Minnesota, a safe haven


A native of Burundi who protested his country's human rights record and fled to the United States won political asylum in Minnesota last year.   Mr. S. doesn't want to be identified to protect family and friends who remain in Burundi.   MPR photo/Dan Olson

I first met Mark Lee nearly 20 years ago when he represented a man from China seeking political asylum in the United States.

Mark is an attorney for the Maslon law firm in downtown Minneapolis where he practices civil business litigation. In addition to that caseload, every year for the last 20, he’s volunteered for Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights.

He represents people free of charge who are seeking political asylum in this country. You can hear more about his work this afternoon as part of All Things Considered in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices.

You’ll also hear some comments from Mr. S., his most recent client, who fled Burundi in fear of his life because he criticized the Burundi government’s poor human rights record.

In a nutshell, people who seek political asylum in this country must show they face persecution or even death in their homeland because of religious, political or ethnic differences with leaders there.

Of the more than 29,000 people who won political asylum in this country last year a large number were from China, and a number of them feared retribution or forced abortion for their opposition to China’s one child policy.

Winning asylum isn’t easy.

There’s a long form to fill out with many supporting documents. Nationally, last year, about half the requests were rejected. In Minnesota over the past five years, nearly three fourths of the requests have been rejected with 244 people here winning political asylum.