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

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

Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:

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

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

Filed

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

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

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

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

That’s when their fates diverged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GROSS DISPARITIES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRISIS AT THE BORDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“NO POLICE HERE”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY IN COURT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke

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

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

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

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

Reade Levinson

Heavy Odds

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

Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill

Graphics: Ashlyn Still

Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya

Video: Zachary Goelman

Design: Jeff Magness

Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”

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

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

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

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Great reporting by Mica and her team!

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

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

PWS

10-17-17

 

ASSEMBLY LINE “JUSTICE” IS “INJUSTICE” — U.S. Immigration Judges Are NOT “Piece Workers,” & Fair Court Decisions Are Not “Widgets” That Can Be Quantified For Bogus “Performance Evaluations!” — Are Three Wrong Decisions “Better” Than One Right Decision?

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/10/13/doj-immigration-judges-assembly-line/

Katie Shepherd writes in Immigration Impact:

“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.”

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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!

PWS

10-17-17

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

Safari – Oct 16, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Inaccurate claims from Mr. Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PWS

10-16-17

COURTSIDE BRINGS YOU “LAW YOU CAN USE!” – Hon. Jeffrey Chase Tells “Do’s and Don’t’s” Of Challenging CREDIBILITY On BIA Appeals! EXTRA BONUS! NEW PWS COMMENTARY: 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!

 

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/10/12/challenging-credibility-findings-before-the-bia

Jeffrey writes:

Challenging Credibility Findings Before the BIA

“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

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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!

 

PWS

10-14-17

 

 

HON. JEFFREY CHASE: Stripped By Ashcroft Of The Appellate Judges Who Understood Asylum Law & Stood Up For The Rights Of Refugees, An Emasculated BIA (With No Meaningful Deliberation Or Dissent) Intentionally Misconstrued The “Particular Social Group” Category To Screw Asylum Seekers! — READ MY LATEST “MINI-ESSAY” –“ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS”  — How The BIA Intentionally Misconstrued Asylum Law To Deny Particular Social Group Protection, While The Obama Administration Turned Its Back On Due Process For Refugees!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2017/9/14/particular-social-group-errors-in-the-bias-post-acosta-analysis

Jeffrey writes:

Particular Social Group: Errors in the BIA’s Post-Acosta Analysis

In 2006, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its decision in Matter of C-A-, the first in a line of cases creating significant restrictions on what constitutes a cognizable particular social group in claims for asylum. It is worth noting that three years earlier, then Attorney General John Ashcroft purged the BIA of its five most liberal members; two other Board members who clearly would have been removed as well left just prior to the purge. Therefore, the ensuing line of BIA precedents addressing particular social group issues were something of a one-sided affair, with no liberal voices to temper or dissent from the majority.

 

Back in 1985, the Board decided Matter of Acosta, in which it set forth the applicable standard for particular social group determinations.  Not surprisingly, particular social group has proven more difficult for courts to interpret than the other four grounds of race, religion, nationality, and political opinion.  This is because one doesn’t start out asking the question “what is a race?” or “what is a religion?”  Those terms are generally understood.  Not so with particular social group, which as I learned it, was a last-minute creation designed to cover those clearly in need of refugee protection who aren’t covered by the other four grounds.  In Acosta, the Board had to decide how broadly the “PSG” category should be interpreted.  In response to evidence that the drafters of the 1951 Convention considered the ground of particular social group “to be of broader application than the combined notions of racial, ethnic, and religious group,” the Board applied the doctrine of ejusdem generis to conclude that a particular social group, like the four other categories it is grouped with, should be defined by characteristics that are immutable either because its members are unable to change them (like race and nationality), or because they should not, as a matter of conscience, be required to change them (like religion or political opinion).

The Acosta formulation was fair, and worked perfectly well for 21 years.  It was consistent with the way particular social group was being interpreted and applied internationally, and was in no need of modification.  Yet, the post-purge Board added two additional hurdles to particular social group determination: social distinction (previously called social visibility) and particularity.  As discussed below, the result-oriented line of decisions are legally flawed.

