MICA ROSENBERG, READE LEVINSON, & RYAN McNEILL EXPOSE UNEQUAL JUSTICE & ABUSE OF VULNERABLE ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM “COURT” SYSTEM LACKING BASIC JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE! Sessions’s Chilling Response: Speed Things Up, Establish Deportation Quotas, Strip Asylum Seekers Of Rights To Due Process, Eliminate Professional Judicial Training, & Aimlessly Throw More Inexperienced, Untrained Judges Into This Mess! – Will He Get Away With His Atrocious Plan To Make Immigration Courts The “Killing Floor?” — AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE UNFOLDING IN U.S. IMMIGRATION COURT ON A DAILY BASIS!

https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-immigration-asylum/

Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:

“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts

Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.

Filed

OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.

They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.

Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.

Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.

That’s when their fates diverged.

Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.

The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.

Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.

The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.

Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.

Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.

In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.

Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.

Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.

The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.

The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.

About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.

“GROSS DISPARITIES”

Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court.  For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.

Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.

Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.

The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors.  The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.

“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”

Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco

The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.

“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”

EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.

Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.

Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.

The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.

The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.

Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)

In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”

Video: High-stakes game of chance in U.S. immigration courts

CRISIS AT THE BORDER

In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.

Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.

Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.

Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.

The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.

Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.

The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.

“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”

The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.

One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.

“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.

“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”

She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.

“NO POLICE HERE”

Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.

Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”

Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”

The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”

Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.

There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.

After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.

Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.

“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”

Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.

Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.

In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.

“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”

Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.

People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.

The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.

The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”

Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.

In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.

In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.

From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.

The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.

Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”

DAY IN COURT

Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.

In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.

Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.

In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.

After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.

Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.

Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness.  As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.

Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”

The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.

Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”

“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”

Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”

Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.

Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”

Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.

Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.

In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.

Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.

Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.

“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”

Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.

The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke

U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.

More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.

The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.

The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.

Reade Levinson

Heavy Odds

By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco

Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Ashlyn Still

Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya

Video: Zachary Goelman

Design: Jeff Magness

Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”

Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.

Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:

http://www.reuters.com/trump-effect/immigration

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Great reporting by Mica and her team!

Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”

It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.

PWS

10-17-17

 

NICKOLE MILLER IN THE WASHPOST: The Truth About Vulnerable Asylum Seekers Refutes Sessions’s False Narrative!

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.

Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Nickole speaks truth.  Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.

Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.

Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.

In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant.  This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow  at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.

I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials. 

PWS

10-16-17

PARTY OF INFAMY AND GROSS INDECENCY: GOP’S WHITE NATIONALIST WING SEEKS TO DESTROY U.S. ASYLUM LAW, SCREW THE MOST VULNERABLE – Want To Turn America Into A “Rogue Nation” That Trashes Human Rights! – THEY MUST BE EXPOSED AND STOPPED!

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/trumps-immigration-proposal-could-make-it-radically-harder-to-get-asylum/

Noah Lanard reports for Mother Jones:

“When people arrive at the border seeking asylum from persecution, the United States gives them the benefit of the doubt. As long as they can show there’s a “significant possibility” that they deserve protection, they’re allowed to stay and make their case to an immigration judge. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress want to change that.

On Sunday, the Trump administration demanded that Congress overhaul the US asylum system as part of any legislation to protect the nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation. The White House’s asylum proposal, laid out in nine bullet-pointed items as part of the broader immigration plan, appears to be modeled on the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, a bill that Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approved in July. The bill, which has not been passed by the full House, would make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to quickly reject asylum claims and force most asylum seekers to remain in detention while their cases are decided. The overall effect would be to transform a system for protecting persecuted people, created in the wake of World War II, into a much more adversarial process.  

At a hearing in July, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) warned that the GOP proposal would “all but destroy the US asylum system.” Now Trump is trying to fold those changes into a deal to protect the Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children—who were previously covered by Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Eleanor Acer, an expert on refugees at the advocacy group Human Rights First, saidin a statement Monday that Trump’s demands will “block those fleeing persecution and violence from even applying for asylum, and punish those who seek protection by preventing their release from immigration detention facilities and jails.”

But Republicans like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argue that asylum reform is needed to address “pervasive” fraud, such as false claims of persecution. Asylum claims from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have been a major focus for Republicans. Between 2013 and 2015, there were more asylum claims from the Northern Triangle, which has been terrorized by MS-13 and other gangs, than in the previous 15 years combined. A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the United States has “limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud.” But the scope of the problem is not known. Leah Chavla, a program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, says going after fraud is misguided in light of the many checks and balances that are already in place. 

The real “fraudsters” here are the GOP restrictionists, led by folks like Goodlatte, Miller, and Sessions, trying to fob off their knowingly false and contrived narrative on America. Shame!

Second, the current system intentionally denies lawyers to the respondents in detention in obscure locations along the Southern Border, specifically selected to make it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights. Raising the standards would virtually guarantee rejection of all such asylum seekers without any hearing at all. The standard for having asylum granted is supposed to be a generous “well-founded fear” (in other words, a 10% chance or a “reasonable chance”). In fact, however, DHS and EOIR often fail to honor the existing legal standards. Forcing unrepresented individuals in detention with no chance to gather evidence to establish that it is “more likely than not” that they would be granted asylum is a ridiculous travesty of justice.

Third, access to lawyers, not detention, is the most cost-effective way to secure appearance at Immigration Court hearings. Individuals who are able to obtain lawyers, in other words those who actually understand what is happening, have a relatively low rate of “failure to appear.” In fact, a long-term study by the American Immigration Council shows that 95% of minors represented by counsel appear for their hearings as opposed to approximately 67% for those who are unrepresented. See,e.g., https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/taking-attendance-new-data-finds-majority-children-appear-immigration-court

Rather than curtailment of rights or expensive and inhumane detention, the best way of insure that all asylum applicants appear for their scheduled hearings and receive full due process would be to insure that the hearings take place in areas with adequate supplies of pro bono and “low bono” counsel and that hearings are scheduled in a predictable manner that does not intentionally outstrip the capabilities of the pro bono bar.

