FROM THE “CHASE ARCHIVES:” 24 Years Ago, Jeffrey Chase Stood Up For The Rights Of Asylum Seekers, Due Process, And American Values — H.R. 391 Is A Mindless Recycling Of The Same Horrible Ideas That Chase Opposed Then — Have We Learned Nothing In The Interim?

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/8/3/from-the-archives-my-wall-st-journal-op-ed-sept-9-1993

Jeffrey wrote;

“Last week, the House marked-up H.R. 391, the “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017.”  The bill would create significant obstacles for asylum seekers, and increase the risk to unaccompanied children fleeing harm.  Provisions of the bill caused me to think of an op-ed I had written 24 years ago, which was published in The Wall Street Journal.  A different bill, a different President, but many of the same arguments apply.  So many years later, I still become emotional when I remember, as we stepped out of the airport terminal, the little girl excitedly crying out in Farsi: “Maman, azad shodim, azad shodim!” (“Mommy, we’re free, we’re free!)

 

 

‘Mommy, We’re Free!’ — In Defense of Asylum Rights

By Jeffrey S. Chase

 

Five years ago I met Goli (not her real name), a three-year-old Iranian girl detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Goli’s parents were political opponents of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government.  Her father was missing in Iran, either killed or imprisoned.  Goli and her mother were forced to seek refuge in, of all places, Iraq.  They had spent the last two years in a camp there.  Goli was small for her age and sickly; she needed surgery unavailable to her in Iraq.  She had never had a real home, or even her own doll.

When Iraq’s war with Iran ended, Goli and her mother were expelled by Saddam Hussein.  They could not return to Iran, where the war’s end was celebrated with the arrests of hundreds of members of the mother’s opposition party.  With little money and nowhere else to go, the mother paid a smuggler to get her and her child to the U.S. with a false passport.  There, they would apply for asylum.  A relative of her husband’s, a physician living in Michigan, would help them settle and arrange for Goli’s much needed medical care.

Goli and her mother were detained on arrival at Kennedy Airport by the INS.  They were immediately scheduled for a hearing before an immigration judge; I was their attorney.  When we met, Goli had a high fever.  A doctor had prescribed antibiotics, but the security guards had not found time to purchase them.  A week later, when she had taken the antibiotics that I insisted be provided, she felt better, and a friendlier captor played with the girl, using her handcuffs as a makeshift toy.

Thanks to the rights afforded by our current asylum laws, Goli and her mother were released after a few weeks to live with their relatives in Michigan.  When her mother carried Goli outdoors for the first time, she cried, “Mommy, we’re free!”

Representing asylum seekers entails much work and aggravation with little or no pay.  The reward is a happy ending.  I have known nearly 100 others like Goli and her mother who have found refuge here in the U.S., away from the terror and chaos reigning in their home countries.  But recently, President Clinton announced legislation, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), that would end such happy endings.  Reacting to a “crisis” that doesn’t exist, he has decided to show his political toughness by going after the world’s most vulnerable group, refugees.

Under the president’s bill, asylum seekers arriving here without proper documents will have no right to a lawyer, or a hearing, or an appeal.  The bill ignores the fact that many refugees are forced to escape their homelands without valid papers because there is no time to obtain them or because applying for and carrying the proper documents is too dangerous.

There are other troubling provisions.  According to the new bill, if refugees escaping certain death at home try fleeing to the U.S. aboard a plane that stops in Germany, for example, they would immediately be deported to Germany–even if they never stepped off the plane there.  This provision is similar to one in many Western European nations, whereby refugees are expected to apply for asylum in the first “safe” country they reach.  But sending refugees back to a country where they were “last present” is no guarantee that they will not be deported to their nation of origin.

As an immigration attorney, I’ve heard hundreds of asylum claims: in my office and in detention centers, in courts and airport terminals.  Asylum seekers are not terrorists; they are people like Goli and her mother.  Nor are they statistics; they are flesh and blood.  This phrase takes on added meaning when the flesh is marked with bullet wounds, cigarette burns and other remnants of torture.

I can still see the Afghan teenager, much of whose face was blown off by a Soviet land mine.  I still hear the Muslim man from Bosnia, who wept as he told me how Serbian troops stopped the United Nations bus he rode.  He was spared only when the would-be executioners discovered that the bus was leaving the country, thus assisting them in their “ethnic cleansing.”  After finally escaping Bosnia, he stopped briefly in another country en route to the U.S.  The Clinton legislation would deport him, and similarly the Liberian boy I met who told me how he survived a massacre by a rival clan by lying still among the corpses until the attackers left.

Even some who are sympathetic to such cases may feel that the U.S. cannot accept all of the world’s refugees.  We don’t.  There are 17 million refugees in the world.  Of the 300 million aliens the INS inspected last year at ports of entry, only 15,000 applied for asylum.  This means that 0.005% of the people who sought admission to the U.S. were asylum applicants.  Ironically, such exemplars of human rights as Iran and Pakistan accept far more.  Contrary to media reports, we have not “lost control of our borders” to “teeming hordes” of asylum seekers.  While some individuals abuse the system, their number is too small to justify all the ills assigned to them by nativist organizations.

Under the proposed legislation, if refugees somehow managed to reach the U.S. directly, they would have to present their cases on the spot at the airport to a junior level INS official.  The asylum seeker would have no right to compile evidence supporting their requests for asylum, call witnesses, or even consult a lawyer.  If this legislation becomes law, a person fighting a parking ticket would have more rights in our country than a Muslim fleeing certain death in Bosnia.

The answer to the asylum question is not to turn away genuine refugees.  Administrative improvements to preserve legal protections for refugees are urgently needed.  More asylum officers and faster and fairer processing of asylum cases would eliminate any instances of abuse.  They would also make possible more happy endings for the world’s future Golis.

 

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H.R. 391 is simply appalling in its false premises and its ignorance about what really happens in the U.S. asylum system.  And, make no mistake about it — even without the “gonzo” proposals contained in H.R. 391, we are knowingly and intentionally sending plenty of innocent folks back to countries in the Northern Triangle to be preyed upon by gangs, corrupt governments, or both, too many without receiving even the trappings of real due process.  Why not fix the due process problems in the current asylum system, rather than trying to further diminish the already limited rights of asylum seekers? For a fraction of the money Trump & Co. propose to waste on unneeded additional enforcement agents and an idiotic border wall, the asylum system could be fixed to run smoothly, efficiently, and fairly!
PWS
08-03-17

4th CIRCUIT REJECTS FAMILY BASED CLAIM — INTRAFAMILY DISPUTE — IN SOP, JUDGE WILKINSON SHOWS LOTS OF LOVE FOR L-E-A- — VELASQUEZ V. SESSIONS

http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/161669.P.pdf

Key quote:

“Although the familial relationships at issue in Hernandez-Avalos and the present case involve a mother’s relationship with her son, this case is unlike Hernandez-Avalos in critical respects. In Hernandez-Avalos, a non-familial third party persecuted the petitioner because of her family association for the purpose of gang recruitment. In contrast, Velasquez had a long-standing personal disagreement with Estrada over a solely personal conflict regarding D.A.E.V. Estrada’s persecution of Velasquez was only between the two of them—that is, merely incidental to Estrada’s desire to obtain custody of D.A.E.V.5 “[T]he asylum statute was not intended as a panacea for the numerous personal altercations that invariably characterize economic and social relationships.” Saldarriaga v. Gonzales, 402 F.3d 461, 467 (4th Cir. 2005). Because Estrada was motivated out of her antipathy toward Velasquez and desire to obtain custody over D.A.E.V., and not by Velasquez’ family status, Hernandez-Avalos does not provide the rule here. The IJ and BIA appropriately concluded that Estrada’s motive was not

5 Nor, as Velasquez suggests, does Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I. & N. Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), control. There, the BIA considered whether “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” constituted a cognizable particular social group for asylum relief. Id. at 392. The legal validity of the social group identified by Velasquez is not at issue in this case. Moreover, A-R-C-G does not bear on our nexus analysis because, there, the Government “concede[d] . . . that the mistreatment [suffered by the alien] was, at for at least one central reason, on account of her membership in a cognizable particular social group.” Id. at 395.

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Velasquez’ familial status, but simply a personal conflict between two family members seeking custody of the same family member. That factual conclusion is fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Abdel-Rahman, 493 F.3d at 448 (“The decision[] of the BIA concerning asylum . . . [is] deemed conclusive if supported by reasonable, substantial and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, substantial evidence supports the IJ’s conclusion that Velasquez simply failed to show that family status was a reason, central or otherwise, for her difficulties. See Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949.

