Musings on Events in U.S. Immigration Court, Immigration Law, Sports, and Other Random Topics by Retired United States Immigration Judge (Arlington, Virginia) and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt. To see my complete professional bio, just click on the link below.
The Proper Role of Immigration Judges as Asylum Adjudicators
I would like to expand on the topic raised in my response to the BIA’s recent precedent decision in Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B-. In the U.S. system, what tensions exist between an immigration judge’s role as an independent judge within an adversarial system, and his or her overlapping role as an adjudicator of asylum claims?
As we all know, the 1980 Refugee Act was enacted to put the U.S. in compliance with the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (to which the U.S. acceded through the 1967 Protocol). For that reason, numerous courts through the years have found the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status to provide “significant guidance in construing the Protocol” and a useful instrument “in giving content to the obligations the Protocol establishes,” as the U.S. Supreme Court stated in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca. The BIA has referenced the UNHCR Handbook in at least ten precedent decisions, as have numerous circuit courts.
Paragraphs 66 and 67 of the Handbook state the following:
66. In order to be considered a refugee, a person must show well-founded fear of persecution for one of the reasons stated above. It is immaterial whether the persecution arises from any single one of these reasons or from a combination of two or more of them. Often the applicant himself may not be aware of the reasons for the persecution feared. It is not, however, his duty to analyze his case to such an extent as to identify the reasons in detail.
67. It is for the examiner, when investigating the facts of the case, to ascertain the reason or reasons for the persecution feared and to decide whether the definition in the 1951 Convention is met with in this respect… (emphasis added.)
Not surprisingly, this approach is employed by the USCIS Asylum Office. Created in the implementation of the 1990 asylum regulations, the office’s first director, Gregg Beyer, previously worked for UNHCR for more than 12 years. The Asylum Officer Basic Training Manual (“AOBTM”) on the topic of nexus states that although the applicant bears the burden of proving nexus, the asylum officer has an affirmative duty to elicit all relevant information, and “should fully explore the motivations of any persecutor involved in the case.” The AOBTC therefore directs the asylum officer to “make reasonable inferences, keeping in mind the difficulty, in many cases, of establishing with precision a persecutor’s motives.”
The AOBTC also cites the 1988 BIA precedent decision in Matter of Fuentes.1 In that case, the Board held that “an applicant does not bear the unreasonable burden of establishing the exact motivation of a ‘persecutor’ where different reasons for actions are possible. However, an applicant does bear the burden of establishing facts on which a reasonable person would fear that the danger arises on account of” a protected ground.
In Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board takes the view that “it is for the Refugee Division to determine the ground, if any, applicable to the claimant’s fear of persecution.” The U.S. is unusual, if not unique, among western nations in not also delegating this responsibility to immigration judges. Also, note that the IRB references the “Refugee Division;” like many countries, Canada’s equivalent of immigration courts is divided into immigration and refugee divisions, in recognition of the special obligations and knowledge that asylum determinations require. The U.S. immigration court system does not have a separate refugee determination division; asylum claims are heard by the same judges and under the same conditions as all other types of immigration cases. Furthermore, as noted above, U.S. immigration judges hear cases in an adversarial setting, in which judges assume a passive, neutral role.
The role of asylum adjudicator carries responsibilities that are at odds with the the role of neutral arbiter. Asylum adjudicators are required to share the burden of documenting the asylum claim; the UNHCR Handbook at para. 196 states that “in some cases, it may be for the examiner to use all of the means at his disposal to produce the necessary evidence in support of the application.”2 And, as discussed above, once the facts are ascertained, it is the adjudicator who should identify the reasons for the feared persecution and determine if such reasons bear a nexus to a protected ground.
During the Department of Justice’s asylum reform discussions in the early 1990s, Gregg Beyer stated that the idea of separate asylum judges was considered, but ultimately rejected. To my knowledge, EOIR has never conducted an in-depth analysis of the conflicts between the judge’s responsibilities as an asylum adjudicator and his or her role as a neutral arbiter in adversarial proceedings. I discussed the Board’s incorrect holding in Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B- under which genuine refugees may be ordered returned to countries where they will face persecution because the asylum applicants lacked the sophistication to properly delineate a particular social group, a complex legal exercise that many immigration attorneys (and immigration judges) are unable to do. The problem also extends to other protected grounds. Would an unrepresented asylum applicant (who might be a child) understand what an imputed political opinion is? Would most asylum applicants be able to explain that actions viewed as resisting the authority of a third-generation gang such as MS-13 might constitute a political opinion? Regulations should be enacted making it the responsibility of immigration judges to consider these questions. Additionally, immigration judges, BIA Board Members and staff attorneys should be required to undergo specialized training to enable them to identify and properly analyze these issues.
1. 19 I&N Dec. 658 (BIA 1988).
2. See also the BIA’s precedent decision in Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), which I have referenced in other articles.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Today, my daughter Marisa and I joined thousands of women, men, and children in Washington, DC and other cities around the country to march for equality and for justice.
First and foremost on my mind while I marched with my daughter were the migrant and refugee women, children, and families for whom I advocate every day. With each step, I thought about the brave mothers who escape danger in their home countries because, like all mothers, they want a bright future for their children. Expecting to find safety at our border, these women and children are instead met by the Trump administration’s policies of ripping families apart.
I decided to march today in honor of the women and children who reach for safety but are instead betrayed.
The Women’s Refugee Commission will march forward with our important work supporting women and children seeking safety at our border. We will continue to utilize the court systems, inform the press and public, and hold the Trump administration accountable until asylum seekers have the protection and services they need to be safe, healthy, and to rebuild their lives. But there is strength in numbers.
In the spirit of the Women’s March, and the women for whom we march, please join us by donating today.
We can accomplish so much more together than we can alone.
Director, Migrant Rights and Justice Program
Like me, my friend Michelle began her career as an Attorney Advisor at the BIA. She is also a distinguished alum of Georgetown Law where I am an Adjunct Professor.
The Women’s Refugee Commission does some fantastic work in behalf of vulnerable women and children who arrive at our border seeking refuge and justice, only to be detained and railroaded back to life-threatening conditions by the anti-refugee, anti-Due-Process, White Nationalist regime of Trump, Sessions, Miller, Nielsen, and their complicit minions.
Michelle was named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s e-News.
Imagine what a great country this could be if our Government and our justice system were led by smart, courageous, principled, values-driven, humane leaders like Michelle and her colleagues, rather than by a cabal of morally bankrupt White Nationalist men and their sycophantic subordinates.
“All he had were his words and the power of truth,” Sessions said. “ . . . His message, his life and his death changed hearts and minds. Those changed souls then changed the laws of this land.”
But civil rights leaders criticized Sessions’s remarks, made at a time, they said, when the Justice Department is rolling back efforts to promote civil and voting rights.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called Tuesday for Justice Department employees to “remember, celebrate and act” in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
“It is beyond ironic for Jeff Sessions to celebrate the architecture of civil rights protections inspired by Dr. King and other leaders as he works to tear down these very protections,” said Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama and now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“Make no mistake,” Gupta said. “If Dr. King were alive today, he would be protesting outside of Jeff Sessions’s office.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that in the past year, the Justice Department under Sessions has taken action to “obstruct and reverse civil rights enforcement.”
She and others point to a new policy that calls for federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges even if that might mean minority defendants face stiff, mandatory-minimum penalties. Sessions has defended President Trump’s travel ban and threatened to take away funding from cities with policies he considers too lenient toward undocumented immigrants. The department’s new guidance and stances on voting rights and LGBT issues also might disenfranchise minorities and poor people, civil rights advocates say.
Justice officials say that Sessions’s actions reflect an aggressive, by-the-book interpretation of federal law and that his policies are geared toward fighting violent crime and drug trafficking.”
Read the complete article at the above link.
Absurd and insulting! Actions speak louder than words, Gonzo! Every day that you spend in office mocks our Constitution, the rule of law, human decency, and the legacy of MLK and others who fought for racial and social equality and social justice under the law.
I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he and his followers would be on your and Trump’s “hit list.” Indeed, peacefully but forcefully standing up to and shaming tone-deaf, White Nationalist, racially challenged politicos like you, who lived in the past and inhibited America’s future with their racism, was one of the defining marks of MLK’s life!