Fourth, a rational response to fraud concerns would be building better fraud detection programs within DHS, rather than denying vulnerable individuals their statutory and constitutional rights. What would a better system look like:  more traditional law enforcement tools, like undercover operations, use of informants to infiltrate smuggling operations, and much better intelligence on the operations of human trafficking rings. And, there’s plenty of resources to do it. DHS just lacks the ability and/or the motivation. Many of the resources now wasted on “gonzo” interior enforcement and mindless detention — sacking up janitors and maids for deportation and detaining rape victims applying for asylum — could be “redeployed” to meaningful, although more challenging, law enforcement activities aimed at rationally addressing the fraud problem rather than using it as a bogus excuse to harm the vulnerable.

Fifth, Goodlatte’s whole premise of fraud among Southern Border asylum applications is highly illogical. Most of the Southern Border asylum claims involve some variant of so-called “particular social groups” or “PSGs,” But, the entire immigration adjudication system at all levels has traditionally been biased against just such claims. and, it is particularly biased against such claims from Central America. PSG claims from Central America receive “strict scrutiny’ at every level of the asylum system! No fraudster in his or her right mind would go to the trouble of “dummying up” a PSG claim which will likely be rejected. No, if you’re going to the trouble of committing fraud, you’d fabricate a “political or religious activist or supporter claim”  of the type that are much more routinely granted across the board.

Don’t let Trump, Miller, Sessions, Goodlatte, and their band of shameless GOP xenophobes get away with destroying our precious asylum system! Resist now! Resist forever! Stand up for Due Process, or eventually YOU won’t any at all! Some Dude once said “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” While arrogant folks like the restrictionists obviously don’t believe that, it’s still good advice.

PWS

10-10-17

 

FIRST SHE WAS SCREWED BY THE U.S. ASYLUM SYSTEM, THEN SHE WAS TORTURED AND RAPED IN EL SALVADOR! — This Is What Trump & GOP Politicos Encourage & Now Seek To Actively Promote With Their Proposals To Shaft Asylum Seekers Even More — It’s Against The Law — Is This YOUR America? — What If It Were YOU Or One Of YOUR Family Members?

https://www.buzzfeed.com/johnstanton/a-young-woman-was-tortured-and-raped-after-being-turned

John Stanton reports for BuzzFeed News:

CHAPARRAL, New Mexico — The freckled 22-year-old never wanted to come to the United States. Her mother had made a good life in their village in El Salvador, and though they were poor, they were happy.

“There were just a few houses in the town, really. It was very peaceful. Very quiet,” the young woman, who asked not to be identified for her protection, recalled, speaking through an interpreter.

But in 2014, the US-based gang Mara 18 came to town with demands for protection payments and dark threats against anyone who stood up to them. Within months, Mara 18 had taken control of the town, and the young woman found herself t

CHAPARRAL, New Mexico — The freckled 22-year-old never wanted to come to the United States. Her mother had made a good life in their village in El Salvador, and though they were poor, they were happy.

“There were just a few houses in the town, really. It was very peaceful. Very quiet,” the young woman, who asked not to be identified for her protection, recalled, speaking through an interpreter.

But in 2014, the US-based gang Mara 18 came to town with demands for protection payments and dark threats against anyone who stood up to them. Within months, Mara 18 had taken control of the town, and the young woman found herself the object of the gang leader’s unwanted attention.

“I promise you, I would have never come here. I miss [my family] a lot. But here I am. I couldn’t stay,” she said, rubbing away the tears running down her face.

So she fled north, seeking asylum in the US. But once she arrived, instead of a safe haven she found a skeptical immigration system that rejected her request and deported her back to El Salvador, in part because she couldn’t prove she faced persecution back home — something that would only change after she’d been tortured and raped.

Within months, she had been brutally beaten and raped by the gang leader, who declared her his property. The attack meant she could finally return to the US and prove her asylum case.

“We can’t give them legal protection until they’re raped.”
Almost 10 months after returning, she is free, but only after struggling against immigration laws that weren’t written with victims like her — a target of an international criminal gang — in mind, and that make it nearly impossible for someone who has been deported to ever gain asylum. It took three tries to gain asylum, three times paying smugglers to take her on the dangerous journey across the border; finally in August, a judge blocked her deportation under an international treaty typically used to give criminal snitches sanctuary for their cooperation. But even that didn’t end things: The Trump administration made her wait in jail nearly a month before agreeing to not appeal her case.

Nancy Oretskin, the Salvadoran woman’s attorney and the director of the Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute, says changes to asylum law are needed to eliminate a perverse incentive for persecuted people to wait until they are tortured or raped before coming to the United States. “We can’t give them legal protection until they’re raped,” Oretskin said. “And even then, we deport many of them after they’ve been raped, and they’re killed. How does that happen in a civilized society?”

Change is unlikely under the current administration. A few months after President Trump was sworn in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance to Department of Justice attorneys that emphasized the need to use prosecutions to “further reduce illegality” and that instructed them to pursue more criminal charges against undocumented immigrants.

he object of the gang leader’s unwanted attention.

“I promise you, I would have never come here. I miss [my family] a lot. But here I am. I couldn’t stay,” she said, rubbing away the tears running down her face.

So she fled north, seeking asylum in the US. But once she arrived, instead of a safe haven she found a skeptical immigration system that rejected her request and deported her back to El Salvador, in part because she couldn’t prove she faced persecution back home — something that would only change after she’d been tortured and raped.