Matter of C-A-’s “social visibility” analysis contains at least three errors.   First, as Prof. Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at the University of California – Hastings Law School in San Francisco has pointed out, although the Board in Matter of C-A- cited to the 2002 UNHCR Guidelines on Particular Social Groups as a basis for adding the social distinction requirement, there is a significant difference between the Board’s holding and the UNHCR Guidelines.  The Guidelines at para. 11 define particular social group as “a group of persons who share a common characteristic other than their risk of being persecuted OR  who are perceived as a group by society.”  Note the use of “or.”  “Or” was intended to expand the group of those who satisfy for PSG status, by including both those who share a common characteristic  OR possess what the Board now calls social distinction.  However, the Board changed the “or” to an “and,” which has the opposite effect of significantly narrowing those who can establish a cognizable PSG by requiring both a shared characteristic and social distinction.

Secondly, the Board found that the proposed group of confidential informants lacked social “visibility” (as it then called social distinction) because informants, by the nature of their conduct, are “generally out of the public view,” and “in the normal course of events…remain unknown and undiscovered.”  However, this is irrelevant to whether the group itself is perceived by society to be distinct.  For example, “Russian spies” by the nature of their conduct, seek to remain unknown, undiscovered, and out of the public eye.  However, the group is often in the news, and is the subject of a popular TV show. It has served as the basis for characters in countless novels and films for decades, and has inspired the passage of anti-espionage laws.  The Board thus erred in apparently confusing the “singled out” requirement of the individual asylum applicant with the “social distinction” requirement of the proposed group.

Thirdly, the Board in C-A- stated that visibility of a group of confidential informants “is limited to those informants who are discovered because they appear as witnesses or otherwise come to the attention of cartel members.”  In that case, the cartel members were the persecutors.  However, the Board has claimed that it is the perception of society, and not the persecutors, that determines social distinction.

The particularity requirement is also problematic.  The element requires the social group to be defined by characteristics that provide a clear benchmark for determining inclusion.  The Board requires the terms used to define the group to have “commonly accepted definitions in the society in which the group is a part;” and “[t]he group must also be discrete, and have definable boundaries–it must not be amorphous, overbroad, diffuse, or subjective.”  See Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 214 (BIA 2014); Matter of A-M-E- & J-G-U-, 24 I&N Dec. 69, 76 (BIA 2007) (rejecting the proposed group as “too amorphous…to provide an adequate benchmark for determining group membership”).

However, in applying the new requirement of particularity to particular social group determinations only, the Board violated the doctrine of ejusdem generis that it had invoked in Acosta.  This is significant, as determinations under the other four protected categories would not necessarily stand up to the particularity determination.  In finding the proposed group of “former members of the MS-13 gang in El Salvador who have renounced their gang membership” to lack particularity, the Board stated that the proposed group “could include persons of any age, sex, or background.”  Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 221 (BIA 2014).  Of course, race, religion, and nationality will always include persons of any age, sex, or background; and political opinion could also draw from as wide a range of the population.

In a claim of persecution on account of religion, would the Jewish religion, for example, withstand the particularity requirement?  There is a strong chance that such group would be found too amorphous to provide an adequate benchmark for inclusion.  For example, a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that 14 percent of American Jews stated that they were raising their children “partially Jewish.”  Do “partially Jewish” claimants merit inclusion in the group?  What about those who only attend synagogue once a year, on Yom Kippur?  Or those who consider themselves culturally Jewish, but don’t observe the religion?  Or those with only a Jewish father (who would therefore not be considered Jewish under traditional Jewish law, but would be considered Jewish in the more liberal Reform branch of the religion)?  Where is the benchmark for inclusion?

Looking to the other asylum categories, is one said to possess a political opinion because she votes once every four years for candidates of a particular party, or because she has canvassed for a party’s candidates, given speeches at rallies, or run for office herself?  In this time of multiculturalism, where individuals of mixed race or ethnicity may choose to identify with a particular race or nationality from among two or more choices, would those categories also be found too amorphous?