How do things like increasing civil immigration detention, building the “New American Gulag,” stripping unaccompanied children of their rights to an Immigration Court hearing, mindlessly attacking so-called “sanctuary cities,” mocking hard-working pro bono immigration attorneys and their efforts, reducing the number of refugees, excluding Muslims, building a wall, stripping protections from Dreamers, reducing legal immigration, favoring White immigrants, and spreading false narratives about Latino migrants and crime “honor” the legacy of Dr. King?
Indeed, the “Sanctuary Cities Movement” appears to have a direct historical connection to King’s non-violent civil disobedience aimed at the enforcement of “Jim Crow” laws. Much as today, those on the “wrong side of history” wrapped themselves in hypocritical bogus “rule of law” arguments as they mocked and violated the civil rights of African Americans.
At some point, America needs and deserves a real Attorney General, one who recognizes and fights for the rights of everyone in America, including minorities, the poor, the most vulnerable, and the so-called undocumented population, who, contrary to your actions and rhetoric, are entitled to full Due Process of law under our Constitution. Imagine how a real Attorney General, one like say Vanita Gupta, might act.Now that would truly honor Dr. King’s memory.
“As he awaits his fate in a remote Texas jail, Mr. Gutierrez, 54, remains convinced of the peril he faces if deported to his native country. “My life depends on this [appeal],” he said by telephone in a news conference organized Monday by the National Press Club. “I’m terrified to set foot in Mexico.”
The judge who denied asylum in the case, Robert S. Hough, pointed to an absence of documentary and testimonial corroboration of Mr. Gutierrez’s claim. The woman who relayed word of the alleged death threat did not come forward; neither did Mr. Gutierrez’s former boss at the newspaper for which he worked in Chihuahua. Much of Mr. Gutierrez’s case comes down to his word.
Nonetheless, the judge’s cut-and-dried application of the law fails to take into account conditions in Mexico generally and the peril faced there by journalists in particular. It’s not surprising that Mr. Gutierrez cannot recover copies of his articles, written more than a decade ago for a regional newspaper. Nor is it unusual that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, given the fear with which many Mexicans regard the security forces.
As a U.N. report published this month concluded, citing the deaths, disappearances and attacks on dozens of journalists tallied by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, “The data . . . presents a picture for the situation of journalists in Mexico that cannot be described as other than catastrophic.” Against that background, it seems cavalier to dismiss the threat Mr. Gutierrez faces should he be deported to Mexico. He should be granted asylum.”
Read the complete Editorial at the link.
Unfortunately, a “cut and dried application of the law” without proper regard to the facts or reality is a disturbingly accurate snapshot of what all too often happens daily in our Immigration Courts, a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the US Department of Justice and part of the “Trump Conglomerate” (formerly known as the US Government).
Our failing US Immigration Court system and its aggravation by AG “Gonzo Apocalypto’s” oft-expressed hostility to immigrants, asylum, the rule of law (except his 1950s “Jim Crow” views on the law and how it should be a tool for injustice and advancing White Nationalism), lawyers, Latinos, Mexicans, and the press has become an almost daily topic for major editorial boards. At least someone (other than me) is watching and documenting as this mockery of American justice unfolds before us.
In particular, too many U.S. Immigration Judges are tone-deaf to Mexican asylum claims, not wanting to be accused of “opening the floodgates” ( a concept that is nowhere to be found in the actual law) and knowing that “Gonzo” wants lots of “quick removals” rather than asylum grants. Additionally, the only administrative check on the Immigration Judges’ authority is a weak Appeals Board that never “calls out” overly restrictive Immigration Judges by name and seldom publishes precedents granting asylum. Truly, a prescription for a “Due Process Disaster!”
Judge Hough seems to have forgotten that under the law:
”Corroborating evidence” can only be required if it is “reasonably available;”
Testimony may be corroborated by country condition information describing the same abuses that the applicant claims;
The standard for granting asylum is a generous “well-founded fear” or “reasonable likelihood” of future harm which can be “significantly less than probable — as little as a 10% chance can suffice;
Asylum applicants are supposed to be given the “benefit of the doubt” in recognition of the evidentiary challenges of providing proof of persecution and the difficulties of relating traumatic events in the past.
It remain to be seen whether the Board of Immigration Appeals, EOIR’s “Appellate Court,” will correct Judge Hough’s life-threatening errors and, further, issue a strong precedent on asylum for foreign journalists (traditionally one of the most vulnerable and persecuted groups) to prevent further miscarriages of Justice such as this. Such a precedent would also discourage the DHS from continuing to abuse our system by pushing for removal (and needless detention) in cases such as this where a grant of asylum at the DHS Asylum Office or at the hearing following the testimony would be the correct result.
Or, will the next major editorial describe and decry Mr. Gutierrez’s death in Mexico!
In a well-functioning justice system, this case should have been a “Short-docket, No-brainer Grant.” But, Gonzo Apocalypto seeks to use the US Immigration Courts as an extension of DHS enforcement rather than, as they were intended, as Courts guaranteeing fairness, Due Process, and equal justice for all! We need change. Lots of it!
[NOTE: For those interested, Judge Hough apparently has not decided enough asylum cases on the merits in El Paso to be listed on the statistical profile of asylum outcomes maintained by TRAC Immigration.]
“A Mexican journalist who sought asylum in the United States in 2008 was arrested by U.S. immigration agents this week and told he would be deported, though an appeals board temporarily halted his removal Friday — sparing his life for now, he said.
Emilio Gutierrez, 54, who in October received a press freedom award from the National Press Club in Washington, said he and his 24-year-old son, Oscar, were taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Thursday while trying to enter an appeal to their asylum claim.
“We can’t go back to Mexico. They’ll kill us,” Gutierrez said, using his attorney’s cellphone to speak from an ICE detention center in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
Gutierrez said he and his son fled northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state in 2008 after he published stories exposing the abuses committed by soldiers who robbed and extorted residents in his hometown, Ascención, a notorious drug trafficking hub.
After soldiers ransacked his home, Gutierrez said he learned his name appeared on a military “kill list,” so he fled across the border into Texas with his then-teeange son.
In July, after living nine years in the United States, Gutierrez’s asylum request was denied, and an appeal was rejected in early November. His attorney, Eduardo Beckett, said Gutierrez and his son were handcuffed and jailed Thursday when they presented themselves at an ICE processing center to enter an emergency appeal.
. . . .
With drug-related violence at record levels, Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. More than 40 Mexican reporters have been murdered since 1992 for performing their jobs, including at least five this year. Only Iraq and Syria were more dangerous for the press in 2017, according to CPJ.
Journalists working in small towns plagued by drug cartel violence are especially vulnerable, but the dead have included staffers at some of Mexico’s leading publications.
Bill McCarren, the executive director of the National Press Club, said the organization gave Gutierrez this year’s press freedom award to draw attention to the plight of Mexico’s imperiled journalists. McCarren was alarmed to find out ICE agents were trying to send Gutierrez back to a place where his life would be in danger.
“This is a critical, existential issue for Emilio, but also a critical issue for all journalists in Mexico,” McCarren said in an interview. “It’s a concern for us that the United States, that stands for free press as a bedrock principle of our democracy, would not make a place for him here when he’s so clearly at risk.”
. . . .
But Hootsen said his organization cautions reporters against seeking asylum in the United States because the requests are likely to be denied. “The United States is obviously the place that first comes to mind for Mexican reporters who need to flee the country,” said Hootsen, “so it’s important for U.S. authorities to take their claims seriously and give them a fair hearing.”
Read Miroff’s complete story at the link.
Jeff Sessions would have you believe that frivolous asylum cases and failure to crank denials off the Immigration Court assembly line more quickly are the biggest problems. Not true!
Those of us who have spent a lifetime working in the system and actually understand asylum law, the correct legal criteria, and the shortcomings of EOIR know that the real crisis here is that far too many meritorious claims for protection are being denied by stressed and rushed Immigration Judges who don’t correctly understand asylum and protection law, are unsympathetic to asylum seekers, are forced to deal with unrepresented or underrepresented asylum applicants, or are afraid to put their careers on the line to stand up to politicos in this and other Administrations who seek to artificially limit the number of asylum grants at the potential expense of individual’s lives and safety.