Within months, she had been brutally beaten and raped by the gang leader, who declared her his property. The attack meant she could finally return to the US and prove her asylum case.

“We can’t give them legal protection until they’re raped.”
Almost 10 months after returning, she is free, but only after struggling against immigration laws that weren’t written with victims like her — a target of an international criminal gang — in mind, and that make it nearly impossible for someone who has been deported to ever gain asylum. It took three tries to gain asylum, three times paying smugglers to take her on the dangerous journey across the border; finally in August, a judge blocked her deportation under an international treaty typically used to give criminal snitches sanctuary for their cooperation. But even that didn’t end things: The Trump administration made her wait in jail nearly a month before agreeing to not appeal her case.

Nancy Oretskin, the Salvadoran woman’s attorney and the director of the Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute, says changes to asylum law are needed to eliminate a perverse incentive for persecuted people to wait until they are tortured or raped before coming to the United States. “We can’t give them legal protection until they’re raped,” Oretskin said. “And even then, we deport many of them after they’ve been raped, and they’re killed. How does that happen in a civilized society?”

Change is unlikely under the current administration. A few months after President Trump was sworn in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance to Department of Justice attorneys that emphasized the need to use prosecutions to “further reduce illegality” and that instructed them to pursue more criminal charges against undocumented immigrants.“

*************************************

Read the complete, compelling but disturbing, report at the above link.

This illustrates the ugly results of immigration policies pushed by Trump, Sessions, Miller, and tone deaf GOP Legislators like Rep. Bob Goodlatte.  They are part of the outrageous Trump Immigration ”Deform” Program drafted by Miller. And this unholy and inhumane group seeks to make things even worse for scared asylum applicants like this. They should be held morally accountable for their behavior, even if they can’t be held legally responsible for the gross abuses of human rights they promote. They seek to turn the U.S. legal system into a major human rights violator. And, it’s not that some of these practices didn’t originate during the Obama Administration. Trump and his White Nationalist cronies have just tripled down on pre-existing abuses.

In fact, many of the women being imprisoned in the American Gulag then turned away are either entitled to asylum or would be if the DOJ-controlled BIA had not intentionally distorted asylum law to deny them protection. In any event, almost all of them should be offered protection under the mandatory Convention Against Torture. TPS or some other form of prosecutorial discretion would also be potential solutions.

But, sending young women back to be tortured and raped, the Trump Administration’s “solution,” is not acceptable. 

PWS

101-10-17

 

 

 

AMERICA THE UGLY: THESE WOMEN SURVIVED DOMESTIC ABUSE, FLED TO THE US SEEKING REFUGE, WERE IMPRISONED IN THE “AMERICAN GULAG,” RAILROADED THROUGH SESSIONS’S KANGAROO COURTS WITHOUT DUE PROCESS, AND NOW FACE RETURN TO MORE ABUSE AND POSSIBLY DEATH – IS THIS THE AMERICA YOU WANT TO LIVE IN? IS THIS THE “LEGACY” YOU WANT TO LEAVE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS?

The well-respected Women’s Refugee Commission just issued Prison For Survivors, a stunning indictment of the Trump Administration’s plans for a New American Gulag and “Gonzo” Immigration Enforcement intended to punish asylum seekers for asserting their statutory and Constitutional rights to protection.

Full report:

https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/rights/resources/document/download/1528

Fact sheet:

Prison-for-Survivors-Oct2017-Fact-Sheet

“Prison for Survivors
By Katharina Obser, Senior Program Officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission
Earlier this year, a woman named Clara arrived at the United States border seeking protection from gender-based harm she faced in West Africa. She had endured an arduous journey trying to reach the U.S. border, where officials registered her claim for asylum. Rather than release her to pursue her case, however, officials sent Clara into the vast network of immigration detention facilities across the U.S. Since arriving in this country, she has been treated like a criminal, shackled and transferred multiple times between different detention facilities, awaiting a final decision on her request for protection that will determine her fate.
Alarmed at the increase in the detention of women seeking asylum, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) set out to tell the story of what was happening to women like Clara who came to the U.S. seeking protection under our asylum laws. When we began our research, in 2016, the Obama administration had been prioritizing the detention of border crossers — regardless of any humanitarian consideration. Asylum seekers who crossed the border ended up in detention, often with no hope for release unless they could pay increasingly high bonds, find an attorney to represent them, or both. The Trump administration has only made the situation worse for those seeking asylum, adding as enforcement targets countless other immigrants already living in the U.S. A whole disturbing new chapter is beginning in immigration detention, one that exacerbates the inhumanity and ineffectiveness of our current immigration system.
My colleagues and I spoke with approximately 150 women in detention, nearly all of whom were seeking asylum in the U.S. In the seven detention centers we visited, we heard about women who had clearly been traumatized by their experience of coming to the U.S. expecting protection but, instead, found themselves in jail, deprived of their rights and sometimes separated from their children. I heard story after story of vastly deficient conditions and inadequate medical treatment made even more difficult by a fundamental inability to navigate an immigration case because it is all but impossible to do so from detention without an attorney. Imagine being locked up after fleeing for your life and then not being able to communicate your needs because no interpreter is available. Women reported being shackled while in transit, for hours on end without a break. For example, imagine what it was like for Clara, who like other women reported being shackled while in transit when outside the facility, in her case when coming back from a painful medical procedure
Many of the women we spoke with felt — as anyone would — humiliated at having virtually no privacy when using the toilet in front of others in their dorms, being forced to wear used underwear that was often visibly stained, or having insufficient access to sanitary napkins. “I don’t have money to buy pads,” Iliana told us at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, CA. “I would rather use that money to call my kids.”
The experiences these women shared with my colleagues and me took place against a backdrop of an immigration detention system that continues to be fueled by political motivations and profit-driven decisions and that has seen a dramatic rise in the proportion of women in ICE detention. In 2009, approximately nine percent of those in ICE detention were adult women. In April 2016 that proportion had grown to 14.6 percent (including in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s family detention centers). At the same time, the number of women and girls going through an initial asylum screening — likely from detention — nearly quadrupled between 2013 and 2016. The detention system as a whole grew from 34,000 detention beds in early 2016 to over 40,000 detention beds by the end of that year. Now, the Trump Administration is proposing to expand the system to more than 50,000 beds while simultaneously rolling back key detention standards.
As the 150 women who spoke to my colleagues and me make clear, the U.S. immigration detention system is in dire need of fundamental reform. A vital part of that reform needs to include an assurance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that immigration detention facility standards are universally strong and that facilities are actually held to account when those standards are not meaningfully implemented.
Yet, the system continues to fail. Just this week, several civil and human rights organizations, including WRC, filed an administrative complaint with DHS on behalf of women who are or were detained by ICE, women who received grossly inadequate medical care and treatment, exacerbating the trauma that many already experience in detention.
Unfortunately, eliminating the indignities of the current system will not fully address the despair that asylum-seeking women experience when facing the unbelievable cards stacked against them because of their detention. “It’s pointless,” said Clara. “It’s just punishment. The U.S. should just say it’s not accepting refugees.”
The Trump administration and Congress face a choice. Continue to feed more money into a broken immigration detention system that criminalizes and demoralizes vulnerable women immigrants and refugees, or direct ICE to make more humane and smarter choices about immigration enforcement that include release or community support for those seeking asylum in the U.S. Only one choice proves to Clara and so many others like her that, ultimately, the U.S. still does respect the right to seek asylum.”