For similar reasons, this case also is unlike the recent decision in Cruz v. Sessions, 853 F.3d 122 (4th Cir. 2017). In Cruz, the petitioner, a Honduran national, applied for asylum based on her membership in a “particular social group,” namely the “nuclear family of [her husband,] Johnny Martinez.” Id. at 124–25. Martinez had been killed by his boss, who worked closely with organized crime groups, ostensibly after Martinez had discovered his boss’ illicit business and tried to go to authorities. See id. After Martinez’ death, Cruz confronted Martinez’ boss, who repeatedly threatened her and stationed his criminal associates outside of Cruz’ home. See id. at 125–26. Cruz fled to the United States, where she was detained and issued a Notice to Appear. When Cruz later claimed asylum, an IJ denied her petition, observing that her dispute with Martinez’ boss was a dispute with a “private actor for personal reasons.” Id. at 126–27. We reversed, relying on Hernandez-Avalos and concluding that the IJ, and subsequently the BIA, applied an “excessively narrow interpretation of the evidence relevant to the statutory nexus requirement” and that Cruz had satisfied her burden of proof by demonstrating that she

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more likely than not was targeted “because of [her] relationship with her husband.” Id. at 129–30.

Velasquez’ case is inapposite. The dispute between Velasquez and Estrada was a private and purely personal dispute between grandmother and mother regarding D.A.E.V. Velasquez specifically testified to that fact. Unlike Cruz or Hernandez-Avalos, this case does not involve outside or non-familial actors engaged in persecution for non-personal reasons, such as gang recruitment or revenge. Rather, this case concerns solely a custody dispute between two relatives of the same child and necessarily invokes the type of personal dispute falling outside the scope of asylum protection. See Huaman-Cornelio, 979 F.2d at 1000; Jun Ying Wang, 445 F.3d at 998–99.

For all these reasons, Velasquez did not meet her burden of showing persecution “on account of” a protected ground.”

PANEL: CIRCUIT JUDGES WILKINSON, TRAXLER, and AGEE

OPINION BY: JUDGE AGEE

CONCURRING OPINION:  JUDGE WILKINSON

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

The majority opinion did not rely on the BIA’s recent precedent Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), probably because it was decided after this case was argued and therefore could not have factored into the BIA’s decision here. But, Judge Wilkinson seems very eager to embrace the L-E-A- rationale and to limit family PSG protection accordingly.

PWS

08-03-17

 

“BASIC ASYLUM TRAINING FOR LITIGATORS” — Read My July 25, 2017 Pro Bono Training Presentation For Jones Day!

Click on this link for a “Printable Copy”:

JONES DAY TRAINING

Here’s the “complete text:”

BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS

 

OUTLINE

 

I.  INTRODUCTION

II. WHO IS A REFUGEE?

A. Refugee Definition

B.  Standard of Proof

C.  What Is Persecution?

D.  Nexus

 

III. PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

A.  The Three Requirements

B.  Success Stories

C.  The Usual Losers

D.  What Can Go Wrong?

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

 

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTNG AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

V.  CONCLUSION

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

 

Good afternoon, and thanks for attending. As a former U.S. Immigration Judge at both the trial and appellate levels, and someone who has spent over four decades working in the field of immigration at all levels, I want to personally thank you for what you are doing.

 

Welcome to the “New Due Process Army” and our critical mission of forcing the U.S. Immigration Court system to live up to its unfulfilled promise of “guaranteeing fairness and due process for all.” Nothing is more important to achieving that mission than providing effective representation to individuals at the “retail level” of the system – the U.S. Immigration Courts.

 

There is a due process crisis going on in our U.S. Immigration Court system that threatens the integrity and the functioning of our entire U.S. justice system. And, the biggest need in the Immigration Courts is for effective legal representation of individuals seeking, expecting, and deserving justice in Immigration Court. Never has the need for pro bono attorneys been greater than it is now!

 

I appreciate the outstanding leadership and amazing commitment of your managing partner Steve Brogan, your Global Pro Bono Coordinator Laura Tuell, and folks like Mary Hale and many others who have been making this happen on a daily basis. It’s what I call “due process in action.” I know that Steve feels very deeply about the overwhelming need for everyone to get a day in court. He has written very forcefully and eloquently on it in the past and has certainly helped to raise the profile of the representation crisis facing our Immigration Courts.

 

Jones Day isn’t just “talking the talk.” Although it’s now been 25 years since the end of my time as a partner in Jones Day’s Washington Office, I am well aware of the tremendous time and financial commitment that your partnership is making to saving and preserving our justice system and in many cases to saving the very lives of the folks who depend on it. For, as Steve and others at the firm realize, our justice system is only as strong as its weakest link. If we fail in our responsibility to deliver fairness and due process to the most vulnerable individuals at the “retail level” of our system, then eventually our entire system will fail.

 

I also congratulate and appreciate your willingness to undertake representation in all types of cases, rather than “cherry picking” likely winners as is always a temptation. As a judge, I found that cases that look like “sure losers” at the Master Calendar sometimes turn into “winners” when a knowledgeable and dedicated attorney enters the picture.

 

Our Government is going to remove those who lose their cases to countries where some of them undoubtedly will suffer extortion, rape, torture, forced induction into gangs, and even death. Before we return individuals to such possible fates, it is critical that they have a chance to be fully and fairly heard on their claims for protection and that they fully understand and have explained to them the reasons why our country is unwilling or unable to protect them. Neither of those things is going to happen without effective representation.

 

We should always keep in mind that contrary to the false impression given by some pundits and immigration “hard liners,” losing an asylum case means neither that the person is committing fraud nor that he or she does not have a legitimate fear of return. In most cases, it merely means that the dangers the person will face upon return do not fall within our somewhat convoluted asylum system. And, as a country, we have chosen not to exercise our discretion to grant temporary shelter to such individuals through Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or prosecutorial discretion (“PD”). In other words, we are returning them knowing that the effect might well be life threatening or even fatal in many cases.

 

I also predict that you will make a positive difference in the development of the law. The well-prepared and articulate arguments that you make in behalf of a detained migrant are going to get attention and consideration from judges at all levels far beyond those presented by unrepresented individuals who can’t even speak English. It’s simply a fact of life. And, if you can win these cases, everything else you do in the law will be a “piece of cake.” I guarantee it.

 

Obviously, in representing your clients it is important to be polite, professional, and to let the excellence of your preparation, research, and arguments speak for you. In an overwhelmed system, judges are particularly grateful for all the help they can get. However, they are also under excruciating pressure to complete cases, particularly detained cases. So it is important to clearly identify your issues, focus your examination, and make sure that your “phone books” of evidence are properly organized and that there is a “road map” to direct the Immigration Judge and the Assistant Chief Counsel to the key points. You want to help the judge, and your opponent, get to a “comfort zone” where he or she can feel comfortable granting, or not opposing or appealing, relief.

 

I do want to offer one important piece of advice up front. That is to make sure to ask your client if her or his parents or grandparents, whether living or dead, are or were U.S. citizens. Citizenship is jurisdictional in Immigration Court, and occasionally we do come across individuals with valid but previously undeveloped claims for U.S. citizenship. You definitely want to find out about that sooner, rather than later, in the process.

My presentation today will be divided into three sections. First, we will go over the basic refugee definition and some of its ramifications. Second, I will provide some basic information about particular social group or “PSG” claims. Third, I will give you fourteen practical pointers for effectively presenting asylum cases in Immigration Court.

 

Please feel free to ask questions as we go along, or save them until the end.

 

II.        WHO IS A REFUGEE?

 

In this section, I will first discuss the INA’s definition of “refugee.” Second, I will talk about the standard of proof. Third, we will discuss the meaning of the undefined term “persecution.” I will conclude this section with a discussion of the key concept of “nexus.”

A.        Refugee Definition

 

An “asylee” under U.S. law is basically an individual who satisfies the “refugee” definition, but who is in the U.S. or at our border in a different status, or with no status at all. Most of your clients will fall in the latter category.

The definition of “refugee” is set forth in section 101(a)(42) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). There are four basic elements:

  1. Generally, outside the country of nationality (not usually an issue in border cases);
  2. Unwilling or unable to return (failure of state protection);
  3. Because of persecution (undefined) or a well founded fear of persecution;
  4. On account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (“nexus”).

 

There are some important exclusions to the refugee definition, the most frequent ones being the one-year filing deadline for asylum, those who have committed serious nonpolitical crimes outside the U.S. or particularly serious crimes in the U.S., persecutors of others, those who have rendered material support to a terrorist organizations, and those who are firmly resettled in another country. I won’t be going into these in detail today, but you should know that they are there, and I’d be happy to take questions on them. The ground most likely to come up in your cases is the one relating to individuals who have committed crimes.

