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Libyans in East Lansing: Ex-Lansing judge offers assistance

Former Ingham Circuit Judge Michael Harrison. photo: Mark Bashore/WKAR
Former Ingham Circuit Judge Michael Harrison. photo: Mark Bashore/WKAR

By Mark Bashore, WKAR News


About two dozen Michigan State University students from Libya are scrambling to solve serious citizenship and financial problems. Many in this group are legally entitled to be in the country only until June 5 but few of them want to return to Libya. Many are seeking political asylum here and need important help to get it. Lansing attorney and former judge Michael Harrison and ex-Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly are assisting the students and their families. Harrison tells WKAR's Mark Bashore that since funding for their schooling was terminated, their visas will soon become invalid.


MICHAEL HARRISON: The students are very fearful of going back to very uncertain circumstances and so we're working on asylum status for those who qualify. The second issue is to try and raise funds so that we will permit the students to have support--financial support for their needs, which includes food, housing any other critical needs and then pay the tuition that would provide them the opportunity to remain here.

MARK BASHORE: Can you tell us a little more about the qualifications for applying for asylum?

HARRISON: Asylum is a very, very difficult standard and my understanding and I do not do that work directly--but it imposes a standard of, not just of fear, but an imminent threat of harm.

BASHORE: With regard to the political asylum, how are efforts going on that front?

HARRISON: Well so far 20 students have been interviewed for asylum and there are--those are a certain category of visa and then I would estimate another 25.

BASHORE: Tell us a little bit more about the process. What happens in these interviews and what do they lead to?

HARRISON: Well the interviews are very much in depth: understanding the circumstances which would provide a legitimate basis for an asylum application. The interviews can take anywhere up to three hours and then even require additional documentation after that. We have individuals who are actually citizens of this country-- they were born in this country, children who are two and three years old. I mean, to me, there is another justification for doing exactly what we're trying to do to help. But then the applications themselves are very complex and that can take another couple hours of work.

BASHORE: You've got a pretty important deadline approaching quickly. Will you be able to get done what you need to get done in that amount of time?

HARRISON: We're looking for ways to extend the deadline legally and provide the opportunity for the individuals to remain in the country and that's part of the effort we're making with the fundraising too because that, then, provides that opportunity.

BASHORE: Former Attorney General Frank Kelly is involved in this effort. Can you tell us specifically what he's trying to get done?

HARRISON: Well he has agreed to support the fundraising that we're trying to do and actually we're just ready to implement that at this point in time providing support for the students that they're going to need if they're going to remain here.

BASHORE: This is a voluntary effort on your part. Why are you doing this?

HARRISON: Because I think we're dealing with core rights that people have, values that we believe in very strongly and to the extent that we can protect those rights and them individually and avoid harm to them and I mean that in a sense that, we're talking serious harm, we're not just talking something nominal. It's interrogation, threats to their lives and potentially, their lives. They've watched family members and friends who've lost their lives just because of their political positions. To me, that's a core value we have as a society.

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