*****************************

Sorry, Katharina, but the Trump Administration has no intention of being deterred by the law, Constitution, or human decency from turning the U.S. into a third world country. And so far, most Article III Courts have simply looked the other way rather than taking on these clearly unconstitutional practices (which, I might add were also carried out by the Obama Administration which also had little regard for the lives or rights of women and children seeking protection). After all, it’s not the Article III Judges’ daughters and granddaughters who are being intentionally abused by the U.S. immigration authorities with a green light from a complicit Congress.

PWS

10-10-17

BIA SAYS “NO” TO BATTERED SPOUSE WAIVER FOR THOSE ABUSED BY FOREIGN SPOUSE! — Matter of PANGAN-SIS, 27 I&N Dec. 130 (BIA 2017)

3904

Matter of PANGAN-SIS, 27  I&N Dec. 130 (BIA 2017)

BIA HEADNOTE:

An alien seeking to qualify for the exception to inadmissibility in section 212(a)(6)(A)(ii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(ii) (2012), must satisfy all three subclauses of that section, including the requirement that the alien be “a VAWA self-petitioner.”

PANEL: Appellate Immigration Judges Malphrus, Mullane & Creppy

OPINION BY: Judge Mullane

***********************************

Let’s break this down into simple human terms. A Guatemalan woman suffered an extended period of domestic abuse in Guatemala at the hands of her husband. That caused her to flee to the United States and enter without inspection. The woman told the truth to authorities.

Rather than granting her temporary refuge, the U.S. Government sought to remove the woman. The woman was fortunate enough to get a good lawyer who made sophisticated arguments in favor of her remaining. She also was fortunate to have a U.S. Immigration Judge who listened to those arguments and granted her a humanitarian waiver. This waiver allowed her to remain in the United States, but did not give her any permanent status nor did it put her in line for a green card.

The Government (“DHS”) did not want the woman to remain, even  in a more or less “limbo status.” So, they appealed to the BIA.

The BIA agreed with the woman that the waiver statute was ambiguious and therefore the Immigration Judge had plausibly interpreted it in her favor. But, the BIA found that a “better interpretation” would impose additional requirements that woman and those similarly situated could never meet. The BIA noted that Congress was only concerned about domestic violence in the United States that was being used as “leverage” against a foreign national by his or her US citizen or green card holding spouse.

Inferentially, the BIA found that Congress could not possibly have intended to help other victims of domestic violence that occurred outside the United States. That would potentially allow every abused spouse in the world to seek a discretionary waiver that would save them from abuse by granting them limited refuge in the United States.

The BIA sent the case back to the Immigration Judge so that the DHS can continue its efforts to remove her to Guatemala where she will be further abused by her Guatemalan spouse. Her lawyer can help her apply for asylum and withholding of removal based on a prior BIA decision Matter of A-R-C-G- that benefitted victims of domestic violence.

However the DHS is likely to oppose that relief. Otherwise, the DHS would have already offered to settle the case based on A-R-C-G-. That’s what used to happen routinely in my court in Arlington prior to the Trump Administration. The woman is credible and appears to fit squarely within A-R-C-G-.

But, if the Immigration Judge grants relief under A-R-C-G- or the Convention, Against Torture (“CAT”), the DHS probably will appeal again to the BIA. As part of the Administration’s enforcement program, the DHS wants the BIA to help them “send a message” that victims of domestic violence might as well continue to suffer abuse or preferably die (thus solving the problem from a U.S. Immigration Enforcement standpoint) at the hands of their abusers rather than seeking refuge in the United States. Bad things that happen to good people in other countries are just not our problem. America First!

The BIA Appellate Judges work for Jeff Sessions. They understand even better than Immigration Judges in the field that “not getting with the Administration’s Enforcement program” of sending consistently negative messages to asylum seekers could result in their being reassigned to other jobs by Jeff Sessions. Some of those jobs have no real duties (“Hallwalkers”).

Jeff Sessions hates all migrants and particularly Hispanic migrants fleeing from Central America. He hates them almost as much as he hates LGBTQ Americans.