Some individuals who are ineligible for asylum might still be eligible to receive withholding of removal under section 243(b) of the INA, 8 U.S.C., § 1253(b) or withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”). And, everyone can potentially seek so-called “deferral of removal” under the CAT.

Also, please note that because of the requirement of a “nexus” to a “protected ground” not all types of harm trigger protection. In particular, crimes, wars, random violence, natural disasters, and personal vengeance or retribution often do not qualify individuals for refugee status. However, some of these circumstances might be covered by the CAT, which has no nexus requirement.

The source of the “refugee” definition is he Refugee Act of 1980 which codified and implemented the U.N Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees to which the U.S. adhered in 1968. There are, however, some differences between the U.S. definition and the Convention definition, which I won’t go into today. But, again, you should be aware they exist, since some international or U.N. interpretations of the definition might be inapplicable under U.S. law.

B.        Standard of Proof

 

The standard of proof in asylum cases was established by the Supreme Court in 1987 in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987). In asylum cases, a “well-founded” fear is something far less than a probability. It is an “objectively reasonable fear” or the type of fear that a “reasonable person” would have under the circumstances. Most courts and authorities have adopted the “10% chance” example set forth in Justice Stevens’s plurality opinion in Cardoza.

The BIA’s implementation of Cardoza, the 1987 precedent Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987), makes the point that the persecution can be “significantly less than probable.” Your challenge as lawyers will be to get judges at all levels of our system to actually apply the generous Cardoza-Mogharrabi standard rather than just mouthing it. Sadly, the latter still happens too often, in my opinion.

A different and higher “more likely than not” standard applies to withholding of removal under the INA and to withholding and deferral of removal under the CAT. One great tool for satisfying the standard of proof for asylum or withholding under the Act is the rebuttable regulatory presumption of future persecution arising out of past persecution set forth in 8 C.F.R. 1208.13. This is a really important regulation that you should basically learn “by heart.” I will reference it again in the “practical tips” section of this presentation.

Withholding and CAT are more limited forms of relief than asylum. While they usually provide work authorization, they do not lead to green card status, allow the applicants to bring relatives, or travel abroad. They are also easier to revoke if conditions change. Nevertheless, there is one major advantage to withholding and CAT: they save your client’s life. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do. And, fundamentally, saving lives is really what this business is all about.

C.        What Is Persecution?

 

Remarkably, neither the Convention nor the INA defines the term “persecution.” Consequently, U.S. Immigration Judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constantly referring to certain types of harm as “mere discrimination or harassment” not “rising to the level” of “persecution.” Often these highly subjective conclusions seem to be more in the mind of the judicial beholder than in the record or the law.

In the absence of a firm definition, I have found the most useful practical guidance to be in an opinion by the famous, or infamous, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2011 case Stanojkova v. Holder, 645 F.3d 943, 947-48 (7th Cir. 2011). Judge Posner gave three examples.

“The three forms are discrimination, harassment, and persecution. The first refers to unequal treatment, and is illustrated historically by India’s caste system and the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. states. Discrimination normally does not involve the application of physical force, except as punishment for violation of the discriminatory laws.”

Second: “Harassment involves targeting members of a specified group for adverse treatment, but without the application of significant physical force. Had [police] furious at [the respondent’s] being soft on Albanians followed his taxi (he was a taxicab driver in Macedonia) and ticketed him whenever he exceeded the speed limit by one mile per hour, that would be an example of harassment. A common form of sexual harassment is pestering a subordinate for a date or making lewd comments on her appearance, or perhaps hugging her, which is physical but generally not violent.”

Third: “Persecution involves, we suggest, the use of significant physical force against a person’s body, or the infliction of comparable physical harm without direct application of force (locking a person in a cell and starving him would be an example), or nonphysical harm of equal gravity—that last qualification is important because refusing to allow a person to practice his religion is a common form of persecution even though the only harm it causes is psychological. Another example of persecution that does not involve actual physical contact is a credible threat to inflict grave physical harm, as in pointing a gun at a person’s head and pulling the trigger but unbeknownst to the victim the gun is not loaded.”

These definitions are, of course, not binding outside the Seventh Circuit. But, I find them to be practical, usable definitions that I certainly found helpful in making asylum decisions in the Fourth and other circuits.

D.        Nexus

 

The concept of “nexus” or “on account of” has become critical in asylum adjudication. Indeed, that is where many of your upcoming battles will be focused. In many cases these days the DHS will concede the “particular social group” (“PSG”) and just argue that the harm has no “nexus” to that PSG or any other protected ground.

The REAL ID Act amended the INA to require that for an asylum applicant to prove ”nexus” or “on account” of any protected ground, he or she must show that the protected ground is “at least one central reason” for the feared persecution. INA § 208(b)(1)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1208(b)(1)(B)(i) While this did not eliminate the frequently encountered “mixed motive” situation, it was intended to “tighten up” prior case law that had referred to the persecution as stemming “in whole or in part” from a protected ground.

The BIA ruled in Matter of C-T-L-, 25 I & N Dec. 341 (BIA 2010) that the “one central reason” test also applies to nexus in the withholding of removal context. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected the BIA’s interpretation in Barajas-Romero v. Lynch, 846 F.3d 351 (BIA 2014), maintaining that the more generous “in whole or in part” test should continue to apply to withholding cases under the INA. To my knowledge, the Fifth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue. So, I believe that C-T-L- would apply in the Immigration Courts in the Fifth Circuit at present.

Unfortunately, the BIA has given a very narrow reading to the “one central reason” test. In a recent precedent, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I &N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), the respondent was a member of a family social group. He clearly was targeted by a cartel in Mexico because he was a member of a family that owned a grocery store. In other words, “but for” the respondent’s family membership, he would not have been targeted by the gang.

Nevertheless, instead of granting the case, the BIA looked beyond the initial causation. The BIA found that “the respondent was targeted only as a means to achieve the cartel’s objective to increase its profits by selling drugs in the store owned by his father. Therefore the cartel’s motive to increase its profits by selling contraband in the store was one central reason for its actions against the respondent. Any motive to harm the respondent because he was a member of his family was, at most, incidental.” 27 I&N Dec. at 46 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the BIA denied the case.

Unfortunately, the BIA cited and relied upon an analysis of nexus in a similar case by the Fifth Circuit in Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 794 F.3d 485n (5th Cir. 2015). Consequently, you will have to deal with the restrictive interpretation in L-E-A- and Ramirez-Mejia.

The BIA, and to some extent the Fifth Circuit, have essentially used the “nexus” requirement to “squeeze the life” out of the family PSG. We can see that the normal rules of legal causation have been suspended. The respondent would not have been targeted by the cartel had he not belonged to this particular family. Yet, the BIA searched for and found an “overriding motive” that did not relate to a protected ground and determined that to be the “central reason” and the family PSG to be “tangential.”

What kind of case could succeed under L-E-A-? Well, perhaps not wanting to give anyone any practical ideas on how to qualify, the BIA searched history and came up with the execution of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks as an example of a where family was a “central reason” for the persecution. So, maybe if the respondent’s father were a major donor to a political party that opposed cartels, a member of a religion that opposed drugs, or a member of a hated minority group, the respondent’s family membership could have been “at least one central reason.”

But the Romanov family case would have been grantable on actual or imputed political opinion grounds. The other examples I gave would have been more easily grantable on actual or implied political opinion, religion, or nationality grounds. So the BIA appears to made the family PSG ground largely superfluous.

This leaves you as litigators in a tricky situation. The IJ will be bound by L-E-A-, the BIA is unlikely to retreat from L-E-A-, and the Fifth Circuit seems disposed to go along with the L-E-A- view.

On the other hand, to my knowledge, L-E-A- has not actually been considered and endorsed by any circuit to date. To me, it appears to be inconsistent with some of the existing family-based nexus case law in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. So, I wouldn’t be shocked if a “circuit split” eventually develops and the issue finally wends its way to the Supreme Court. Who knows, maybe one of you will be arguing it.

In any event, in my view, it is too early for you to “waive” strong nexus arguments even if they will be rejected under L-E-A-. On the other hand, that’s not likely to solve your detained client’s current problems.

So, what can you do? First, look for legitimate ways to distinguish L-E-A-. Assume that the DHS will “pull out the stops” in arguing that everything but family was the central reason –greed, lust, crime, random violence, personal vengeance, envy, resentment, etc. Look for evidence in the record that the dispute really was, to a major extent, about family, rather than one of the non-qualifying grounds.