In addition to the above shortcomings, attorneys have pointed out that particularity and social distinction often work at odds with each other.  Groups that rank high on society’s radar are usually not defined with the type of specific parameters for inclusion, and would therefore be dismissed as too “amorphous.”  Conversely, groups defined with the exacting precision demanded of the particularity requirement tend to be too cumbersome to register in the zeitgeist.  As an example, the term “soccer moms” became popular in American society several presidential elections ago, when “winning the soccer mom vote” was deemed a significant goal.  So while the term “soccer moms” clearly possessed social distinction, it would undoubtedly be found too amorphous to satisfy the particularity requirement.  However, “married middle-class suburban women between the ages of 32 and 47, who spend a significant amount of time driving their school-aged children to multiple after-school activities, which may or may not include soccer” might be particular enough, but will not grab public attention to the degree required to qualify as social distinction.

In spite of the above shortcomings, the federal circuit courts have largely accorded deference to the Board’s flawed interpretation.  Although immigration judges are bound by the Board’s holdings, practitioners may raise the above issues in order to create a record for eventual review by the circuit courts.  The Seventh and Third Circuits have rejected the particularity requirement for different reasons than those stated above.  As I am not aware of any circuit court addressing the issue of whether religion or any other protected ground would stand up to the particularity requirement, I present it as an argument worth pursuing.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.”

Republished with permission.

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“ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS”  — How The BIA Intentionally Misconstrued Asylum Law To Deny Particular Social Group Protection, While The Obama Administration Turned Its Back On Due Process For Refugees!

By Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

The original Acosta decision was also wrongly decided on the merits. Of course most “occupational groups” have characteristics that are fundamental to their identity and are, therefore, properly classified as PSGs for asylum and withholding of removal purposes under the INA!

Taxi drivers in San Salvador were clearly a well-recognized tightly-knit group who were identified as such by the public, the Government, and the guerrillas and weren’t lightly going to switch occupations. That’s why they were targeted by both sides!

The result in Acosta was also completely nonsensical from a policy standpoint. The BIA’s “bottom line” was that taxi drivers in San Salvador who feared the guerrillas could either quit their jobs en masse or participate in a transportation strike called by the guerrillas. But, either of those actions would have crippled the Salvadoran Government which the U.S. was supporting during the guerrilla war! How stupid can you get! But, when categorically denying asylum to large groups of Central American refugees, there’s no limit to what captive adjudicators who want to hang on to their jobs will do to avoid granting protection!

Would you tell a New York cabbie that his or her occupation isn’t “fundamental” to his or her identity? I certainly wouldn’t do it while sitting in his or her back seat. How many yarns, stories, and jokes have you heard with the phrase “like a New York cabbie?” There are even movies glorifying or vilifying the occupation!

How about American truck drivers? They have their own culture, lingo, and even restaurants, gas stations, and stores. Next time you walk into a Pilot Truck Stop along the Interstate, see if you can tell the “pros” from the “amateur divers” like me. Then go up to one of those “pros” and tell him or her that he or she could just as well make a living  as a checkout clerk or a computer programmer! Or, walk into the “Reserved for Professional Drivers” section, take a seat, and see how long you last. I really wouldn’t try either of the foregoing unless you have very good hospitalization insurance.

Want to bet that being a lawyer or a judge isn’t fundamental to one’s identity — just ask a non-lawyer, non-judge spouse or anyone whose ever had to attend a social function with with one of us? My wife Cathy can usually pick the lawyers out in a room even without introductions!  They “dress, act, and speak” like lawyers!

I might also add that the identity of being a BIA Appellate Judge is so “fundamental” to some of my former colleagues’ identity that they were willing to put forth a totally disingenuous interpretation of the U.N. Guidelines and blow off both fairness and due process for vulnerable asylum seekers (the BIA’s sole functions) to retain their jobs as Appellate Judges in the Bush and Obama Administrations, which were generally actively hostile or clearly indifferent to the rights of refugees. Nobody had the guts to stand up for a correct intrerpretation of the Refugee Convention which would have saved many lives and made the whole immigration system fairer and easier to administer in the long run.