Go on over to Dan Kowalski’s LexisNexis Immigration Community here for all the links to the 19-part series on You Tube made possible by the American Law Institute with an introduction by none other than Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:
Interestingly, this panel configuration seldom, if ever, appears in BIA precedent decisions. Nor are these Judges recorded as dissenting or commenting upon the BIA’s generally anti-asylum precedents, some of which almost mock the BIA’s leading precedent on the generous nature of asylum law following the Supreme Court’s decision in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca: Matter of Mogharrbi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987).
So, why are the Appellate Immigration Judges who appear to have a good understanding of asylum law that is much more in line with the Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the BIA’s own pre-2003 precedents “buried in obscurity?” Meanwhile, those Appellate Immigration Judges who evince a lack of understanding of asylum law, the realities of being asylum applicants in the “purposely user unfriendly” Immigration Courts, or any visible sympathy for the plight of asylum seekers (even those who are denied under our overly technical legal standards often face life threatening situations upon return — some actually die — we just choose not to take the necessary steps to protect them) seem to be among the “featured” in BIA precedents? Do all of the BIA Judges really agree with every precedent. If not, why aren’t we seeing some public dialogue, debate, and dissent, as with every other collegial, deliberative court in America? What’s the purpose and value of a “deliberative court” that almost never engages in any public deliberation (about some of the most difficult and complex questions facing our nation)? Where’s the accountability if all BIA Appellate Judges are not recording their votes on published precedents?
As you read the BIA decision and the decision below of Judge Randall Duncan of the Stewart Immigration Court here are a few questions you might keep in mind:
Why doesn’t Judge Duncan cite any actual cases? (He refers to “the Eleventh Circuit” with no specific citations.)
Why didn’t Judge Duncan follow (or even discuss) either the BIA’s precedent in Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 23 I&N Dec. 22 (BIA 1998) or the Eleventh Circuit precedent in De Santamaria v, U.S. Att’y Gen., 525 F.3d 999, 1008 (11th Cir. 2008) both of which discuss “cumulative harm” and would inescapably have led to the conclusion that this respondent suffered past persecution?
Why isn’t this a published precedent in light of Judge Duncan’s clear misunderstanding of the applicable asylum law and because of the notorious reputation of the Atlanta-Stewart Immigration Courts as an “asylum free zone.”
Why did Judge Duncan, a relatively new Immigration Judge (Nov. 2016), attempt to dispose of this case with an obviously inadequate “Oral Decision.”
What kind of asylum training did Judge Duncan get?
What would have happened if this individual had been unrepresented (as many asylum applicants are at Stewart)?
What steps have the DOJ and EOIR taken to improve the poor substantive performance of some Immigration Judges who ignore applicable legal standards and deny far too many asylum cases?
What will Jeff Sessions’s “more untrained Immigration Judges peddling even faster” do to due process and justice in a court system that is currently failing to achieve fairness and due process in too many cases?
Taking a broken system and trying to expand it and make it run faster is simply going to produce more unfair and unjust results. In other words, it would be “insanely stupid.” The Immigration Court system has some serious quality of decision-making, bias, consistency, and due process issues that must be solved before the system can be expanded. Otherwise, the system will be institutionalizing “bad practices” rather than the “best practices.”
“IN LOWER MANHATTAN on Tuesday, not far from the memorial to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, eight people were killed and 12 injured when a man espousing fidelity to the Islamic State drove a rented pickup down a busy bike path along the Hudson River. “It was gruesome. It was grisly. It was surreal,” one witness said of bicyclists and pedestrians being mowed down. The attack on innocent people enjoying a fine autumn day was a chilling reminder of the persistent threat posed to the United States by Islamist extremists — and their ingenuity in finding ways to commit murder.
Some small comfort can be taken in the fact that in the 16 years since the fall of the twin towers, improvements in protecting the homeland and fighting terrorism abroad have lessened the terrorists’ strength to strike and improved our ability to respond. The quick actions of police and other first responders during Tuesday’s tragedy should be applauded. So must the resilience and strength of the people of New York City, who made clear they will not be cowed by fear.
Far less inspiring — indeed, downright dispiriting — was the reaction of President Trump. In a series of tweets that apparently were informed (a word we use loosely) by his viewing of “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump went on a harangue about immigration and attacked Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). On Wednesday, Mr. Trump signaled he might upend the judicial process by declaring the suspected attacker an enemy combatant to be shipped off to the Guantanamo Bay prison; federal terrorism charges filed against him later in the day likely would foreclose that from happening. Note that the White House wouldn’t discuss gun control after last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, on the grounds that it would politicize a tragedy, but it had no problem launching partisan attacks following a terrorist strike that ought to unify all Americans. Note also, as The Post’s Philip Bump pointed out, that Mr. Trump is quick to jump to conclusions when there are incidents involving immigrants but is far more circumspect when nonimmigrants are involved.
What’s really needed from the Trump administration is not blame-shifting but a serious attempt to investigate and learn from this latest attack. Were others involved or aware of the alleged plans dating back a year that went into the attack? Are authorities right in their initial assessment that the suspect became “radicalized domestically” while living in the United States? Were signals missed when he appeared on the radar of law enforcement in connection with the investigations of other suspects? The 29-year-old, authorities said, allegedly “followed almost exactly to a T” instructions that the Islamic State has put out on its social-media channels on how to carry out attacks. So what can be done to detect and deter other would-be followers?
Among those killed Tuesday were five Argentines who were part of a group of school friends who traveled to New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation. It was their dream trip to a city known for being open and generous and diverse. Those are the traits that make America great; to undermine them in response to Tuesday’s attack only plays into the hands of terrorists.”
Second, the Editorial Board responds to Trump’s attempt to blame Senator Chuck Schumer of New York for the attack:
“PRESIDENT TRUMP, ever prone to seek out scapegoats, fastened on a new target in the wake of the terrorist attack in New York: the state’s senior Democratic senator, along with a 27-year-old visa program that offers applicants from dozens of countries a shot at immigrating to the United States.
Mr. Trump singled out Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who, in 1990, sponsored the diversity visa program, through which the alleged attacker in New York, Sayfullo Saipov, is reported to have immigrated to the United States from his native Uzbekistan. In a tweet, the president derided the program as “a Chuck Schumer beauty.”
Never mind that Mr. Schumer’s legislation establishing the program attracted bipartisan support; or that it was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican; or even that Mr. Schumer himself unsuccessfully bargained to end the program, in 2013, in return for a bill granting legal residence to millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Neither the facts nor the normal political imperative to avoid partisanship in the wake of a terrorist attack appeared to move Mr. Trump.
His tweet made it appear that his overriding interest in an assault allegedly backed by the Islamic State is to use it to assail immigration — in this instance, a legal program whose beneficiaries represent a speck in the overall number of immigrants. Managed by the State Department since 1995, the program now grants up to 50,000 visas annually, via a random lottery, to citizens of dozens of countries who would otherwise be mostly overlooked in the annual influx of green-card recipients. In recent years, many of the winners have been from Africa and Eastern Europe.
Having reaped political advantage as a candidate in vilifying illegal immigrants, Mr. Trump has set his sights in office on legal migrants, including refugees, from a handful of mostly Muslim countries, whom he’d like Americans to see as an undifferentiated mass of potentially violent interlopers. Gradually, he is chipping away at what was once a national consensus that immigrants are a critical source of vitality, invention and international appeal.
Like almost any immigration program, the diversity visa lottery is imperfect and susceptible to abuse. The fortunate winners, who represent less than 1 percent of those who have applied annually in recent years, are not uniformly equipped to thrive in this country; many lack an education beyond high school. As Mr. Saipov may turn out to prove, even the extensive vetting required of all who immigrate through the program does not provide an ironclad guarantee that it is impervious to applicants who might seek to harm the United States.
The lottery program might be improved. Still, the fact that more than 11 million people applied for it in fiscal 2016 reflects the magnetic appeal the United States continues to exert around the world. Satisfying a small fraction of that demand, through the lottery or some other legal means, is a powerful tool of public diplomacy in countries whose citizens might otherwise have no hope of coming here.”