Second, look for some qualifying non-family PSG or a “more conventional” religious, nationality, racial, or political motive.

Third, consider the possibility of CAT protection. The advocacy community probably underutilizes CAT. CAT doesn’t have a specific nexus requirement and often can be proved by extensive documentary or expert evidence, both Jones Day specialties. Sure, the standard of proof is high and CAT is a lesser form of relief than asylum. But, it saves your client’s life! And, if the nexus law changes in your favor, you can always file a motion to reopen to re-apply for asylum under the changed law.

This is an area of the law where creativity, preparation, and persistence often pay off in the long run. So, don’t give up. Keep on fighting for a reasonable and proper application of the “refugee” definition and for the rights of your clients.

III.      PARTICULAR SOCIAL GROUP

 

In this section I will talk about the three basic requirements for a PSG, the success stories, the usual failures, things that can go wrong, and offer you a few practice pointers directly related to PSG claims.

A.        The Three Requirements

 

The BIA has established three requirements for a PSG.

  1. Immutability or fundamental to identity;
  2. Particularity; and
  3. Social distinction.

 

These three requirements are usually used to deny rather than grant protection. Indeed, most of the BIA’s recent precedents on PSG are rendered in a decidedly negative context.

There was a time about two decades ago when many of us, including a number of BIA Members, thought that immutability or fundamental to identity was the sole factor. But, following our departure, the BIA attached the additional requirements of “particularity” and “social visibility” now renamed “social distinction” to narrow the definition and facilitate denials, particularly of gang-based PSG claims.

The particularity and social distinction requirements basically work like a “scissors” to cut off claims. As you make your definition more specific to meet the “particularity” requirement it often will become so narrow and restrictive that it fails to satisfy “social distinction.” On the other hand, as your proposed PSG becomes more socially distinct, it’s likely that it will become more expansive and generic so that the BIA will find a lack of “particularity.”

While the UNHCR and many advocacy groups have argued for a return of immutability as the basic requirement with “social distinction” as an alternative, not an additional requirement, the BIA recently reaffirmed its “three criteria” approach. These cases, Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014) and its companion case Matter of W-E-G-, 26 I &N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014), are “must reads” for anyone doing PSG work.

About the only bright spot for advocates was that the BIA in M-E-V-G– rejected the commonly held view that no gang-based case could ever succeed. The BIA said that its 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. For example, a factual scenario in which gangs are targeting homosexuals may support a particular social group claim. While persecution on account of a protected ground cannot be inferred merely from acts of random violence and the existence of civil strife, it is clear that persecution on account of a protected ground may occur during periods of civil strife if the victim is targeted on account of a protected ground.” 26 I&N Dec. at 251 (citations omitted).

In other words, the Board is asking for evidence intensive case-by-case adjudications of various proposed PSGs. Leaving aside the fairness of doing this in a context where we know that most applicants will be detained and unrepresented, I cannot think of an organization better suited to give the BIA what it asked for than Jones Day – you guys!

B. Success Stories

There are four basic groups that have been relatively successful in establishing PSG claims.

  1. LGBT individuals under Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990);
  2. Women who fear or suffered female genital mutilation (“FGM”) under my decision in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996);
  3. Victims of domestic violence under Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); and
  4. Family under the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th 2011), a case in which I was the Immigration Judge and Jones Day was pro bono counsel.

You should note that the first three of these success stories had something in common: strong support across a wide spectrum of the political universe. In fact, in LGBT, FGM, and domestic violence cases the DHS eventually changed its position so as to not oppose the recognition of the PSG. This, in turn, either facilitated or perhaps effectively forced the BIA to recognize the PSG in a precedent.

Family, on the other hand, has generally not developed the same type of political consensus as a PSG for asylum purposes. I have already discussed in detail how notwithstanding the clear logic of family as a PSG, the BIA uses a highly restrictive reading of the “nexus” requirement that prevents many family groups from qualifying for protection.

You probably will not encounter too many FGM cases at the Southern Border. Nevertheless, there are two additional important points established by Kasinga. First, the respondent does not have to establish that the persecutor acted or will act with “malevolent intent.” Persecution may be established even where the persecutor was inflicting the harm with the intent to “help” or “treat” the respondent. This comes up frequently in connection with LGBT claims.

Second, Kasinga holds that to justify a discretionary denial of asylum for a respondent who otherwise meets all of the statutory requirements, the adverse factors must be “egregious” so as to outweigh the likely danger of persecution.

You are likely to find a number of Southern Border cases involving LGBT individuals, domestic violence, and family. In the Arlington Immigration Court during my tenure these cases succeeded at an extremely high rate, so much so that many of them went on my “short docket.” However, that was then and this is now. And, sadly, you won’t be presenting these cases in Arlington.

Finally, there are some “up and comer” PSG’s that have had success in some of the circuits and might eventually gain widespread acceptance. Among these are witnesses, landowners, and women subjected to forced marriages. The latter often can more successfully be presented under the domestic violence category. The Fourth Circuit actually has recognized “former gang members” as a potential PSG, although many such individuals will have difficulties under the criminal exclusions from the refugee definition. Martinez v. Holder, 740 F.3d 902 (4th Cir. 2014).

C. The Usual Losers

PSGs that don’t fit any of the categories I just mentioned are usually “losers.” Chief among the “usual losers” are victims of crime other than domestic violence, informants, extortion victims, and those resisting gang recruitment. You’ll probably see a fair number of such cases at the Southern border. Your challenge will be how to present them in a way that overcomes the negative connotations normally associated with such claims.

D. What Can Go Wrong?

Lots of things can go wrong with a PSG case. First, there is the issue of “circularity.” Generally, a PSG cannot be defined in terms of itself. For example “victims of crime” would generally be a “circular” social group.

An easy test is to use your proposed PSG in a simple sentence: “This respondent was harmed to overcome the characteristic of being _________. If you can’t say with with a straight face in open court, don’t use it. For example, “this respondent was raped to overcome her characteristic of being a victim of rape” isn’t going to make it as a PSG.

We’ve already talked about how PSG claims can be attacked by denying the nexus. There are also the old favorites of lack of credibility or corroboration. Then, there is failure to meet the one-year filing deadline, no failure of state protection, reasonably available internal relocation, and fundamentally changed country conditions.

That’s why if you’re considering a PSG claim, it’s always wise to have “Plan B.” The problem today, however, is that the Administration has restricted or limited many of the “Plans B.” For example, until recently, the number one “Plan B” was to request prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) from the Assistant Chief Counsel if the respondent had sympathetic humanitarian factors, a clean criminal record, and strong ties to the U.S. However, for all practical purposes, this Administration has eliminated PD.

Nevertheless, its always worthwhile to think about whether things like Wilberforce Act treatment for certain unaccompanied juveniles, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, “T” visas for trafficking victims, “U” visas for victims of crime, or benefits under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) might be realistic possibilities for your client.

E.  A Few Practical Tips on PSG

I’m going to close this section by offering you a few practical tips on presenting PSG cases that will also tie into my next major section.

First, think “25 words or fewer.” Just like the old boxtop contests from my youth. There are few, if any, known examples of success using lengthy, convoluted social group definitions.

 

Second, remember folks, it isn’t “making sausages.” The definition that goes in must be the same one that comes out the other end. Social groups that “morph” during the hearing just have no chance.

 

Third, be prepared to explain how your proposed particular social group meets the current BIA criteria of immutability, particularity, and social distinction, formerly known as “social visibility.”

 

Fourth, make sure that your respondent is actually a member of the particular social group you propose. You would be surprised at the number of counsel who propose a particular social group definition and then fail to offer proof that their client actually fits within that group.

 

Fifth, as I just mentioned, check your particular social group for “circularity.”

Sixth, and finally, be prepared for an onslaught of other arguments against your case, the chief of which probably will be “no nexus.” Normally, the DHS will “pull out all the stops” to prevent the recognition of a new PSG.

IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTING AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT

You should all have received a copy of my comprehensive three-page treatise on asylum law entitled “Practical Tips For Presenting an Asylum Case In Immigration Court,” Feb. 2017 Revised Edition. I’m going to quickly take you through the fourteen practical tips outlined there.

My first tip is, “Read a Good Book.” My strong recommendation is the one that has always been at the top of the Immigration Court Best Seller List: Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 2017 edition.

 

Specifically, I invite your attention to Chapter 1208, which contains the seeds of all winning theories of asylum law, past, present, and future. It will also give you gems like how to shift the burden of proof to the DHS and how to win your case even if your client does not presently have a well-founded fear of persecution.