Jeff tells everyone who will listen that all Hispanic migrants and most Hispanic citizens who live among them are criminals, drug dealers, and gang members. Even those who aren’t actually criminals are going to take great jobs that Americans would like to have such as picking lettuce, milking cows, shucking oysters, making beds, washing dishes, climbing up trees, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping floors, removing dangerous and moldy storm damage, taking off and putting on roofs in 120 degree heat, pounding drywall, taking care of other folks’ children, mowing laws, and changing adult diapers for senior cizens who can’t do it themselves.

While the United States might sometimes claim to be a bastion of freedom and humanitarian ideals, that is usually only when lecturing other countries on their failings or touting the superiority of our system over every other system in the world. Nobody should seriously expect the United States to act on those humanitarian ideals, particularly when it comes to helping women and children from the Northern Triangle of Central America.

PWS

10-07-17

 

RECENT UNPUBLISHED REMANDS FROM 3RD & 2D CIRCUITS SHOW HOW BIA TILTS FACTS & LAW TO DENY PROTECTION TO CENTRAL AMERICAN REFUGEES

HOW THE BIA UNFAIRLY DENIES PROTECTION TO CENTRAL AMERICAN REFUGEES WHILE ENCOURAGING U.S. IMMIGRATION JUDGES TO DO THE SAME

By Paul Wickham Schmidt

U.S. Immigration Judge (Retired)

Two recent (alas unpublished) decisions from the Third and Second Circuits illustrate a key point that the Hon. Jeffrey Chase and I have made in our prior blogs: too often the BIA goes out of its way to bend the law and facts of cases to deny asylum seekers, particularly those from Central America, the protection to which they should be entitled. The BIA’s erroneous interpretations and applications of the asylum law have a corrupting effect on the entire fair hearing system in the U.S. Immigration Courts and the DHS Asylum Offices.

See:

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/13/analysis-by-hon-jeffrey-chase-bia-once-again-fails-refugees-matter-of-n-a-i-27-in-dec-72-bia-2017-is-badly-flawed/

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/06/03/introducing-new-commentator-hon-jeffrey-chase-matter-of-l-e-a-the-bias-missed-chance-original-for-immigrationcourtside/

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/14/politico-highlights-lack-of-due-process-cultural-awareness-proper-judicial-training-in-u-s-immigration-courts-handling-of-vietnamese-deportation-case/

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/11/4th-circuit-shrugs-off-violation-of-refugees-due-process-rights-mejia-v-sessions/

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/08/10/normalizing-the-absurd-while-eoir-touts-its-performance-as-part-of-trumps-removal-machine-disingenuously-equating-removals-with-rule-of-law-the-ongoing-assault-on-due-process-in-us-immig/

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/07/31/u-s-immigration-courts-apear-stacked-against-central-american-asylum-applicants-charlotte-nc-approval-rates-far-below-those-elsewhere-in-4th-circuit-is-precedent-being-misapplied/

 

Aguilar v. Attorney General, 3d Cir., 08-16-17

163921np

What happened:

Aguilar credibly testified that he was extorted by MS-13 because he was a successful businessman. Aguilar publicly complained to neighbors about the gang and said he would like them exterminated. Thereafter, the gang told him that because he had complained, they were doubling the amount of their extortion to $100 and would kill his family if he didn’t comply. Eventually, the gang increased the demand to $500 and threatened Aguilar at gunpoimt. Aguilar left the country and sought asylum in the U.S.

What should have happened:

Aguilar presented a classic “mixed motive” case.  In a gang-ridden society like El Salvador, public criticism of  gangs is a political opinion. This is particularly true because gangs have infiltrated many levels of government. Indeed in so-called “peace negotiations,” the Salvadoran government treated gangs like a separate political entity.

Undoubtedly, the gang’s increased extortion combined with death threats against Aguilar and his family resulted from his public political criticism of the gangs. Indeed, they told him that was the reason for increasing the amount to $100. There also is no doubt that gangs are capable of carrying out threats of harm up to the level of death and that the Salvadoran government is often unwilling or unable to protect its citizens from gangs.

Consequently, the respondent has established a well-founded fear (10% chance) of future persecution. He has also shown that political opinion is at least one central reason for such persecution. Consequently, Aguilar and his family should be granted asylum.

What actually happened:

The Immigration Judge denied Aguilar’s claim, finding  that Aguilar’s statements were not made “in a political context” and also that the increased extortion and threats of harm were motivated by “pecuniary interest or personal animus” not a political opinion. The BIA affirmed on appeal.

What the Third Circuit said:

“Nothing in this exchange indicates that Aguilar believed that MS continued asking him for money “over the years” solely because he was a business owner or that their motive did not evolve over time. Rather, Aguilar’s earlier testimony stated that after he had made his negative statements about MS, “a few days pass, less than a week, when I have them back, and three of them came, and they said, we heard that you talked badly about us, and because you did that we are going to charge you $100 a week from now on, and if you don’t pay that we are going to kill your family.” (A.R. 171 (emphasis added).) In other words, Aguilar testified that the gang specifically cited his statements as the reason why it was increasing his payments. This runs contrary to the BIA’s conclusion