“Asked about the suspect Wednesday, President Trump called him an “animal.” Prompted to say whether he thought Saipov should be sent to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Trump said, sure, he’d consider it. Later, at Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said flatly that the White House considered the suspect an “enemy combatant.”
The president also said yesterday that the American justice system (presumably including his own Justice Department) is a “joke” and a “laughingstock.”He further opined, “We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said. (Terrorists are subject to the death penalty, so it’s unclear what he had in mind.) “They’ll go through court for years … We need quick justice, and we need strong justice,” he said.
Thankfully, the Justice Department, like the Pentagon, has learned when to ignore Trump. On Wednesday, Saipov was charged in federal court.By Thursday morning, Trump was backing off his support for sending Saipov to Guantanamo. Once again, the ignorant president shot from the hip and had to creep back to reality.
Just how harmful were Trump’s statements? It is reprehensible for the president to defame our justice system, which is not a “joke” nor a “laughingstock” but the envy of the world. Moreover, in the terrorist context, it has proved remarkably efficient in trying and convicting terrorists, and then handing out maximum punishments. The surviving Boston Marathon bombing defendant was convicted in just this way and sentenced to death.
. . . .
Based on today’s tweet, we were right to assume that neither Trump nor Sanders had any idea what he/she was talking about (always a good assumption). We will watch with pride as American justice takes its course — and with horror as Trump continues to wreck havoc from the Oval Office.”
Having spent a professional lifetime working on immigration and refugee issues, I can confirm that Trump and his GOP “restrictionist cronies” like Sessions, Miller, and Bannon have managed to transform what used to be “a national consensus that immigrants [and particularly refugees] are a critical source of vitality, invention and international appeal” into a highly partisan and racially-charged attack on the national origins and futures of some of our most productive citizens and residents — those who far more than Trump or his cronies are likely to help us in building a better, safer future for all Americans.
Having worked on all sides of our U.S. Justice System, served as an administrative judge on the trial and appellate levels for more than 21 years, listened to and/or read thousands of accounts of what made people leave their “home countries,” and studied in detail the reasons why some failing countries are “senders” of talented migrants and others, like the U.S., are fortunate enough to be on the “receiving” end, I can say unequivocally that the fairness of our justice systemand the overall honsety and integrity of civil servants in the U.S. Government are the primary differences between the “sending” and “receiving” countries, like ours.
As I have observed before, Trump and his cronies are launching what is basically a “Third-World autocratic attack” on our Constitution and our democratic institutions. If they succeed, the immigration “problem” might eventually be “solved” because nobody will want to come here any more. How many people risked their lives trying to get into the former Soviet Union?
Donald Trump, his cronies, and his enablers are and will remain a much greater threat to our safety and Constitutional institutions than any foreign terrorist could ever be. We ignore his dangerous and fundamentally un-American rants at our own peril!
“Attorney General Jeff Sessionsdelivered remarks to the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) on Oct. 12, arguing that the U.S. asylum system is overburdened with fraud and abuse. Sessions misrepresented the system, relying on virtually no data to reach his, frankly, ignorant conclusions.
. . . .
Fifth, Sessions suggests that because some individuals who pass credible fear interviews fail to apply for asylum, they are fraudulently seeking asylum. This fails to recognize that individuals who pass a credible fear interview have been released with very little orientation as to what to expect next.
For example, asylum law requires that an official application be filed in immigration court within one year of the asylum seeker’s last entry into the United States. U.S. officials, however, fail to tell individuals who pass a credible fear interview about this deadline.
Having just articulated in detail, to a U.S. official, why they are afraid to return to their home country, many asylum seekers believe they have “applied” for asylum, and some even believe they have been granted upon release.
Several groups filed suit against DHS last June based on the lack of notice of the one year filing deadline given to asylum seekers and also the impossibility of filing because the immigration courts are so backlogged that an applicant often cannot file in open court within a year.
Sessions also neglects to mention that asylum seekers face a crisis in legal representation. According to a national study of cases from 2007-2012, only 37 percent of immigrants were represented in immigration court. Representation can make all the difference. Without representation, asylum seekers lack an understanding of what is happening in their case and may be too fearful to appear without an attorney. Their number one priority, remember, is to avoid being sent back to a place where they face persecution and/or torture or death.
Finally, the asylum process itself is complicated and the I-589 form to apply is only available in English. This is overwhelming for a pro se applicant who lacks the ability to read and write in English.
Attorney General Sessions’ remarks should not be surprising, certainly not to any who are familiar with his anti-immigrant track record. It remains disappointing, however, that the nation’s top law enforcement official should politicize and attempt to skew our vision of the asylum-seeking process. As a nation founded by immigrants fleeing religious persecution, it is profoundly disturbing that the current Attorney General sees fit to an attack on asylum seekers and to undermine America’s history of compassionate protection of refugees.
Professor Lindsay M. Harris is co-director of the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.”
Go on over to The Hill at the above link and read the rest of Lindsay’s article (containing her points 1-4, which I omitted in this excerpt).
I can confirm that those who have passed the “credible fear” process often mistakenly believe that they “applied for asylum” before the Asylum Office. I also found that few unrepresented respondents understood the difference between required reporting to the DHS Detention Office and reporting to Immigration Court.
Moreover, given the “haste makes waste” procedures applied to recent border arrivals, the addresses reported to EOIR by DHS or entered into the EOIR system were often inaccurate. Sometimes, I could tell they were inaccurate just from my own knowledge of the spelling and location of various streets and jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. Another time, one of the Arlington Immigration court’s “eagle eyed” Court Clerks spotted that a number of supposed “in absentias” charged to Arlington were really located in the state of “PA” rather than “VA” which had incorrectly been entered into our system. No wonder these were coming back as “undeliverable!”
Therefore, I would consider Sessions’s claim of a high “no show” rate to be largely bogus until proven otherwise. My experience was that recently arrived women, children, and families from the Northern Triangle appeared well over 90% of the time if they 1) actually understood the reporting requirements, and 2) actually got the Notice of Hearing. Those who were able to obtain lawyers appeared nearly 100% of the time.
This strongly suggests to me that if Sessions really wanted to address problems in Immigration Court he would ditch the knowingly false anti-asylum narratives and instead concentrate on: 1) insuring that everyone who “clears” the credible fear process has his or her Immigration Court hearing scheduled in a location and a manner that gives them the maximum possible access to pro bono legal representation; 2) insuring that appropriate explanations and warnings regarding failure to appear are given in English and Spanish, and 3) a “quality control initiative” with respect to entering addresses at both DHS and EOIR and serving Notices to Appear.
Jeff Sessions also acted totally inappropriately in delivering this highly biased, enforcement-oriented, political address to the EOIR. Although housed within the DOJ, EOIR’s only functions are quasi-judicial — fairly adjudicating cases. In the words of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a recent case the function of the Immigration Judiciary is “preserving the rule of law, safeguarding the impartiality of our adjudicatory processes, and ensuring that fairness and objectivity are not usurped by emotion, regardless of the nature of the allegations.”Alimbaev v. Att’y Gen. of U.S., 872 F.3d 188, 190 (3rd Cir. 2017).
Consequently, the only appropriate remarks for an Attorney General to make to EOIR and the Immigration Judiciary would be to acknowledge the difficulty of their judicial jobs; thank them for their service; encourage them to continue to render fair, impartial, objective, scholarly, and timely decisions; and explain how he plans to support them by providing more resources for them to do their important jobs. That’s it!!
What is totally inappropriate and probably unethical is for the Attorney General to deliver a “pep talk” to judges spouting the “party line” of one of the parties in interest (the DHS), setting forth inaccurate and unsupported statements of the law, and demeaning the other party to the judicial proceedings — the immigrant respondents and their attorneys.
Although I personally question their ultimate constitutionality under the Due Process Clause, the Attorney General does have two established channels for conveying his views on the law to the EOIR: 1) by incorporating them in regulations issued by the DOJ after public notice and comment; and 2) by “certifying” BIA decisions to himself and thereby establishing his own case precedents which the BIA and Immigration Judges must follow.