There actually was a U.S. Circuit Judge way out in the 8th Circuit, of all places, who saw clearly the BIA’s disingenuous approach and “called” them on it. The case is Gaitan v. Holder, 671 F.3d 678, 682-86 (8th Cir. 2012) (Bye, Circuit Judge, concurring), the concurring Judge was Judge Bye, and I reproduce the concurring opinion in full from “Legale” because Judge Bye is so “spot on” and, regrettably, so few people paid attention to his criticism:

BYE, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Based upon our recent decisions in Constanza v. Holder, 647 F.3d 749 (8th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) and Ortiz-Puentes v. Holder, 662 F.3d 481 (8th Cir.2011), I concur in the result reached by the majority. I do so reluctantly, however, and write separately to express my disagreement with our circuit’s as-a-matter-of-course adoption of “social visibility” and “particularity” as requirements for establishing “membership in a particular social group.” See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). While both decisions cited with approval the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group,” neither had before it the issue raised in this appeal: did the BIA act arbitrarily and capriciously in adding the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” to its definition of “particular social group.” While I am convinced it did, I am nonetheless bound by circuit precedent and therefore concur in the result.

Our circuit only recently addressed the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group.” While both Constanza and Ortiz-Puentes grafted the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” to petitioners’ social groups claims, neither panel offered any explanation as to why the addition of these new requirements—which are very clearly inconsistent with the BIA’s prior decisions—should not be deemed arbitrary and capricious. Neither panel inquired as to whether the BIA had provided a good reason, or any reason at all, for departing from established precedent. Neither asked if the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group” amounted to an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice. Instead, we simply adopted the new approach, as a matter of course, offering no substantial reason ourselves for this shift in direction. As a result, I fear we have chosen the wrong direction.

In order to understand why the BIA’s addition of the “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements to the definition of “particular social group” is arbitrary and capricious, some background information is necessary. The BIA first attempted to define “particular social group” in Matter of Acosta, 19 I. & N. Dec. 211 (B.I.A.1985). In Acosta, the BIA relied on the canon of ejusdem generis to construe “membership in a particular social group” in a way which most closely resembles the definition of the other four grounds of persecution under the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act): race, religion, nationality, and political opinion. Id. at 233. After deducing commonalities between the five bases of persecution cognizable under the Act, the BIA defined “particular social group” as a “group of persons all of whom share a common, immutable characteristic,”

[671 F.3d 683]

 

which may be either “an innate one such as sex, color, or kinship ties” or a “shared past experience such as former military leadership or land ownership.” Id. In all such circumstances, BIA explained, the characteristic uniting the group must be “one that the members of the group either cannot change, or should not be required to change because it is fundamental to their individual identities or consciences.” Id. Because an occupation is not something individuals are either unable to change or, as a matter of conscience, should not be required to change, the BIA rejected an asylum claim by a taxi driver in the city of San Salvador premised on his membership in a taxi cooperative whose members were targeted by the guerillas for having refused to participate in guerrilla-sponsored work stoppages. Id. at 234.

During the next twenty years, the BIA applied the immutability definition of Acosta in a variety of contexts. The BIA’s published decisions recognized as a “particular social group” former members of Salvadorian national police (who could not change their past experience of serving in the police), see In re Fuentes, 19 I. & N. Dec. 658 (B.I.A.1988); members of the Marehan subclan of the Darood clan in Somalia (who shared kinship ties and linguistic commonalities), see In re H-, 21 I. & N. Dec. 337 (B.I.A. 1996); Filipinos of mixed Filipino-Chinese ancestry (because their traits were immutable)], see In re V-T-S-,21 I. & N. Dec. 792 (B.I.A.1997); young women of a certain Togo tribe who have not yet had a female genital mutilation (FGM) and who opposed the practice on moral grounds (because the “characteristic of having intact genitalia is one that is so fundamental to the individual identity of a young woman that she should not be required to change it”), see In re Kasinga, 21 I. & N. Dec. 357 (B.I.A.1996); and homosexuals in Cuba (based on the Board’s recognition of homosexuality as an immutable characteristic), see In re Toboso-Alfonso,20 I. & N. Dec. 819, 822 (B.I.A.1990). With some variations, all circuits adopted the Acostadefinition of “particular social group.” See generally Fatma E. Marouf, The Emerging Importance of “Social Visibility” in Defining a “Particular Social Group” and Its Potential Impact on Asylum Claims Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender, 27 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 47, 53 & n. 24 (2008) (stating federal courts “generally have followed Acosta” and cataloging relevant precedents) (hereinafter “The Emerging Importance of Social Visibility”). Our circuit adopted the Acosta definition as well, although it seemingly expanded it following the Ninth Circuit’s lead to also permit social groups based on a “voluntary associational relationship among the purported members.” Safaie v. INS, 25 F.3d 636, 640 (8th Cir.1994) (theorizing a group of Iranian women who refuse to conform to Iranian customs relating to dress and behavior and whose opposition is so profound that they would choose to suffer the severe consequences of noncompliance “may well satisfy the definition”) (citing the standard in Sanchez-Trujillo v. INS, 801 F.2d 1571, 1576 (9th Cir.1986)).