that his testimony “did not indicate a belief that he was targeted on account of any beliefs, opinions, or actions,” (App. 10), and directly supports his mixed motive argument. Despite affirming the IJ’s determination that Aguilar was credible, (App. 10), the BIA failed to acknowledge this important portion of Aguilar’s testimony. Instead, both the BIA and IJ determined that Aguilar had failed to show that his increased extortion payments and threats were the result of a protected ground rather than the pecuniary interest or personal animus of MS. However, the BIA has recognized that [p]ersecutors may have differing motives for engaging in acts of persecution, some tied to reasons protected under the Act and others not. Proving the actual, exact reason for persecution or feared persecution may be impossible in many cases. An asylum applicant is not obliged to show conclusively why persecution has occurred or may occur. In Re S-P-, 21 I. & N. Dec. 486, 489 (B.I.A. 1996). As such, “an applicant does not bear the unreasonable burden of establishing the exact motivation of a ‘persecutor’ where different reasons for actions are possible.” Id. While we must affirm factual determinations unless the record evidence would compel any reasonable factfinder to conclude to the contrary, Aguilar’s credible testimony supports his assertion that the increased payments were, at least in part, the result of his negative statements. Requiring him to show that the MS members were motivated by his membership in the particular social group of persons who have spoken out publicly against the MS and who have expressed favor for vigilante organizations, rather than personal animus because of those statements, would place an unreasonable burden on Aguilar. There is no clear delineation between these two motives, and there is

no additional evidence that we can conceive of that would allow Aguilar to hammer down the gang members’ precise motivations, short of their testimony. Rather, the immediacy with which the gang increased its demands coupled with its stated reason for the increase leads us to conclude that any reasonable fact finder would hold that Aguilar had demonstrated that the increased demands were at least in part motivated by his statements.

The question now becomes whether Aguilar’s statements were a political opinion or if they indicated his membership in a particular social group. The IJ determined that Aguilar’s criticism of MS was not made in a political context, and the BIA affirmed. (App. 2, 24 n.3.) However, neither the IJ nor the BIA provided reasoning to support this finding. Similarly, the IJ determined that Aguilar’s proposed particular social groups were not sufficiently particular or socially distinct. (App. 24 n.3.) Again, no reasoning was given. The BIA declined to weigh in on the issue because it found that Aguilar had not met his burden of showing a nexus between the persecution and a protected ground. Thus, we will vacate and remand the issue to the BIA to review whether Aguilar’s proposed groups are sufficiently particular or distinct, and to provide a more detailed review of whether his statements were a political opinion. Aguilar’s application for withholding of removal should similarly be reevaluated in light of our guidance.”

Martinez-Segova v. Sessions, 2d Cir., 08-18-17

http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/c0292714-4831-4fb8-b31e-c1269886a55b/1/doc/16-955_so.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/c0292714-4831-4fb8-b31e-c1269886a55b/1/hilite/

What happened:

Martinez-Segova suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. She suffered harm rising to the level of past persecution on account of a particular social group. However, the DHS claims that the Salvadoran government is not unwilling or unable to protect Martinez-Segova because she obtained a protective order from a court. After the protective order was granted the respondent’s husband “violated the order with impunity by showing up to her place of work kissing and grabbing her and begging her to return.”

According to the U.S. State Department,

“Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a widespread and serious problem. A large portion of the population considered domestic violence socially acceptable; as with rape, its incidence was underreported. The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence were not well enforced, and cases were not effectively prosecuted.”

Martinez-Segova also submitted lots of documentary evidence showing “the Salvadoran government’s 13 inability to combat domestic violence.”

What should have happened:

Martinez-Sevova has a “slam dunk” case for asylum.  The Government’s argument that Salvador can protect her is basically frivolous. The Salvadoran government in fact was unable to protect the respondent either before or after the protective order. The State Department Country Report combined with the expert evidence show that the Salvadoran government t has a well-established record of failure to protect women from domestic violence.

The idea that the DHS could rebut a presumption of future persecution based on past persecution by showing fundamentally changed circumstances or the existence of a reasonably available internal relocation alternative is facially absurd in the context of El Salvador.

What really happened:

Incredibly, the Immigration Judge denied Martinez-Segova’s claim, and the BIA affirmed. The BIA made a bogus finding that Martinez-Segova failed to show that the Salvadoran government was unwilling or unable to protect her.

What the Secomd Circuit said:

“We conclude that the agency failed to sufficiently consider the country conditions evidence in analyzing whether Martinez-Segova demonstrated that the Salvadoran government was unable or unwilling to protect her from her husband. The BIA relied heavily on the fact that Martinez-Segova failed to report her husband’s violation of the protective order to the police. The agency’s decision in this regard was flawed. Where, as here,“the IJ and BIA ignored ample record evidence tending to show that”authorities are unwilling and unable to  protect against persecution, we need not decide “whether [a petitioner’s] unwillingness to confront the police is fatal to [her] asylum claim.” Pan v. Holder, 777 F.3d 540, 544-45 (2d Cir. 2015); see also Aliyev v. Mukasey, 549 F.3d 111, 118 (2d Cir. 2008) (declining to determine “precisely what a person must show in order for the government to be deemed responsible for the conduct of private actors” where petitioner “introduced enough evidence to forge the link between private conduct and public responsibility” (emphasis added)).