Troublesome as these two procedures might be, they do have some glaring differences from “AG speeches and memos.” First, public parties have a right to participate in both the regulatory and the precedent adjudication process, thus insuring that views opposed to those being advanced by the DHS and the Attorney General must be considered and addressed. Second, in both cases, private parties may challenge the results in the independent Article III Courts if they are dissatisfied with the Attorney General’s interpretations. By contrast, the “opposing views” to Session’s anti-asylum screed did not receive “equal time and access” to the judicial audience.
Sessions’s recent disingenuous speech to EOIR was a highly inappropriate effort to improperly influence and bias supposedly impartial quasi-judicial officials by setting forth a “party line” and not very subtilely implying that those who might disagree with him could soon find themselves “out of favor.” That is particularly true when the speech was combined with outrageous discussions of how “performance evaluations” for judges could be revised to contain numerical performance quotes which have little or nothing to do with fairness and due process.
Jeff Sessions quite obviously does not see the U.S. Immigration Courts as an independent judiciary charged with delivering fair and impartial justice to immigrants consistent with the Due Process clause of our Constitution. Rather, he sees Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Judges as “adjuncts” to DHS enforcement — there primarily to insure that those apprehended by DHS agents or who turn themselves in to the DHS to apply for statutory relief are quickly and unceremoniously removed from the U.S. with the mere veneer, but not the substance, of Due Process.
Due process will not be realized in the U.S. Immigration Courts until they are removed from the DOJ and established as a truly independent Article I court.
Deena N. Sharuk teaches Immigration Law at the Law School.
Sharuk is currently practicing as an immigration attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she manages the Virginia Special Immigrant Juvenile Project. She received her B.A. in international relations with a specialization in human rights from Wellesley College. Sharuk received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.
After graduation, she worked as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and later practiced immigration law in Massachusetts and Virginia. Sharuk was recently appointed as a task force core team member to foster a welcoming environment for immigrants and minorities in Charlottesville and Albemarle county. She often presents to the community about changes in immigration law.
Tanishka V. Cruz is an attorney in solo practice at Cruz Law, a Charlottesville-based immigration and family law firm. She is also an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, where for the past two years she has focused on the management of the Virginia Special Immigrant Juvenile Project, an award-winning collaboration between LAJC and pro bono attorneys across the state. The project has saved more than 150 refugee children from likely deportation.
Cruz earned her B.A. from Temple University and her J.D. from the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law.
She currently supervises students in the Immigration Law Clinic, which LAJC runs in conjunction with the Law School
JD. Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law 2012
Rachel C. McFarland is an attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville. She focuses on cases in public and subsidized housing, unpaid wages for migrant workers and immigration.
McFarland earned her B.A. from the University of Richmond in 2009, where she majored in Latin American and Iberian studies, and rhetoric and communication studies. She received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2015.
While at Georgetown, McFarland participated in the asylum clinic and received a certificate in refugees and humanitarian emergencies.
JD. Georgetown University Law Center 2015
BA. University of Richmond 2009
Wow, what a totally impressive and multi-talented team! All three of these amazing lawyers also work at the Legal Aid and Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA. They tirelessly pursue justice for our most vulnerable! They teach their clinical students “real life” client interview, case preparation, organization, time management, negotiation, and litigation skills while giving them a solid background in probably the most important and dynamic area in current American Law: U.S. Immigration Law.
They do it all with energy, enthusiasm, good humor, and inspiring teamwork that will help their students be successful in all areas of life and law while contributing to the American Justice system.
I am of course particularly proud of Rachel McFarland who was one of my wonderful Refugee Law and Policy students at Georgetown Law and has gone on to “do great things” and help others as a “charter member” of the “New Due Process Army.” Way to use that “RLP” training and experience, Rachel! I know that my good friend and colleague Professor Andy Schoenholtz who runs the Georgetown Law Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies program is also delighted at how Rachel has chosen to use her specialized training!
Thanks again, Rachel, for “making your professors proud” of your dedication and achievements. I hope that your students will do the same for you (and your terrific colleagues)!
For those of you who want to replicate the class experience in Charlottesville last Wednesday, here is the complete text of my class presentation: “BASIC ASYLUM LAW FOR LITIGATORS!”
IV. PRACTICAL TIPS FOR PRESENTNG AN ASYLUM CASE IN IMMIGRATION COURT
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’m truly delighted to be reunited with my friend and former student from Refugee Law & Policy at Georgetown Law, the wonderful Rachel McFarland. I am absolutely thrilled that Rachel has chosen to use her amazing talents to help those most in need and to be a teacher and an inspirational role model for others in the New Due Process Army. In addition to being brilliant and dedicated, Rachel exudes that most important quality for success in law and life: she is just one heck of a nice person! The same, of course, is true for your amazing Clinical Professor Deena Sharuk and her colleague Tanishka Cruz Thank you Deena, Tanishka, and Rachel, for all you are doing! All of you in this room truly represent “Due Process In Action.”
As all of you 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.
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,” including, sadly and most recently our Attorney General, 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 migrants 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 additional 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:
Generally, outside the country of nationality (not usually an issue in border cases);
Unwilling or unable to return (failure of state protection);
Because of persecution (undefined) or a well founded fear of persecution;
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 do not automatically qualify individuals for refugee status, although “persecution“ within the meaning of the INA and the Convention certainly can sometimes occur in these contexts. However, some of these circumstances that fail to result in refugee protection because of the “nexus” requirement 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, who recently retired from 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 [discrimination] 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.
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 Fourth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue. So, I believe that C-T-L- would apply in the Immigration Courts in the Fourth 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). 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 designed to make the family PSG ground largely superfluous.
This leaves you as litigators in a tricky situation. The IJ will be bound by L-E-A,
and the BIA is unlikely to retreat from L-E-A-. On the other hand, the Fourth Circuit might not go along with the L-E-A- view, although Judge Wilkins appeared anxious to endorse L-E-A- in his separate concurring opinion in Valasquez v. Sessions, 866 F.3d 188 (4th Cir. 2017).
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. See, e.g., Zavaleta-Policiano v. Sessions, 873 F.3d 241 (4th Cir. 2017) (slamming BIA for misapplying concept of “mixed motive”). 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 client’s currentproblems.
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 UVA Clinic 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.
Immutability or fundamental to identity;
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 the UVA Clinic – you guys!
B. Success Stories
There are four basic groups that have been relatively successful in establishing PSG claims.
LGBT individuals under Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1990);
Women who fear or suffered female genital mutilation (“FGM”) under my decision in Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357 (BIA 1996);
Victims of domestic violence under Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014); and
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.
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 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. As they say, “There’s a new sheriff in town and, unfortunately in my view, he looks a lot like the infamous “Sheriff Joe.”
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. 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 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 andreasonably 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.
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.htmwas 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 anyonewho 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 morearrests, more detention (particularly in far-away, inconvenient locations like, for instance, Farmville, VA), 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.”
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.
Few Americans know about our nation’s system of immigrant detention centers. Each year, the US government locks up roughly 440,000 immigrants in over 200 immigrant prisons. These facilities have grown into a highly privatized, lucrative, and abusive industry that profits off the misery of immigrants awaiting deportation.
Here at Brave New Films, we’re doing everything we can to expose the abuses of the deportation-industrial complex. In our new film, Immigrant Prisons, we explore conditions inside the detention centers, exposing substandard medical care, widespread physical and sexual abuse, virtual slave-labor working conditions and more. These abuses happen behind closed doors with little to no oversight.
Our film, created in partnership with advocates for detainee rights, is shining a light on a particularly dark corner of the American justice system. Watch now and share with friends.
It’s important to remember that immigration detention is a civil form of confinement. “This is not criminal custody, this is not someone who’s been convicted of a crime,” says attorney James Fife of the Federal Defenders of San Diego. “This is just someone who’s being held for the government’s convenience so that the person’s available” for processing, said Fife.
Unlike with criminals who have been convicted of a crime, there’s no time limit on how long people can be held at immigration detention centers. It’s hard to believe, but immigrants can be locked up indefinitely without a criminal offense or bond hearing. In the film we highlight the case of a Kenyan immigrant, Sylvester, who spent nine years and four months in immigration detention. Another immigrant describes her time in detention as being “like a legal kidnapping.”
