Damages for Putting Up With Pervy INS Officer

     (CN) – Two Chinese women deserve $1.2 million in damages after an asylum officer was convicted of demanding sexual favors from them in exchange for granting their applications, a federal judge ruled.
     Thomas Powell, who worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1995 to 2000, was found guilty in 2004 of two counts of federal corruption for offering to recommend Xue Lu and Jie Hao for asylum in return for sex and cash.
     Powell first met Lu in 2000, three years after she arrived in the United States, fleeing abuse from Chinese police officers who accused her of violating China’s family-planning policy. Powell arranged to meet with Lu at her home, where he fondled her and attempted to remove her clothing, saying, “if you want a green card, I can approve that for you. I can approve you or reject you.” She rejected his advances, and received notice shortly after their meeting that her asylum application had been denied.
     Lu eventually returned to China in 2009. By then, she had endured two divorces because Powell’s conduct allegedly made it difficult for her to maintain relationships.
     Jie Hao sought asylum for religious persecution. She also met with Powell, but arranged through her immigration attorney Douglas Ingraham to have the meeting videotaped. Ingraham was also Lu’s immigration attorney. Ingraham had warned Hao about Powell and reported him to the U.S. Justice Department. At the meeting, Powell slapped Hao on the buttocks and said he could grant her asylum for $2,000. At a second recorded meeting, Hao gave Powell the money. The sting operation led to Powell’s arrest and conviction.
     Vincent James DeSimone, Lu and Hao’s attorney in the civil case against Powell and the government, said in an interview that the award was vindicating, but the outcome of the case was bittersweet. “Lu testified against Powell yet she was still denied asylum even though she was fearful to return to China because of the publicity of this case,” DeSimone said. “Lu was never given a second chance with a second asylum officer. It’s outrageous that the United States would allow this to happen.”
     He noted that her application was rejected on the basis of Powell’s creditability determination of Lu’s persecution story, made after she rejected his advances.
     “I would imagine there are many other victims out there who were perhaps coerced into providing money or sexual favors and were fearful of coming forward,” DeSimone said. “It’s clear that this is someone who is a repeat offender who had done this before.”
     Lu and Hao were fortunate to have Ingraham as an immigration attorney, DeSimone added.
     DeSimone’s firm, Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris, Hoffman and Harrison in Venice, Calif., first interviewed Lu in 2000, then went on to represent Hao and worked with Ingraham on the sting operation.
     The civil case against the government dragged on for 13 years until U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall found the United States liable for Powell’s interference with Lu and Hao’s rights to asylum and due process. Lu and Hao were awarded damages of $500,000 and $700,000, respectively.
     “Whether or not we will be able to collect on this judgment soon will depend on whether the United States will appeal, which they have previously vowed to do,” DeSimone said.
     He added: “It was a substantial verdict. I thought it was a fair verdict. But they have been through this ordeal for 14 years and still have not received closure. We feel vindicated and gratified by the verdict. It’s a fair award, but modest under the circumstances.”
     DeSimone said Hao now lives in the United States, where she was able to reunite with family.

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