 

Second, “Get Real.” The REAL ID Act, P.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231 (2005), deals with credibility and burden of proof issues in asylum and other cases and applies to applications “made” on or after May 11, 2005, which will be all of your cases. Read it and decide how it can help you and how you can respond to DHS arguments.

 

Third, “Know One When You See One.” The one-year filing requirement of section 208(a)(2)(B) of the INA bars asylum in some cases. Your burden of proof on the one-year filing issue is very high: “clear and convincing evidence.” Judicial review might be limited. But, there are exceptions. Read the statute and the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 1208.4 to find out how the filing requirement works and what arguments might be made to preserve a late asylum application. Remember that the one-year requirement does not apply to withholding of removal under the INA or to CAT applications.

 

At the beginning of each asylum case, I asked the parties to identify the issues. Respondents’ attorneys invariably told me about past persecution, future persecution, nexus, gender-based persecution, exceptions to the one year filing deadline, weird social groups, and so forth. The issue they sometimes fail to identify is the one that’s always first on my list. What is it?

 

 

That’s right, credibility, is the key issue in almost all asylum litigation. So, my fourth rule is “Play To Tell the Truth.” You must understand what goes into making credibility determinations and why the role of the Immigration Judge is so critical. Often, adverse credibility determinations are difficult to overturn on appeal. It’s all about deference.

 

But, credible testimony might not be enough to win your case. That’s why my fifth rule is “Don’t Believe Everything You Read.” Both appellate and trial court decisions often recite rote quotations about asylum being granted solely on the basis of credible testimony.

However, to give your client the best chance of winning his or her asylum case in immigration Court, under the law applicable in most circuits, you’re likely to need a combination of credible testimony and reasonably available corroborating evidence. Read Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), largely codified by REAL ID, and find out what it really takes to win an asylum case in most Immigration Court.

 

In this respect, you should remember my corollary sixth rule “Paper Your Case.” According to Fourth Circuit precedent, even a proper adverse credibility ruling against your client might not be enough for an Immigration Judge to deny the asylum claim. The Judge must still examine the record as a whole, including all of the documentation supporting the claim, to determine whether independent documentary evidence establishes eligibility for asylum. Read Camara v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 361 (4th Cir. 2004) and discover how the power of independent documentary evidence can overcome even a sustainable adverse credibility finding. Also, remember that the REAL ID Act directs Immigration Judges to consider “the totality of the circumstances, and all relevant factors.”

 

“Read Your Paper” is my seventh important rule. You and your client are responsible for all the documentation you present in your case. Nothing will give you nightmares faster than having a client present false or fraudulent documentation to the Immigration Court. In my experience, I’ve had very few attorneys able to dig out of that hole. So, don’t let this happen to you.

 

My eighth rule is “Pile it On.” Sometimes, as demonstrated in one of my very favorite cases Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 22 I&N Dec. 23 (BIA 1998), reaffirmed in Matter of L-K-, 23 I&N Dec. 677, 683 (BIA 2004), you will be able to take a series of events happening to your respondent, his or her family, or close associates, none of which individually perhaps rises to the level of persecution, and combine them to win for your client.

 

My ninth rule is “Don’t Get Caught by the Devil.” The devil is in the details. If you don’t find that devil, the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel almost certainly will, and you will burn. Also, make sure to put your client at ease by carefully explaining the process and by going over the direct and cross-examinations in advance. Remember the cultural and language barriers that can sometimes interfere with effective presentation of your case.

 

I found the DHS Assistant Chief Counsel in Arlington were all very nice folks. They were also smart, knowledgeable, well prepared, and ready to vigorously litigate their client’s positions. They handled more trials in a year than most litigators do in a lifetime. So, beware and be prepared. You would also be wise to contact the Assistant Chief Counsel in advance of any merits hearing to discuss ways of narrowing the issues and possible “Plans B.”

 

My tenth rule is “Know Your Geography.” Not all Immigration Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeals are located on the West Coast. The BIA certainly is not. You must know and deal with the law in the jurisdiction where your case actually is located, not in the one you might wish it were located.

 

For example, the Arlington Immigration Court is in Crystal City. That is in Virginia, which is not presently part of the Ninth Circuit. Nor are the courts in Texas where most of you will be appearing.

 

This is something that I once had trouble with, coming to the Arlington Court from a job where the majority of asylum cases arose in the Ninth Circuit. But, I got over it, and so can you.

 

My eleventh rule is to “Get Physical.”   In defining persecution, some Circuits have emphasized “the infliction or threat of death, torture, or injury to one’s person or freedom.” See, e.g., Niang v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 505 (4th Cir. 2007). While the Circuits and the BIA have also recognized non-physical threats and harm, your strongest case probably will be to emphasize the physical aspects of the harm where they exist. Mirisawo v. Holder, 599 F.3d 391 (4th Cir. 2010); Matter of T-Z-, 24 I & N Dec. 163 (BIA 2007).

 

I particularly recommend the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th Cir. 2011), which found that the BIA erred in rejecting my conclusion that “unrebutted evidence of death threats against [the respondent] and his family members, combined with the MS-13’s penchant for extracting vengeance against cooperating witnesses, gave rise to a reasonable fear of future persecution.” In other words, I was right, and the BIA was wrong. But, who’s keeping track?

 

My twelfth rule is “Practice, Practice, Practice.” The Immigration Court Practice Manual, available online at the EOIR web site http://www.usdoj.gov/eoir/vll/OCIJPracManual/ocij_page1.htm was effective July 1, 2008, and replaced all prior local rules. All filings with the Immigration Court must comply with the deadlines and formats established in this Practice Manual. The Practice Manual has a very helpful index, and it covers just about everything you will ever want to know about practice before the Immigration Courts. It contains useful appendices that give you contact information and tell you how to format and cite documents for filing in Immigration Court. Best of all, it’s applicable nationwide, so you can use what you learn in all Immigration Courts.

 

My thirteenth, rule is “It’s Always Wise to Have ‘Plan B.’” As I have pointed out, asylum litigation has many variables and opportunities for a claim to “go south.” Therefore, it is prudent to have a “Plan B” (alternative) in mind.

 

Among the “Plans B” that regularly came up in Arlington were: prosecutorial discretion (“PD”), Special Rule Cancellation of Removal (“NACARA”), Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), non-Lawful Permanent Resident Cancellation of Removal (“EOIR 42-B”), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) status, I-130 petition with a “stateside waiver” (“I-601A”), “Wilberforce Act” special processing for unaccompanied children (“UACs”), T nonimmigrant status (for certain human trafficking victims), and U nonimmigrant status (for certain victims of crime). In my experience, many, perhaps the majority, of the “happy outcome” asylum cases coming before me were resolved on a basis “OTA,” that is “other than asylum.”

 

But, unfortunately in my view, the “Plan B” world is rapidly changing. So, please listen very carefully to the caveat that comes next.

 

Fourteenth, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. As some have said “there’s a new Sheriff in town,” and he’s announced a “maximum immigration enforcement” program targeting anyone who has had any run-in with the law, whether convicted or not. He also intends to detain all undocumented border crossers or applicants for admission at the border. So, you can expect more arrests, more detention (particularly in far-away, inconvenient locations like, for instance, Laredo, TX), more bond hearings, more credible and reasonable fear reviews, more pressure to move cases even faster, and an even higher stress level in Immigration Court.

 

The “Plans B” involving discretion on the part of the Assistant Chief Counsel, like PD, DACA, and stateside processing, and even waiving appeal from grants of relief, are likely to disappear in the near future, if they have not already. In many cases, litigating up through the BIA and into the Article III Federal Courts (where the judges are, of course, bound to follow the law but not necessarily to accept the President’s or the Attorney General’s interpretation of it) might become your best, and perhaps only, “Plan B.”

V. CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, I have told you about the basic elements of the refugee definition and how it is used in adjudicating asylum cases. I have also discussed the requirements and the pros and cons of the PSG protected ground. And, I have shared with you some of my practical tips for presenting an asylum case in U.S. Immigration Court.

 

Obviously, I can’t make you an immigration litigation expert in in afternoon. But, I trust that I have given you the basic tools to effectively represent your clients in Immigration Court. I have also given you some sources that you can consult for relevant information in developing your litigation strategy and your case.

 

I encourage you to read my blog, immigrationcourtside.com, which covers many recent developments in the U.S. Immigration Courts. As you come up with victories, defeats, good ideas, appalling situations, or anything else you think should be made more widely available, please feel free to submit them to me for publication. I also welcome first-hand accounts of how the system is, or isn’t, working at the “retail level.”