Immigrant detention centers are overseen by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Since ICE was created in 2003, there have been 177 confirmed deaths in detention centers. Medical neglect is the greatest contributing factor.
In the film, we speak with Gerard, a former detainee who almost died during his 11 months at a California facility. He was denied medical care for two weeks as a severe infection spread in his body. The private-facility managers kept ignoring his requests until it was nearly too late. Such medical neglect contributed to nearly half of all deaths in immigrant prisons.
Christina Fialho, the executive director of CIVIC and a leading advocate for detainee rights, says that “denial of medical care at immigration-detention facilities is routine.” This substandard medical care is often accompanied by substandard food, unsanitary water, and generally unhygienic living conditions.
Fialho says that immigrant-detention centers are also plagued by abuse. “Guards with little to no training are kicking, hitting, sexually assaulting people in immigration detention,” she says. Each year thousands of complaints alleging sexual and physical abuse and substandard medical care are filed with authorities, but very few cases are ever investigated.
Adding insult to injury, detainees at for-profit detention centers are often coerced into working for virtually no money. The for-profit companies that run the facilities have all the wrong incentives and a captive workforce at their disposal. The food they provide detainees is frequently so inadequate that detainees feel they have no choice but to work for $1 a day to buy additional food from the commissary, often at inflated prices. Fialho doesn’t mince words about this practice: “Detention centers are starving people into working in order to then cut staff salaries.”
The two largest private detention-center operators, CCA and Geo Group, got started in the 1980s. In fact, CCA’s very first contract was for locking up immigrants. In the past 20 years, the two companies have made over $12 billion in profits, largely from immigrant detention.
Wrongful-death lawsuits and class-action lawsuits alleging forced labor have helped expose abuses at private immigrant prisons, but systemic reforms are needed. Stock in CCA and Geo Group slid after the Obama administration moved to end the use of private prisons by the federal government, but the stocks rocketed up after the 2016 election. President Trump, who received major contributions from the private-prison industry, reversed President Obama’s order on private prison use and has proposed a 25 percent increase in ICE’s budget.
Immigrant Prisons is our first film on the deportation industrial complex. In future films we’ll explore how private-prison companies promote policies and procedures that line their own pockets, and profile the individuals who are working to perpetuate our abusive immigration-enforcement system.
Unlike the private prison industry, we don’t have millions to spend on advertising and lobbying. But there is a powerful grassroots movement rising up in this country to take on abuses in our immigration system.
I hope you will join the movement and share Immigrant Prisons with your networks. You can also screen the film for free at schools, houses of worship, and community meetings for local media and elected officials through our Brave New Educators program. Together we can bring detained immigrants out from the darkness and provide them with the respect and dignity that we owe to all people.
We premiered the film last night in Santa Monica with our friends at The Young Turks. Cenk Uygur moderated a panel which included Pastor Noe who was recently released from an immigrant prison. If you or someone you know has a powerful story about immigrant prisons, please get in touch.
Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:
“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts
Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.
OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.
They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.
Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.
Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.
That’s when their fates diverged.
Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.
The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.
Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.
The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.
Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.
Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.
In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.
Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.
Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.
The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.
The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.
About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.
Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court. For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.
Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.
Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.
The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors. The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.
“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.
“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.
Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.
Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.
Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.
The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.
The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.
Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)
In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”
CRISIS AT THE BORDER
In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.
Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.
Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.
Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.
The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.
Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.
The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.
“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”
The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.
One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.
“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.
“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”
She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.
“NO POLICE HERE”
Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.
Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”
Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”
The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”
Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.
There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.
After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.
Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.
“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”
Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.
Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.
In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.
“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”
Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.
People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.
The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.
The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”
Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.
In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.
In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.
From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.
The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.
Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”
DAY IN COURT
Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.
In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.
Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.
In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.
After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.
Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.
Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness. As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.
Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”
The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.
Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”
“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”
Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”
Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.
Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”
Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.
Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.
In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.
Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.
Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.
“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”
Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.
The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke
A not-quite-independent judiciary
U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.
More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.
The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.
The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.
By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco
Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill
Graphics: Ashlyn Still
Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya
Video: Zachary Goelman
Design: Jeff Magness
Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”
Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.
Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:
Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”
It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly intending to implement numerical quotas on Immigration Judges as a way of evaluating their performance. This move would undermine judicial independence, threaten the integrity of the immigration court system, and cause massive due process violations.
As it currently stands, Immigration Judges are not rated based on the number of cases they complete within a certain time frame. The DOJ – currently in settlement negotiations with the union for immigration judges, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) – is now trying to remove those safeguards, declaring a need to accelerate deportations to reduce the court’s case backlog and ensure more individuals are deported.
This move is unprecedented, as immigration judges have been exempt from performance evaluations tied to case completion rates for over two decades. According to the NAIJ, the basis for the exemption was “rooted in the notion that ratings created an inherent risk of actual or perceived influence by supervisors on the work of judges, with the potential of improperly affecting the outcome of cases.”
If case completion quotas are imposed, Immigration Judges will be pressured to adjudicate cases more quickly, unfairly fast-tracking the deportation of those with valid claims for relief. Asylum seekers may need more time to obtain evidence that will strengthen their case or find an attorney to represent them. Only 37 percent of all immigrants (and merely 14 percent of detained immigrants) are able to secure legal counsel in their removal cases, even though immigrants with attorneys fare much better at every stage of the court process.
If judges feel compelled to dispose of cases quickly decreasing the chances that immigrants will be able to get an attorney, immigrants will pay the price, at incredible risk to their livelihood.
The Justice Department has expressed concern in recent weeks about the enormous backlog of 600,000 cases pending before the immigration courts and may see numerical quotas as an easy fix. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten up rules for people seeking to “game” the system by exploiting loopholes in a “broken” and extremely backlogged process. However, punishing immigration judges with mandatory quotas is not the solution.
The announcement, however, has sparked condemnation by immigration judges and attorneys alike; in fact, the national IJ Union maintains that such a move means “trying to turn immigration judges into assembly-line workers.”
Tying the number of cases completed to the evaluation of an individual immigration judge’s performance represents the administration’s latest move to accelerate deportations at the expense of due process. Judges may be forced to violate their duty to be fair and impartial in deciding their cases.”
The backlog problems in U.S. Immigration Court have nothing to do with “low productivity” by U.S. Immigration Judges.
It’s a result of a fundamentally flawed system created by Congress, years of inattention and ineffective oversight by Congress, political interference by the DOJ with court dockets and scheduling, years of “ADR,” and glaringly incompetent so-called judicial management by DOJ. There are “too many chefs stirring the pot” and too few “real cooks” out there doing the job.
The DOJ’s inappropriate “Vatican style” bureaucracy has produced a bloated and detached central administrative staff trying unsuccessfully to micromanage a minimalist, starving court system in a manner that keeps enforcement-driven politicos happy and, therefore, their jobs intact.
How could a court system set up in this absurd manner possibly “guarantee fairness and due process for all?” It can’t, and has stopped even pretending to be focused on that overriding mission! And what competence would Jeff Sessions (who was turned down for a Federal judgeship by members of his own party because of his record of bias) and administrators at EOIR HQ in Falls Church, who don’t actually handle Immigration Court dockets on a regular basis, have to establish “quotas” for those who do? No, it’s very obvious that the “quotas” will be directed at only one goal: maximizing removals while minimizing due process
When EOIR was established during the Reagan Administration the DOJ recognized that case completion quotas would interfere with judicial independence. What’s changed in the intervening 34 years?
Two things have changed: 1) the overtly political climate within the DOJ which now sees the Immigration Courts as part of the immigration enforcement apparatus (as it was before EOIR was created); and 2) the huge backlogs resulting from years of ADR, “inbreeding,” and incompetent management by the DOJ. This, in turn, requires the DOJ to find “scapegoats” like Immigration Judges, asylum applicants, unaccompanied children, and private attorneys to shift the blame for their own inappropriate behavior and incompetent administration of the Immigration Courts.
In U.S. Government parlance, there’s a term for that: fraud, waste, and abuse!