Although the agency does not have to parse each individual piece of evidence, Zhi Yun Gao v. Mukasey, 508 F.3d 86, 87 (2d Cir. 2007), there is no indication that the agency considered the ample record evidence of the Salvadoran government’s inability to combat domestic violence—a phenomenon that the U.S. State Department deems one of El Salvador’s “principal human rights problems” for which its efforts to ameliorate the problem are “minimally effective.” A declaration from an human rights attorney and expert on gender issues in El Salvador reveals that orders of protection, while difficult to procure, “do little to protect victims from further violence because judges often draft them inadequately and law enforcement officials neglect or refuse to enforce them” and “are little more than pieces of paper affording no more protection than the victims had prior to the legal process.” Where orders of protection are issued, the onus is on the government to ensure compliance; for example, judges are required to appoint an independent team to monitor compliance with orders of protection and that inadequate follow up “frequently renders victims of domestic violence virtually helpless to enforce their rights.” There is no indication that that judge did this in Martinez-Segova’s case. Moreover, the order of protection prohibited Martinez-Segova’s husband from “harassing, stalking, [and] intimidating” her, but her husband nonetheless violated the order with impunity by showing up to her place of work, kissing and grabbing her and begging her to return. Because the agency’s conclusion—that Martinez- Segova failed to establish that the Salvadoran government was unable or unwilling to protect her from her husband because she had been able to obtain a protective order —is in tension with the record evidence demonstrating that such orders are largely ineffective, we grant the petition and remand for consideration of this evidence. See Poradisova v. Gonzales, 420 F.3d 70, 77 (2d Cir. 2005) (“Despite our generally deferential review of IJ and BIA opinions, we require a certain minimum level of analysis from the IJ and BIA opinions denying asylum, and indeed must require such if judicial review is to be meaningful.”). Because remand is warranted for the agency to consider whether Martinez-Segova established past persecution, we decline to reach its humanitarian asylum ruling at this time. See INS v. Bagamasbad, 429 U.S. 24, 25 (1976) (“As a general rule courts and agencies are not required to make findings on issues the decision of which is unnecessary to the results they reach.”). Moreover, the BIA did not address the IJ’s conclusion that the Government rebutted Martinez-Segova’s well-founded fear of persecution, and that determination generally precedes an analysis on whether humanitarian asylum is warranted. See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1)(B)(iii) (humanitarian asylum is generally considered “in the absence of a well-founded fear of persecution”).”

CONCLUSION

The BIA and the Immigration Judges made an incredible number of serious errors in these two cases, from misreading the record, to ignoring the evidence, to botching the law.

So, while DOJ and EOIR are patting each other on the back for becoming such great cogs in the Trump deportation machine, and racing removals through the system, the real results are starkly illustrated here. Every day, vulnerable asylum applicants with sound, well-documented claims that should be quickly granted either at the Asylum Office or on an Immigration Court’s “short docket” are being screwed by the BIA’s failure to protect the rights of asylum seekers and to educate and in some cases force Immigration Judges to do likewise.

The Federal Courts are being bogged down with cases that a third-year law student who has had a course in asylum law could tell have been badly mis-analyzed. The idea that EOIR contains the world’s best administrative tribunals dedicated to guaranteeing fairness and due process for all has become a cruel joke.

Our Constitution and laws protecting our rights are meaningless if nobody is willing and able to stand up for the rights of individuals who are being railroaded through our system. We saw this in the era of Jim Crow laws directed at depriving Black Americans of their rights, and we are seeing it again today with respect to migrants caught up in the Trump Administration’s gonzo enforcement program.

Yeah, today it’s not you or me. But, when you or I need justice, why will we get (or deserve) any better treatment than the farce that the Trump Administration and EOIR are unloading on migrants now?

PWS

08-27-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS APEAR STACKED AGAINST CENTRAL AMERICAN ASYLUM APPLICANTS — Charlotte, NC Approval Rates Far Below Those Elsewhere In 4th Circuit — Is Precedent Being Misapplied?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/migrants-in-surge-fare-worse-in-immigration-court-than-other-groups/2017/07/30/e29eeacc-6e51-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html?utm_term=.5d2ca3c80278

 

Julia Preston of The Marshall Project reports in the Washington Post:

— Toward the end of a recent morning hearing in immigration court, Judge V. Stuart Couch looked out from his bench on a nearly empty chamber. On one side sat the prosecutor. But at the table for the immigrants, the chairs were vacant.

From a stack of case files, Couch called out names of asylum seekers: Dina Marciela Baires from El Salvador and her three children. No answer. Lesley Carolina Cardoza from Honduras and her young daughter. Silence. After identifying 17 people who had failed to appear for their hearings, the judge ordered all of them to be deported.

The scene is replaying across the country as immigration courts resolve the asylum cases of families who streamed across the Southwest border since 2014. Tens of thousands of families from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and some from Mexico, came here citing their need for protection from predatory gangs and criminal violence. Now, they face the prospect of being sent back to countries they fear have not become any less dangerous.

Of nearly 100,000 parents and children who have come before the courts since 2014, most asking for refuge, judges have issued rulings in at least 32,500 cases, court records show. The majority — 70 percent — ended with deportation orders in absentia, pronounced by judges to empty courtrooms.

Their cases are failing just as President Trump is rapidly expanding deportations.

Immigration courts have long had high rates of in absentia rulings, with one-quarter of all cases resolved by such decisions last year. But the rate for families who came in the border surge stands out as far higher, according to the Justice Department office that runs the immigration courts and tracked the cases of those families over the past three years.

Many immigrants did not understand what they were supposed to do to pursue their claims and could not connect with lawyers to guide them. Some just stayed away, fearing they could be deported directly from courthouses and choosing instead to take their chances in the immigration underground.

New cohort of fugitives

As a result, migrants from the surge are faring worse in the courts than other groups. By late January, the courts had granted asylum or otherwise allowed migrants to remain legally in this country in 3,792, or 11 percent, of those cases involving families, the figures show. By contrast, in all asylum cases last year, 43 percent ended in approvals.

The large-scale failure of the families’ claims is the final unraveling of President Barack Obama’s strategy to deal with the asylum seekers.

Unlike most illegal border crossers, who can generally be swiftly deported, many recent migrants from Central America asserted that they had strong reasons for seeking protection in the United States. Rather than dodging the Border Patrol, they turned themselves in, saying they were afraid to return home. Under U.S. law, that starts an asylum proceeding in which courts evaluate claims that migrants faced dangerous persecution.

When the surge began in 2014, Obama administration officials, worried they could spur an even greater flow if they accepted the migrants as refugees, tried to detain them near the border and deport them. But federal courts curtailed the detention of children and their parents, and so the Obama administration funneled them into immigration courts to ask for asylum. Families and unaccompanied minors who passed a first stage of screening at the border were released to pursue their cases in courts around the country.