Beginning in 2006, however, the BIA started deviating from the Acosta definition of “particular social group” by emphasizing the importance of social visibility of a given group. In Matter of C-A-, for example,2 the BIA reiterated its adherence

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to Acosta, but listed “the extent to which members of a society perceive those with the characteristic in question as members of a social group” as a “relevant factor” in the analysis. 23 I. & N. Dec. 951, 956-57 (B.I.A.2006). Applying this standard, the BIA rejected the proposed social group of noncriminal drug informants working against the Cali drug cartel in Colombia in part because “the very nature of the conduct at issue is such that it is generally out of the public view.” Id. at 960.

The BIA continued the trend in Matter of A-M-E & J-G-U-, 24 I. & N. Dec. 69 (B.I.A.2007), by refusing to recognize a social group of “affluent Guatemalans” targeted for ransom. The BIA acknowledged the petitioners should not be expected to divest themselves of their wealth under the second prong of Acosta, but denied the claim on the basis of the applicants’ inability to show “social visibility,” id. at 75 (lamenting the lack of evidence to demonstrate “the general societal perception” of wealthy people was different from the common perception of groups at different socio-economic levels), and “particularity,” id.at 76 (criticizing the proposed group for being “too amorphous” and “indeterminate”). In its reasoning, the BIA drew on the Second Circuit opinion in Gomez v. INS, 947 F.2d 660, 664 (2d Cir.1991), where the court required members of a cognizable social group to possess “some fundamental characteristic in common which serves to distinguish them in the eyes of a persecutor—or in the eyes of the outside world in general.”

The biggest transformation in the BIA’s “particular social group” jurisprudence, however, came in its two most recent decisions issued on the same day in 2008: Matter of S-E-G-,24 I. & N. Dec. 579 (B.I.A.2008), and Matter of E-A-G-, 24 I. & N. Dec. 591 (B.I.A.2008). Both confronted claims of gang-related persecution under the rubric of membership in a particular social group. In E-A-G-, the BIA refused to recognize social groups of “young persons who are perceived to be affiliated with gangs (as perceived by the government and/or the general public)” and “persons resistant to gang membership (refusing to join when recruited)” because these groups “have not been shown to be part of a socially visible group within Honduran society, and the respondent [does not] possess[] any characteristics that would cause others in Honduran society to recognize him as one who has refused gang recruitment.” 24 I. & N. Dec. at 593-94. In S-E-G-, the unsuccessful group was that of Salvadorian youth who have been subjected to recruitment efforts by the MS-13 and who have rejected and resisted membership in the gang based on their own personal, moral, and religious opposition to the gang’s values and activities. 24 I. & N. Dec. at 579. Their claim for asylum failed because, according

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to the BIA, it did not fare well under the “recent decisions holding that membership in a purported social group requires that the group have particular and well-defined boundaries, and that it possess a recognized level of social visibility.” Id. In essence, the decisions elevated the requirements of “social visibility” and “particularity” from merely some of the many factors in the holistic analysis of the issue to absolute prerequisites to establishing membership in a particular social group.