 

Thanks again for joining the New Due Process Army and undertaking this critical mission on behalf of the U.S. Constitution and all it stands for! Thanks for what you are doing for America, our system of justice, and the most vulnerable individuals who depend on that system for due process and justice.

 

Thanks for listening, good luck, do great things, and Due Process Forever! I’d be pleased to answer any additional questions.

 

© Paul Wickham Schmidt, 2017, All Rights Reserved.

(08-01-17++)

 

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PROGRAM NOTE: I am a former Partner at Jones Day. resident in the Washington, D.C. Office.

 


 

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.”

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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

 

 

“IMMIGRATION COURTS — RECLAIMING THE VISION” — Read My Article In The Latest Federal Bar News!

Here is the link:

immigration courts

And, here’s an excerpt:

“Our immigration courts are going through an existential crisis that threatens the very foundations of our American justice system. I have often spoken about my dismay that the noble due process vision of our immigration courts has been derailed. What can be done to get it back on track?

First, and foremost, the immigration courts must return to the focus on due process as the one and only mission. The improper use of our due process court system by political officials to advance enforcement priorities and/or send “don’t come” messages to asylum seekers, which are highly ineffective in any event, must end. That’s unlikely to happen under the Department of Justice—as proved by over three decades of history, particularly recent history. It will take some type of independent court. I think that an Article I Immigration Court, which has been supported by groups such as the American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association, would be best.

Clearly, the due process focus has been lost when officials outside the Executive Office for Immigration Review have forced ill-advised “prioritization” and attempts to “expedite” the cases of frightened women and children from the Northern Triangle (the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) who require lawyers to gain the protection that most of them need and deserve. Putting these cases in front of other pending cases is not only unfair to all, but has created what I call “aimless docket reshuffling” that has thrown our system into chaos.

Evidently, the idea of the prioritization was to remove most of those recently crossing the border to seek protection, thereby sending a “don’t come, we don’t want you” message to asylum seekers. But, as a deterrent, this program has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Not surprisingly to me, individuals fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle have continued to seek refuge in the United States in large numbers. Immigration court backlogs have continued to grow across the board, notwithstanding an actual reduction in overall case receipts and an increase in the number of authorized immigration judges.”

I encourage you to read the entire article.

Additionally, this entire issue of The Federal Lawyer is devoted to Immigration Law. Kudos to Judge Lawrence O. Burman of the Arlington Immigration Court and Judge Robin Feder of the Boston Immigration court for their key roles in FBA leadership and for inspiring this effort. There are four other great articles that will help you understand what is happening today in this most important area. Check them all out at this link:

http://www.fedbar.org/magazine.html

Finally, if you aren’t currently a member of the Federal Bar Association (“FBA”), please join the FBA and the Immigration Section today! The price is very reasonable, you get access to The Green Card (the Immigration Section newsletter, Edited by Judge Burman) and some other great educational materials, and you support the effort for due process, collegiality, and badly needed U.S. Immigration Court Reform, which the FBA advocates. The current “powers that be” are not going to fix the broken U.S. Immigration Court System without outside involvement and, ultimately, Congressional action. This won’t happen by itself.  So, if like me, you are appalled and dismayed by what has happened to due process in our U.S. Immigration Court system, now is the time to get involved and work to change it!

Also, check out my previous blogs on the recent FBA Immigration Seminar in Denver.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-O1

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Oa

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-OU

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-P4

PWS

06-05-17

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCING NEW COMMENTATOR — Hon. Jeffrey Chase — “Matter Of L-E-A: The BIA’s Missed Chance” — Original For immigrationcourtside!

Hi immigrationcourtside.com readers:

I am delighted to provide an original article by my good friend and colleague the Honorable Jeffrey Chase, who recently joined us in the ranks of the “retired but still engaged.” Judge Chase is a former U.S. Immigration Judge in New York, a former Senior Attorney Adviser at the BIA, and a former sole immigration practitioner in New York. He’s also a gentleman, a scholar, and an immigration historian. In a subsequent post I’ll be providing some links to parts of the “Chase Immigration History Library” which has previously been published by our friend and former colleague Judge Lawrence O. Burman in the FBA’s The Green Card.

Welcome to retirement and to immigrationcourtside, Judge Chase! We live in interesting times. Enjoy the ride.

Now, for your reading pleasure, here’s the complete original version of Judge Chase’s article about a recent BIA precedent.  Enjoy it!

Matter of L-E-A-

Matter of L-E-A-: The BIA’s Missed Opportunity

 

Jeffrey S. Chase

 

On May 24, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its long-anticipated precedent addressing family as a particular social group, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017). Thirteen amicus briefs were received by the Board addressing the issue of whether a “double nexus” is required in claims based on the particular social group of family.   The good news is that the Board did not create a “double nexus” requirement for family-based PSG claims. In other words, the decision does not require an asylum applicant to prove both their inclusion in the social group of X’s family, and then also establish that X’s own fear is on account of a separate protected ground.

 

Nevertheless, the resulting decision was highly unsatisfying. The Board was provided a golden opportunity to adopt the interpretation of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has held persecution to be “on account of” one’s membership in the particular social group consisting of family where the applicant would not have been targeted if not for their familial relationship. Such approach clearly satisfies the statutory requirement that the membership in the particular social group be “at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.” If the asylum seeker would not have been targeted if not for the familial relationship, how could such relationship not be at least one central reason for the harm? L-E-A- rejected this interpretation, and instead adopted a much more restrictive “means to an end” test. Under L-E-A-, even though the respondent would not be targeted but for her familial relationship to her murdered husband, she would not be found to have established a nexus because the gangsters she fears do not wish to harm her because of an independent animus against her husband’s family. Rather, targeting her would be a means to the end of self-preservation by attempting to silencing her to avoid their own criminal prosecution.

 

Under the fact patterns we commonly see from Mexico and the “northern triangle” countries of Central America, claims based on family as a particular social group will continue to be denied, as such fears will inevitably be deemed to be a means to some criminal motive of gangs and cartels (i.e. to obtain money through extortion or as ransom; to increase their ranks; to avoid arrest) as opposed to a desire to punish the family itself. Applying the same logic to political opinion, a popular political opponent of a brutal dictator could be denied asylum, as the dictator’s real motive in seeking to imprison or kill the political opponent could be viewed as self-preservation (i.e. avoiding losing power in a free and fair election, and then being imprisoned and tried for human rights violations), as opposed to a true desire to overcome the applicant’s actual opinions on philosophical grounds.

 

Sadly, the approach of L-E-A- is consistent with that employed in a line of claims based on political opinion 20 years ago (see Matter of C-A-L-, 21 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 1997); Matter of T-M-B-, 21 I&N Dec. 775 (BIA 1997); Matter of V-T-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 792 (BIA 1997)) in which attempted guerrilla recruitment, kidnaping, and criminal extortion carried out by armed political groups were not recognized as persecution where the perpetrator’s motive was to further a goal of his/her political organization as opposed to punishing the asylum applicant because of his/her own political opinion.

 

Nearly a decade earlier, an extreme application of this “logic” resulted in the most absurd Board result of to date. In Matter of Maldonado-Cruz, 19 I&N Dec. 509 (BIA 1988), the Board actually held that a deserter from an illegal guerrilla army’s fear of being executed by a death squad lacked a nexus to a protected ground, because the employment of death squads by said illegal guerrilla army was “part of a military policy of that group, inherent in the nature of the organization, and a tool of discipline,” (to quote from the headnotes). After three decades of following the course of such clearly result-oriented decision making, the Board missed an opportunity to right its course.

 

The author formerly served as an immigration judge, and as a staff attorney at the Board of Immigration Appeals.

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

I agree with Judge Chase that this is a missed opportunity that will come back to haunt all of us. A correct decision would have allowed many of the Central American asylum seekers clogging the court system at all levels to be granted needed protection, either at the USCIS or in court. Here is a link to my prior blog and “alternative analysis” of L-E-A-.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-Sh

Instead, I predict that some of these cases could still be “kicking around the system” somewhere a decade from now, unless some drastic changes are made. And the type of positive, due process, fairness, and protection oriented changes needed are not going to happen under the Trump Administration. So, the battles will be fought out in the higher courts.

Although the BIA did it’s best to obfuscate, it’s prior precedent in Matter of J-B-N- & S-M-, 24 I&N Dec. 208 (BIA 2007) basically established a “common sense/but for” test for one central reason. In a mixed motive case, if the persecution would have occurred notwithstanding the protected ground, then it is tangental, incidental, and not “at least one central reason.” On the other hand, if “but for” the protected ground the perseuction would not have occurred, that ground is at least “one central reason” of the persecution.