The Oct. 13 news article “Citing ‘rampant abuse and fraud,’ Sessions urges tighter asylum rules” quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying that many asylum claims “lacked merit” and are “simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.” As one of the “dirty immigration lawyers” who has represented hundreds of asylum seekers, I find these claims wildly inaccurate and dangerous. When I ask my clients, the majority of them children, why they came to the came to the United States, they invariably tell me the same thing: I had no choice — I was running for my
life. Indeed, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 58 per cent of Northern Triangle and Mexican children displaced in the United States suffered or faced harms that indicated need for international protection. These children are not gaming the system; they are seeking refuge from rampant gender based violence, MS-13 death threats and child abuse.
While I like to think I am a “smart” attorney, even immigrants represented by the smartest attorneys do not stand a chance in places such as Atlanta, where the asylum grant rate is as low as 2 per cent. Yes, reform is needed, but the only reform we should consider is one that provides more robust protections and recognizes our moral and legal obligation to protect asylum seekers.
Nickole Miller, Baltimore The writer is a lawyer with the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Nickole speaks truth. Almost all of the “credible fear” reviews involving folks from the Northern Triangle that I performed as a U.S. Immigration Judge, both at the border and in Arlington, presented plausible claims for at least protection under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) if the rules were properly applied (which they often are not in Immigration Court — there is a strong bias against granting even the minimal protection that CAT provides). Many also had plausible gender-based, religious, or political asylum claims if they were allowed to gather the necessary evidence.
Whether ultimately successful or not, these individuals were clearly entitled to their day in court, to be listened to by an unbiased judicial decision maker, to have the reasons for the decision to accept or reject them carefully explained in language they can understand, and to have a right to appeal to a higher authority.
Of course, without a lawyer and some knowledge of the complicated CAT regulations and administrative and Federal Court case-law, a CAT applicant would have about “0 chance” of success. The same is true of asylum which requires proof not only of the possibility of future harm, but also proof of causal relationship to a “protected ground” an arcane concept which most unfamiliar with asylum law cannot grasp.
In other words, our system sends back individuals who have established legitimate fears of death, rape, or torture, just because they fail to show that it is “on account” of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. These concepts are often applied, particularly in Immigration Court where respondents are unrepresented, in the manner “most unfavorable” to the claimant. This is in direct violation of the U.N. guidance which holds that credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”
Moreover, assuming that we have the “right” to send good folks, who have done no wrong, back to be harmed in the Northern Triangle, that doesn’t mean that we should be doing so as either a legal or moral matter. That’s what devices like Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”), and just “plain old Prosecutorial Discretion (“PD”) are for: to save lives and maintain the status quo while deferring the more difficult decisions on permanent protection until later. Obviously, this would also allow at least minimal protections to be granted by DHS outside the Immigration Court system, thus relieving the courts of thousands of cases, but without endangering lives, legal rights, or due process.
I agree with Nickole that the “asylum reform” needed is exactly the opposite of that being proposed by restrictionist opportunists like Trump and Sessions. The first step would be insuring that individuals seeking protections in Immigration Court have a right to a hearing before a real, impartial judicial official who will apply the law fairly and impartially, and who does not work for the Executive Branch and therefore is more likely to be free from the type of anti-asylum and anti-migrant bias overtly demonstrated by Sessions and other enforcement officials.
“As discussed in last week’s post, in 2002, the standard under which the BIA reviews credibility determination was changed as part of the reforms instituted by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Furthermore, in 2005, Congress enacted the REAL ID Act, which provided immigration judges with broader grounds for determining credibility. These two factors combine to make it more difficult for the Board to reverse an immigration judge’s adverse credibility finding than it was prior to these changes. The following are some thoughts on strategy when appealing credibility findings to the Board.
1. Don’t offer alternative interpretations of the record.
You cannot successfully challenge an adverse credibility finding by offering an alternative way of viewing the record. If the IJ’s interpretation is deemed reasonable, the BIA cannot reverse on the grounds that it would have weighed the documents, interpreted the facts, or resolved the ambiguities differently. Or as the Supreme Court has held, “[w]here there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder’s choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.” Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573-74 (1985).
2. Does the record support the IJ’s finding?
On occasion, the discrepancy cited by the IJ is not found in the transcript. IJs hear so many cases; some hearings are spread over months or years due to continuances; witnesses or their interpreters do not always speak clearly; documents are sometimes clumsily translated. For all of these reasons, it is possible that the IJ didn’t quite hear or remember what was said with complete accuracy, or might have misconstrued what a supporting document purports to be or says. It is worth reviewing the record carefully.
3. Does the REAL ID Act standard apply?
The REAL ID Act applies to applications filed on or after May 11, 2005. With the passage of time, fewer and fewer cases will involve applications filed prior to the effective date. However, there are still some cases which have been administratively closed, reopened, or remanded which involve applications not subject to the REAL ID Act standard. In those rare instances, look to whether the IJ relied on factors that would not support an adverse credibility finding under the pre-REAL ID standard. For example, did the IJ rely on non-material discrepancies to support the credibility finding? If so, argue that under the proper, pre-REAL ID Act standard, the discrepancies cited must go to the heart of the matter in order to properly support an adverse credibility finding.
4. Did the IJ’s decision contain an explicit credibility finding?
Under the REAL ID Act, “if no adverse credibility determination is explicitly made, the applicant or witness shall have a rebuttable presumption of credibility on appeal.” See INA section 208(b)(1)(B)(iii) (governing asylum applications); INA section 240(c)(4)(C) (governing all other applications for relief). Therefore, review the decision carefully to determine if an explicit credibility finding was made. In some decisions, the immigration judge will find parts of the testimony “problematic,” or question its plausibility, without actually reaching a conclusion that the testimony lacked credibility. In such cases, argue on appeal that the statutory presumption of credibility should apply.
5. Did the credibility finding cover all or only part of the testimony?
As an IJ, I commonly stated in my opinions that credibility findings are not an all or nothing proposition. A respondent may be credible as to parts of his or her claim, but incredible as to other aspects. There are instances in which a single falsehood might discredit the entirety of the testimony under the doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. However, there are variations in the application of the doctrine among the circuits, and there are exceptions. For example, the Second Circuit in Siewe v. Gonzales, 480 F.3d 160 (2d Cir. 2007) recognized the doctrine, but laid out five specific exceptions under which a false statement will not undermine the overall credibility. However, the Seventh Circuit, in Kadia v. Gonzales, 501 F.3d 817 (7th Cir, 2007) rejected falsus in uno,referring to it as a “discredited doctrine.” The Ninth Circuit, in Shouchen Yang v. Lynch, 815 F.3d 1173 (9th Cir. 2016), acknowledged that an IJ may apply the doctrine, but that the Board itself could not (for example, to deny a motion to reopen based on a prior adverse credibility finding). Therefore, determine whether under the applicable circuit case law the falsehood cited by the IJ was sufficient to undermine all of the testimony. If not, determine whether the remainder of the testimony is sufficient to meet the burden of proof.
6. Did the IJ rely on a permissible inference, or impermissible speculation?
In Siewe v. Gonzales, supra, the Second Circuit discussed the difference between a permissible inference and impermissible “bald” speculation. The court cited earlier case law stating that “an inference is not a suspicion or a guess.” Rather, an inference must be “tethered to the evidentiary record:” meaning it should be supported “by record facts, or even a single fact, viewed in the light of common sense and ordinary experience.” Generally, findings such as “no real Christian wouldn’t know that prayer” or “the police would never leave a copy of the arrest warrant” would constitute bald speculation unless there was expert testimony or reliable documentation in the record to lend support to such conclusion.
7. Did the IJ permissibly rely on an omission under applicable circuit law?
There is a body of circuit court case law treating omissions differently than discrepancies. For example, several circuits have held that as there is no requirement to list every incident in the I-589, the absence of certain events from the written application that were later included in the respondent’s testimony did not undermine credibility. Look to whether the omission involved an event that wasn’t highly significant to the claim. Also look for other factors that might explain the omission, i.e. a female respondent’s non disclosure of a rape to a male airport inspector; a respondent’s fear of disclosing his sexual orientation to a government official upon arrival in light of past experiences in his/her country. Regarding omissions in airport statements, please refer to my prior post concerning the questionable reliability of such statements in light of a detailed USCIRF report. See also, e.g., Moab v. Gonzales, 500 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2007); Ramseachire v. Ashcroft, 357 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 2004), addressing factors to consider in determining the reliability of airport statements.
