system: the protection of persons seeking asylum on account of social group, and in particular those whose claims are based on family membership. That is why we joined the dozens of advocacy organizations, law professors, former national security and law enforcement officials (including members of the Reagan and elder George Bush administrations) who filed amicus briefs to call on the Supreme Court to hear the Demirajs' case and decide it in their favor. (Read the amicus brief we signed here.)
If we are not prepared to protect this family from persecution by granting asylum and are willing to separate this mother from her husband and her two young children and put her and her son at risk of death or severe repercussions, under what circumstance would we be willing to step up?