In L-E-A- the respondent would not have suffered threats and attempts to kidnap him  “but for” his membership in the family. Hence family clearly is “at least one central reason” for the persecution. That’s basically the test the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals would apply.

It’s a fairly straightforward case. The respondent in L-E-A- satisfies the refugee definition. In fact, the serious threats delivered by a gang which clearly has the ability and the means to carry them out amounts to past persecution. Hence, the respondent is entitled to the rebuttable presumption of future persecution.

Instead of properly applying its own precedents and reaching the correct result, the BIA launches into paragraphs of legal gobbledygook designed to mask what’s really going on here: manipulating the law and the facts to deny protection to Central American refugees whenever possible.

I know, this respondent is from Mexico; but, the BIA’s intended target obviously is Northern Triangle gang-based asylum claims. This precedent gives the Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers lots of “hooks” to deny claims by women and children fleeing family-targeted gang violence.

And, it insures that nobody without a really good lawyer and the ability to litigate up to Courts of Appeals if necessary even has a chance. The BIA is certainly well aware that the Trump Administration is pulling out all the stops to effectively deny counsel to arriving asylum seekers by a combination of using expedited removal, increasing negative credible fear determinations, and detaining everyone in out of the way locations where conditions are discouraging and pro bono counsel are not readily available.

Yeah, I don’t suppose any of this is going to bother Trump Administration officials any more than it did the BIA’s DOJ bosses during the Bush and Obama Administrations. Some negative case precedents on repetitive Central American claims proved mighty handy in border enforcement efforts and “don’t come, you’ve got no chance” publicity campaigns. The only problem is the it twists protection law out of shape.

Finally, let the record reflect that I lodged a dissent in Matter of C-A-L-, 21 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 1997); Matter of T-M-B-, 21 I&N Dec. 775 (BIA 1997); and Matter of V-T-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 792 (BIA 1997), wrongly decided BIA precedent cases cited by Judge Chase. Indeed, Matter of T-M-B- eventually was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Borja v. INS, 175 F.3d 332  (9th cir. 1999), something which many BIA Appellate Judges only grudgingly acknowledged in later cases.

So, it will be left for the Courts of Appeals to straighten out nexus in the family context. Or not.

Again, welcome Judge Chase.  Look forward to hearing more from you.

PWS

06-03-17

 

THE HUMAN TOLL OF IMMIGRATION DETENTION: Mother Attempts Suicide After 6 Months In Texas “Family Detention Centers!”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mother-family-detention-suicide-attempt_us_59271267e4b062f96a34da5c?45b

Roque Planas reports in HuffPost:

“AUSTIN, Texas ― A woman locked at a family immigrant detention center tried to take her own life this month in what legal advocates described as a desperate effort to free her two kids.

Samira Hakimi, an Afghan national, has spent the last six months detained with her two young children despite a federal ruling that dictates they should have been released within three weeks. The case reinforces the longstanding concerns of immigrant rights groups that say asylum-seeking families should not be forced into prolonged detention.

“They told us you will only be a couple of days in there,” Hakimi told HuffPost. “I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time. That I’m detained here because I’m from Afghanistan and that’s all. But I’m human.”

In Afghanistan, the Hakimi family had established a high school and multi-branch private university that used Western curricula, taught in both English and Dari and offered more than half its scholarships to women, according to lawyers representing Hakimi and her husband.

Since 2013, the Taliban repeatedly threatened the family for its work. To avoid the danger of commuting, the family moved onto the university campus and contracted private security guards that year.

It wasn’t enough for them to feel safe. “We could not go outside,” Hakimi said. “My children could not go to school. We thought they might be kidnapped. This was always in our minds…. They have their lives to live. They should live happy and free from every small thing, going to school and enjoying their lives.”

Last year, they fled Afghanistan with Hakimi’s brother-in-law and his pregnant wife, who were facing similar threats.

In December, the two families crossed into the United States from Mexico through a legal port of entry, where they all asked for asylum. The men were separated and sent to all-male immigrant detention centers, where they remain. Hakimi and her kids, as well as her sister-in-law and her newborn baby, were sent to the South Texas Family Detention Center in the town of Dilley and later transferred to the Karnes County Residential Center outside San Antonio.

Hakimi passed her “credible fear” interview ― the first step toward applying for asylum. It’s common practice for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to free people who pass these interviews so they can pursue their cases in immigration court, but ICE declined to release her and her children. The agency did not respond to a request for comment explaining why it refuses to release them. Hakimi’s sister-in-law is also still at Karnes with her 10-month-old baby.
DREW ANTHONY SMITH VIA GETTY IMAGES
The Karnes County Residential Center houses mothers who enter the United States with their children. Most of them seek asylum or other forms of humanitarian exemption from deportation.
Hakimi told HuffPost she had suffered from bouts of clinical depression before being detained. Advocates with RAICES, a nonprofit that provides legal services to detained families, say she had attempted suicide in the past and told medical workers at Karnes that her condition had worsened as her case appeared to stall. Neither medicine nor therapy would alleviate the problem, she argued. Her depression stemmed from remaining locked up in the detention center with her children.

As the months dragged on, she lost hope. “Here, no one talks to us,” Hakimi said. “They don’t give us the reason why I’m detained in here. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time.”

Her son came to her one day asking her why other families were allowed to leave but not them. “That was really triggering her,” Amy Fisher, RAICES’s policy director, told HuffPost. “She was crying and really depressed. And she went into this thought process, when she was really low, thinking, ‘Well, if I’m no longer here, maybe my children can be free.’” Kids cannot be held without their parents or guardians in family detention.

After she made an effort to take her own life, she woke up in the medical unit of the detention center and was taken to a nearby hospital, where two members of the detention center staff sat with her continuously.

“I told them, ‘I’m just crying for my children, please,’” she said in a recording with one of her legal providers. “I’m not sick. But they gave me medicine. And they told me take this every four hours, but I didn’t take it anymore.”

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

Read the full story at the link.

Don’t think that a few (or even many) attempted suicides or preventable deaths in immigration detention are going to change the Administration’s plans to establish an “American Gulag.” After all, what better “deterrent” than death to put a dent in migration.

No, the only thing that might get in the way is if Democrats start winning elections and wielding some political power in Washington. (Not that Democrats have been particularly enlightened when it comes to immigration detention, either. After all, Dilley, Karnes, Berks County, and other “family residential prisons” were Obama initiatives. But, that’s another story.)

But, as I just pointed out in an earlier blog, Dems appear lost in the political wilderness with no path out.

PWS

05-26-16

 

NEW PRECEDENT: Family Is A PSG, But Beware Of Nexus — Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017) — Read My “Alternative Analysis!”

https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/969456/download

BIA Headnote:

“(1) Whether a particular social group based on family membership is cognizable depends on the nature and degree of the relationships involved and how those relationships are regarded by the society in question. (2) To establish eligibility for asylum on the basis of membership in a particular social group composed of family members, an applicant must not only demonstrate that he or she is a member of the family but also that the family relationship is at least one central reason for the claimed harm.”

PANEL: BIA Appellate Immigration Judges Greer, Malphrus, Liebowitz

OPINION BY: Judge Anne Greer

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

I was the Immigration Judge in one of the leading “family as a PSG” cases cited by the BIA, the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117, 124−25 (4th Cir. 2011). In Crespin, I had granted asylum to a Salvadoran family comprising a PSG of “family members of those who actively oppose gangs in El Salvador by agreeing to be prosecutorial witnesses.”

The BIA reversed me on appeal, and the respondents sought judicial review in the Fourth Circuit. That Court (much to my delight and satisfaction, I must admit) reversed the BIA and agreed with me that the respondent’s PSG was valid.

Following that, family based PSGs came up frequently in the Arlington Immigration Court. However, in a number of cases, as in  L-E-A-, in their haste to posit a valid family-based PSG, attorneys neglected to prove the nexus between the PSG and the harm, or, even more surprisingly, failed to show that the respondent was even a member of the proposed PSG. Details are important!

Nevertheless, since family-based PSG cases are often “grantable,” I can’t help wondering why the BIA selected a denial for the precedent, rather than putting forth a positive example of how family-based PSGs can be a legitimate means of granting protection under the law and thereby saving lives?