8. Was the respondent provided the opportunity to explain the discrepancies?
At least in the Second and Ninth Circuits, case law requires the IJ to provide the respondent with the opportunity to respond to discrepancies. The Second Circuit limits this right to situations in which the inconsistency is not “dramatic,” and the need to clarify might therefore not be obvious to the respondent. See Pang v. USCIS, 448 F.3d 102 (2d Cir. 2006).
9. Did the “totality of the circumstances” support the credibility finding?
Even under the REAL ID Act standards, the IJ must consider the flaws in the testimony under “the totality of the circumstances, and all relevant factors.” INA sections 208(b)(1)(B)(ii), 240(c)(4)(C). The circuit courts have held that the standard does not allow IJs to “cherry pick” minor inconsistencies to reach an adverse credibility finding. For a recent example, note the Third Circuit’s determination in Alimbaev v. Att’y Gen. of U.S. (discussed in last week’s post) finding two inconsistencies relied on by the BIA as being “so insignificant…that they would probably not, standing alone, justify an IJ making an adverse credibility finding…”
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.”
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Don’t Let “Gonzo’s” Lies & His Agenda Of Hate & Intentional Dehumanization Of Our Most Vulnerable Populations Win — Fight His Bogus Distorted Attack On Our Humanity & Our Legal System Every Inch Of The Way!
By Paul Wickham Schmidt
United States Immigration Judge (Retired)
For those of you who don’t know him, Judge Jeffrey Chase has a unique perspective starting his career in private practice, becoming a U.S. Immigration Judge in New York, and finally finishing his Government career as an Attorney Advisor writing decisions for the BIA.
Great stuff, Jeffrey! I love being able to help folks “tune in” to things the they can actually use in the day to day practice of immigration law!
One of the best ways to fight “Gonzoism” and uphold due process is by winning the cases one at a time through great advocacy. Don’t let the “false Gonzo narrative” fool you! Even under today’s restrictive laws (which Gonzo would like to eliminate or make even more restrictive) there are lots of “winners” out there at all levels.
But given the “negative haze” hanging over the Immigration Courts as a result of Gonzo and his restrictionists agenda, the best way of stopping the “Removal Railway” is from the “bottom up” by: 1) getting folks out of “Expedited Removal” (which Gonzo intends to make a literal “killing floor”); 2) getting them represented so they can’t be “pushed around” by DHS Counsel and Immigration Judges who fear for their jobs unless they produce “Maximo Removals with Minimal Due Process” per guys like Gonzo and Homan over at DHS; 3) getting them out of the “American Gulag” that Sessions and DHS have created to duress migrants into not seeking the protection they are entitled to or giving up potentially viable claims; 4) making great legal arguments and introducing lots of corroborating evidence, particularly on country conditions, at both the trial and appellate levels (here’s where Jeffrey’s contributions are invaluable); 5) fighting cases into the U.S. Courts of Appeals (where Gonzo’s false words and perverted views are not by any means the “last word”); and 5) attacking the overall fairness of the system in both the Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Courts — at some point life-tenured Article III have to see the absolute farce that an Immigration Judiciary run by a clearly biased xenophobic White Nationalist restrictionist like Sessions has become. Every time Gonzo opens his mouth he proves that the promise of Due Process in the Immigration Courts is bogus and that the system is being rigged against migrants asserting their rights.
Sessions couldn’t be fair to a migrant or treat him or her like a human being if his life depended on it! The guy smears dreamers, children whose lives are threatened by gangs, hard-working American families, LGBTQ Americans, and women who have been raped or are victims of sexual abuse. How low can someone go!
Virtually everything Gonzo says is untrue or distorted, aimed at degrading the humanity and legal protections of some vulnerable group he hates (Gonzo’s “victim of the week”), be it the LGBTQ community, asylum seekers, women, children, immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, attorneys, the Obama Administration, or U.S. Immigration Judges trying to do a conscientious job. Perhaps the biggest and most egregious “whopper” is his assertion that those claiming asylum at the Southern Border are either fraudsters or making claims not covered by law.
On the contrary, according to a recent analysis by the UNHCR, certainly a more reliable source on asylum applicants than Gonzo, “over 80 percent of women from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico who were screened on arrival at the U.S. border ‘were found to have a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum or protection under the Convention against Torture.'” “Majority of Asylum Seekers have Legitimate Claims: Response to Sessions Statement,” available online at https://www.wola.org/2017/10/no-basis-claims-rampant-abuse-us-asylum-system-response-sessions-statement/.
This strongly suggests that the big fraud here isn’t coming from asylum seekers. No, the real fraud is the unusually high removal rate at the border touted by Gonzo and his EOIR “patsies” — the result of improper adjudications or unlawful manipulation of the system (intentional duress – misinforming individuals about their rights) by DHS, the U.S. Immigration Court, or simply wrong constructions of protection law.
I think that the majority of Immigration Court cases are still “winners” if the respondents can get competent representation and fight at all levels. Folks, Jeff “Gonzo Apocalypto” Sessions has declared war on migrants and on the Due Process Clause of our Constitution.
He’s using his reprehensible false narratives and “bully pulpit” to promote the White Nationalist, Xenophobic, restrictionist “myth” that most claims and defenses in Immigration Court are “bogus” and they are clogging up the court with meritless claims just to delay removal. The next step is to eliminate all rights and expel folks without any semblance of due process because Gonzo has prejudged them in advance as not folks we want in our country. How biased can you get!
So, we’ve got to prove that many, probably the majority, of the cases in Immigration Court have merit! Removal orders are being “churned out” in “Gonzo’s world” by using devices such as “in absentia orders” (in my extensive experience, more often than not the result of defects in service by mail stemming from sloppiness in DHS and EOIR records, or failure of the DHS to explain in Spanish — as required by law but seldom actually done — the meaning of a Notice to Appear and the various confusing “reporting requirements”); blocking folks with credible fears of persecution or torture from getting into the Immigration Court system by pushing Asylum Officers to improperly raise the standard and deny migrants their “day in court” and their ability to get representation and document their claims; using detention and the bond system to “coerce” migrants into giving up viable claims and taking “final orders;” intentionally putting detention centers and Immigration Courts in obscure detention locations for the specific purpose of making it difficult or impossible to get pro bono representation and consult with family and friends; using “out-of-town” Immigration Judges on detail or on video who are being pressured to “clear the dockets” by removing everyone and denying bonds or setting unreasonable bonds; sending “messages” to Immigration Judges and BIA Judges that most cases are bogus and the Administration expects them to act as “Kangaroo Courts” on the “Removal Railroad;” taking aim at hard-earned asylum victories at all levels by attacking and trying to restrict the many favorable precedents at both the Administrative and Court of Appeals levels that Immigration Judges and even the BIA often ignore and that unrepresented aliens don’t know about; improperly using the Immigration Court System to send “don’t come” enforcement messages to refugees in Central America and elsewhere; and shuttling potentially winning cases to the end of crowded dockets through improper “ADR” and thereby both looking for ways to make those cases fail through time (unavailable witnesses, changing conditions) and trying to avoid the favorable precedents and positive asylum statistics that these “winners” should be generating.
Folks, I’ve forgotten more about immigration law, Due Process, and the Immigration Courts than Gonzo Apocalypto and his restrictionist buddies on the Hill and in anti-immigrant interest groups will ever know. Their minds are closed. Their bias is ingrained. Virtually everything coming out of their mouths is a pack of vicious lies designed to “throw dirt” and deprive desperate individuals of the protections and fairness we owe them under our laws, international law, and our Constitution. Decent human beings have to fight Gonzo and his gang of “Bad Hombres” every inch of the way so that their heinous and immoral plan to eliminate immigration benefits and truncate Due Process for all of us on the way to creating an “Internal Security Force” and an “American Gulag” within the DHS will fail.
Remember,”as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Gonzo’s going to have some ‘splainin top do at some point in the future!
Stand Up For Migrants’ Rights! “Gonzo and His Toxic Gang Must Go!” Sen. Liz Warren was absolutely right. Demand a “recount” on the NYT “Worst Trump Cabinet Member” poll. Gonzo is in a class by himself!