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Homeland Security backs deportation with Wikipedia

Immigration Judge approves

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The Department of Homeland Security has attempted to justify the deportation of an asylum seeker using an entry to Wikipedia.

This convinced a US Immigration Judge. But thankfully, there are clearer thinkers in other parts of the American government. Last week, a federal court of appeals finally ruled that using Wikipedia to decide the fate of asylum seekers is a bad idea.

After entering the country illegally using a fake passport, Lamilem Badasa sought asylum on the strength of an Ethiopian travel document known as a "laissez-passer." But the DHS told the presiding Immigration Judge that this document stopped short of establishing Badasa's identity, and as proof, it pulled out Wikipedia's description of a laissez-passer.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia edited by anonymous members of a worldwide cult. But after perusing the site's "laissez-passer" entry, the Immigration Judge sided with the DHS, denying Badasa's application for asylum.

When Badasa appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the BIA upheld the judge's decision. But it did take issue with the Wikipedia evidence. The BIA said that it did "not condone or encourage the use of resources such as Wikipedia.com in reaching pivotal decisions in immigration proceedings" and that the Immigration Judge's decision "may have appeared more solid had Wikipedia.com not been referenced."

Well, that wasn't enough for Badasa, and the asylum seeker kicked things up to federal court. With last week's three page ruling (PDF), the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit didn't just criticize the use of Wikipedia. It said things can't be decided without more-reliable evidence that Badasa's laissez-passer is inadequate, remanding the case back to that Immigration Judge for further consideration.

And so, the Eighth Circuit is less laughable than the Seventh. Earlier this summer, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided a long-running court case by citing Wikipedia's entry on "wear and tear." ®

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