In L-E-A-, the PSG was the respondent’s membership in his father’s family. Gangs threatened him with harm because they wanted him to sell drugs in his father’s store, and he refused. The respondent’s membership in the family is immutable. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that the gangs would have threatened the respondent but for his membership in a family which ran a store where they wanted to sell drugs.

Consequently, the IJ and the BIA  panel could just have easily found that “family membership” was at least one central reason for the threatened harm. To me, this seems like a better analysis. I find the panel’s observation that anyone who owned the store would have been threatened irrelevant. So what?

PWS

05-25-17

New From 9th Circuit: Ayala v. Sessions — Reaffirming “economic extortion on the basis of a protected characteristic can constitute persecution!” — Judicial Review of Credible Fear/Reinstatement — “Extortion Plus” Reaffirmed!

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/05/01/13-72250.pdf

“The IJ abused his discretion in concluding that there was no legal error in his previous opinion affirming the negative reasonable fear determination.5 Contrary to the IJ’s holding, our precedents make clear that economic extortion on the basis of a protected characteristic can constitute persecution.

5 We review the legal error de novo and conclude that the IJ abused his discretion in reaching the result he did. See Popa v. Holder, 571 F.3d 890, 894 (9th Cir. 2009) (“An IJ abuses his discretion when he acts arbitrarily, irrationally, or contrary to law.”) (citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 405 (1990) (“A district court would necessarily abuse its discretion if it based its ruling on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.”).

AYALA V. SESSIONS 17

Borja, 175 F.3d at 736; Barajas-Romero, 846 F.3d at 357 & n.5 (“A person seeking withholding of removal must prove not only that his life or freedom will be threatened in his home country, but also that the threat is ‘because of’ one of the five listed reasons:” race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3)(A); 8 C.F.R. § 208.16(b)). In Borja, for example, the petitioner suffered past persecution on account of her political opinion when she was extorted partly for economic reasons and partly on the basis of her political statements. 175 F.3d at 736. We described this type of persecution as “extortion plus”—that is, extortion, with the threat of violence, on the basis of a protected characteristic. Id.

Here, Ayala testified that she suffered this type of persecution by stating that she faced extortion, and threats of violence, not only for economic reasons, but also because of her family ties. Rios v. Lynch, 807 F.3d 1123, 1128 (9th Cir. 2015) (“[T]he family remains the quintessential particular social group.”). Whatever the merits of her claim, it was legal error for the IJ to hold that extortion could not constitute persecution for the purposes of withholding of removal: where the petitioner’s membership in a particular social group (in this case, a family) is at least “a reason” for the extortion, it is sufficient to meet the nexus requirement for withholding of removal. See Barajas-Romero, 846 F.3d at 360 (Post REAL-ID withholding claims are not governed by the “one central reason” test that applies to asylum claims, but instead require only that a protected ground was “a reason” for persecution, which “is a less demanding standard.”).

18 AYALA V. SESSIONS

Therefore, we grant Ayala’s petition for review, and remand for the IJ to address whether Ayala has established a reasonable fear based on her extortion-plus claim of persecution.

CONCLUSION

We have jurisdiction to review the IJ’s negative reasonable fear determination relating to the reinstatement of Ayala’s expedited removal order. The BIA’s dismissal of Ayala’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction was the final order of removal; therefore, Ayala’s petition for review is timely because it was filed less than 30 days after that order.

We hold that the IJ abused his discretion in concluding that extortion could not constitute past persecution, and in failing to consider the question of Ayala’s family ties. Therefore, we GRANT Ayala’s petition for review and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

PANEL:

Stephen Reinhardt and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Edward R. Korman,* District Judge. (*The Honorable Edward R. Korman, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation.)

OPINION BY:  Judge Reinhardt

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

In my experience, U.S. Immigration Judges, the BIA, and some Courts of Appeals make the mistake highlighted by the 9th Circuit in far too many instances by summarily disregarding credible claims of persecution based on extortion. That’s why the Trump Administration’s effort to “heighten” the standards for “credible fear” and “reasonable fear” of persecution will almost certainly compromise due process and fairness.

PWS

05-01-17

NEW FROM 4TH CIR: Cantallano-Cruz v. Sessions — 4th Rips BIA’s “Excessively Narrow” & “Shortsighted” Treatment Of “Nexus” Issue In Honduran Family PSG Asylum Case!

http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/152511.P.pdf

“Our decision in Hernandez-Avalos is particularly instructive in the present case. There, the BIA denied asylum to a petitioner who fled El Salvador after gang members threatened to kill her because she prevented her son from joining the gang. 784 F.3d at 946-47. The petitioner had argued that at least one central reason for her persecution was her nuclear family relationship with her son. Id. at 949. The BIA disagreed, holding that she actually was targeted because she did not consent to her son’s criminal activity. Id.

We held that this application of the nexus requirement by the BIA was “excessively narrow,” and explained that there was no meaningful distinction between the existence of a maternal relationship and a mother’s decision to forbid her son from participating in a gang. Id. at 949–50. We held that the record compelled a factual conclusion that the petitioner’s relationship with her son was a central reason for her persecution, because that relationship was the reason “why she, and not another person, was threatened.” Id. at 950.

We likewise conclude in the present case that the BIA and IJ applied an improper and excessively narrow interpretation of the evidence relevant to the statutory nexus requirement. The BIA and IJ shortsightedly focused on Avila’s articulated purpose of preventing Cantillano Cruz from contacting the police, while discounting the very relationship that prompted her to search for her husband, to confront Avila, and to express her intent to contact the police. See Oliva, 807 F.3d at 59-60 (although the applicant’s refusal to pay the gang rent was the “immediate trigger” for an assault, the applicant’s membership in the social group of individuals who left the gang led to threats, and thus the two reasons were linked). The BIA’s and IJ’s focus on the explanation Avila gave for his threats, while failing to consider the intertwined reasons for those threats, manifests a misapplication of the statutory nexus standard.

The full record before us compels a conclusion that Avila’s threats were motivated, in at least one central respect, by Cantillano Cruz’s membership in Martinez’s nuclear family. Although, as the IJ observed, any person interested in Martinez’s disappearance may have confronted Avila concerning Martinez’s whereabouts, this fact does not adequately explain the ongoing threats Avila made against Cantillano Cruz and her children over a period of two years at her home. See Cordova, 759 F.3d at 339-40 (although the applicant was first attacked by the persecutor to force the applicant to join the gang, the BIA failed to consider evidence showing that later attacks were motivated by family ties). Avila persisted in threatening Cantillano Cruz after she promised him that she would not contact the police. Avila placed threatening telephone calls to Cantillano Cruz at her home, the center of life for Martinez and his nuclear family. Also at the Martinez family’s home, Avila and his associates killed the family’s dogs, brandished and fired weapons, and threatened to harm Cantillano Cruz and her children.”

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Read the full opinion at the link.

In too many cases, the BIA appears to strain the law and misconstrue facts to avoid granting protection to deserving applicants from Northern Triangle countries in Central America who clearly face harm upon return. Misapplication of the highly technical concept of “nexus” is a device sometimes used by by the Board and some Immigration Judges to deny claims of vulnerable individuals who could and should be granted protection under U.S. laws.

In doing so, the BIA jettisons the generous spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision in Cardoza-Fonseca and their own precedent decision in Mogharrabi warranting generous treatment of credible asylum seekers in need of protection. Indeed, the BIA often seems more willing to “rote cite” Mogharrabi than to actually follow their own precedent.

The purpose of asylum and other protections laws is to protect individuals facing harm wherever possible, not to find hyper-technical ways to deny or limit protections.

I am pleased that one of the cases cited by the Fourth Circuit is Crespin-Valladares v. Holder, 632 F.3d 117 (4th Cir. 2011). Crespin is one of the “seminal” fourth Circuit cases recognizing family as a “particular social group” for asylum purposes. I had granted the asylum applications in Crespin only to have the BIA reverse those grants after the DHS appealed.  However, upon judicial review, the Fourth Circuit agreed with me and reversed and remanded the case to the BIA.

This case also vividly illustrates the absurdity of forcing individuals to pursue these types of claims in Immigration Court without a lawyer. Even the Immigration Judge and the BIA were confused about the proper standards here!  Fortunately, this individual not only had a lawyer but a good one.

But, how would an unrepresented individual, without English language skills, and perhaps with minimal education, and therefore no ability to access or understand the important and complicated Fourth Circuit precedents showing the BIA and the IJ to be wrong have any legitimate chance of achieving success? Yet, the Administration proposes to race just such individuals through expedited hearings at inconveniently located and often poorly run detention facilities where chances of getting competent legal assistance are minimal.

PWS

03/13/17