In many of those cases, judges in the overburdened courts are only now rendering their decisions — and families from the Central American surge are becoming a new cohort of immigrant fugitives.

In the past, an order of removal — the immigration equivalent of an arrest warrant — did not necessarily lead to swift expulsion. But the Trump administration has made it clear that anyone on the wrong side of immigration law can be tracked down and deported, whether or not they committed a serious crime.


María Arita and her children, Amilcar, left, and Allison, at their home in Charlotte. Arita came to the United States from Honduras in 2013 with her then-3-year-old son to escape a gang that was targeting her family. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)
‘Don’t stop in Charlotte!’

The fates of the asylum-seeking families are particularly stark in Charlotte. Three immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, labor under a backlog of nearly 8,000 cases. The court, which covers both Carolinas, has an amply earned reputation as one of the toughest in which to win an asylum case.

María Arita discovered these realities only after she left Honduras in 2013, forded the Rio Grande in south Texas with her 3-year-old son, turned herself in to border authorities and was sent to Charlotte to join her husband, who had found work here after coming illegally a year earlier. She said a mara — a criminal gang — had taken a dislike to her husband, for reasons the family still does not fully understand. But the gang made its animus very clear.

“First they killed my brother-in-law,” Arita said, trying to remember the attacks in the correct order. “Then they killed my father-in-law. Then . . . they shot another brother-in-law. That’s when my husband realized he had to get out, and he left for the United States. Then they broke down the door of my house. I wasn’t home, but they left a message saying they were going to kidnap my son to make my husband come back.”

Unlike many asylum seekers in this region, Arita found a lawyer. But after she paid several thousand dollars in legal fees, she said, he dropped her case. Despite her family’s trail of death in Honduras, he told her, she wasn’t going to win in Charlotte.


A photo of María Arita from when she was living in Honduras, next to a school photo of her son, Amilcar. (Logan Cyrus/For The Washington Post)

Terrified of going back, she went by herself to a hearing this spring. Before it was over, the judge had denied her claim and given her a few weeks to pack up, take her son and leave the United States. Results like that are among many reasons immigrants nationwide have been failing to appear in court.

Some migrants came to this country more to escape poverty than violence, and they may have avoided court because they knew their asylum claims were likely to be rejected. But more than 85 percent of the families passed the first legal test for asylum, in which they had to show they had a “credible fear” of returning home, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

For many of them, the law itself presents a problem. Migrants running from gangs do not easily fit into the classic categories for asylum, which offers protection to people fearing persecution based on race, religion, nationality or politics. Yet in some courts, artful lawyers have won for people from Central America by crafting cases to fit a fifth, more loosely defined category of persecution in the law, against members of a “particular social group.” In recent years, migrant women have also won if they were escaping extreme domestic violence.

But not in Charlotte. Couch and Judge  — two out of three judges on the bench — have made it clear they view asylum as a narrow opportunity, and they regard claims stemming from gang violence as inconsistent with the letter of the law. Couch has scolded lawyers for trying to bend the statute like “silly putty” to make it work for Central American migrants.

Couch grants asylum in 18 percent of the cases he hears, while Pettinato grants 15 percent, both less than half the national rate, according to an analysis of court records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research group at Syracuse University. As sitting judges, Couch and Pettinato were not able to comment on their rulings.

“We should set up billboards on the highway for people coming from the border. Keep going, don’t stop in Charlotte!” said Viridiana Martínez, who works with Alerta Migratoria, a group in Durham, N.C., that helps immigrants fight deportation.”

*****************************************************

Read Julia’s complete article at the link.

According to the FY 216 Statistics Yearbook, elsewhere in the Fourth Circuit the Baltimore Immigration Court granted 63% of asylum application while the Arlington Immigration Court was nearly identical with 62%. The Charlotte Immigration Court, on the other hand, was 17%.

The Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987) and the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987) both commanded that the “well-founded fear” standard for asylum be generously applied in favor of applicants! Although the BIA has not been as generous as it could and should have been in cases involving Central Americans needing protection from targeted gang violence, they have gone out of their way to reject notions that there should be any “presumption” against asylum grants from Central America. For example, in Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 227, 251 (BIA 2014), the BIA cautioned their decisions “should not be read as a blanket rejection of all factual scenarios involving gangs. . . . . Social group determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.”

Moreover, established BIA precedents giving favorable treatment to LGBT individuals and those seeking protection from domestic violence frequently apply to cases of those fleeing Central America. See e.g., Matter of Tobaso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990) (gays); Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014)  (domestic violence). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has generally been protective of the substantive and procedural rights of asylum  seekers. See, e.g., Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117  (4th Cir. 2011) (family members).

Something is seriously wrong in the Charlotte Immigration Court. Due process is not being fully protected. More seriously, nobody in “the system” — DOJ & EOIR — appears to care or be doing anything to correct the problems in Charlotte.

This is symptomatic of deeper problems in our U.S. Immigration Court system: 1) a weak BIA that fails to protect asylum seekers and require IJs to follow precedents favorable to asylum seekers; 2) lack of proper training compounded by the departure of experienced judges, hiring of new judges, and an inexplicable decision by the DOJ to cancel IJ training this year; and 3) a biased selection system that has systematically excluded private sector asylum expertise developed in representing applicants over this and the past three Administrations. Overall, it is what happens when a system lacks judicial independence and has not developed a merit selection system for judges.

The Immigration Judges in Charlotte can and should do better in providing fairness and due process for asylum seekers. Given the systemic failures, at present it appears to be up to those representing asylum seekers and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to see that asylum seekers in the Charlotte Immigration Court receive the Constitutional due process to which they are entitled.

PWS

07-31-17