This new approach to defining “particular social group” split the circuits as to the validity and permissible extent of the BIA’s reliance on “social visibility” and “particularity.” Compare Valdiviezo-Galdamez v. Holder, 663 F.3d 582, 603-09 (3d Cir.2011) (concluding the BIA’s “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements are inconsistent with prior BIA decisions and rejecting the government’s attempt to graft these additional requirements onto petitioner’s social group claims); Gatimi v. Holder, 578 F.3d 611, 615-16 (7th Cir. 2009) (criticizing the BIA’s decisions in S-E-G- and E-A-G- for being “inconsistent” with the BIA’s precedents in Acosta and Kasinga and for failing to explain the reasons for adopting the “social visibility” criterion); Benitez Ramos v. Holder, 589 F.3d 426, 430-31 (7th Cir.2009) (denouncing the BIA’s insistence on “social visibility,” sometimes in its literal form, and charging the BIA might not understand the difference between visibility in a social sense and the external criterion sense); Urbina-Mejia v. Holder, 597 F.3d 360, 365-67 (6th Cir.2010) (noting being a former gang member is an immutable characteristic and defining former members of the 18th Street gang as a “particular social group” based on their inability to change their past and the ability of their persecutors to recognize them as former gang members), with Lizama v. Holder, 629 F.3d 440, 447 (4th Cir.2011) (upholding the BIA’s definition of a particular social group as requiring that “(1) its members share common immutable characteristics, (2) these common characteristics give members social visibility, and (3) the group is defined with sufficient particularity to delimit its membership”); Ramos-Lopez v. Holder, 563 F.3d 855, 862 (9th Cir.2009) (upholding the BIA’s adoption of the “social visibility” requirement); Scatambuli v. Holder, 558 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir.2009) (rejecting petitioners’ claims the BIA is precluded from considering the visibility of a group); and Fuentes-Hernandez v. Holder,411 Fed.App’x. 438, 438-39 (2d Cir. 2011) (stating individuals who resisted gang recruitment in El Salvador do not constitute a “particular social group” because their proposed group lacked “social visibility” and “particularity” and because the alleged persecution “did not bear the requisite nexus to a protected ground”).

I agree with the circuits which hold the BIA’s addition of the “social visibility” and “particularity” requirements to the definition of “particular social group” is arbitrary and capricious. First, as discussed above, these newly added requirements are inconsistent with prior BIA decisions. Specifically, they are in direct conflict with the definition of “particular social group” announced in Acosta. By stating this, I am in no way suggesting the BIA must continue to adhere to the Acosta definition. I am of course cognizant the BIA may “add new requirements to, or even change, its definition of `particular social group'” over time. Valdiviezo-Galdamez, 663 F.3d at 608; see also Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 57, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983) (stating an agency may change its interpretation of a stature or regulation over time). The BIA, however, must explain its choice for

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doing so because an unexplained departure from established precedent is generally “a reason for holding [the departure] to be an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice[.]” Nat’l Cable & Telecomms. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 981, 125 S.Ct. 2688, 162 L.Ed.2d 820 (2005); see also FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 129 S.Ct. 1800, 1811, 173 L.Ed.2d 738 (2009) (stating “the agency must show that there are good reasons for the new policy”); Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness v. Dombeck, 164 F.3d 1115, 1123 (8th Cir. 1999) (noting “a sudden and unexpected change in agency policy” may be characterized as arbitrary and capricious).

Because the BIA departed from its well-established Acosta definition without providing a reasonable explanation for its choice, the departure is arbitrary and capricious. Thus, although I am bound by our decisions in Constanza and Ortiz-Puentes, I cannot agree with our circuit’s as-a-matter-of-course adoption of the BIA’s new approach to defining “particular social group”—an approach which not only represents a stark departure from established precedent, but also eviscerates protections for many groups of applicants eligible under the agency’s prior definition.

Therefore, I reluctantly concur in the result.

FootNotes

1. Gaitan does not address the denial of relief under the Convention Against Torture in his brief. Any argument based on that ground is therefore deemed waived. See Tinajero-Ortiz v. United States, 635 F.3d 1100, 1103 n. 3 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, ___U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 315, 181 L.Ed.2d 194 (2011). Gaitan notes that he does not waive his claim that he is otherwise eligible for relief in the form of withholding of removal under the INA. However, “[t]he standard for withholding of removal, a clear probability of persecution, is more rigorous than the well-founded fear standard for asylum. An alien who fails to prove eligibility for asylum cannot meet the standard for establishing withholding of removal.” Turay v. Ashcroft, 405 F.3d 663, 667 (8th Cir.2005) (internal citations omitted). Because we find that Gaitan is not eligible for asylum, Gaitan is unable to meet the standard for establishing withholding of removal.

 

2. The BIA signaled its intention to break away from the Acosta standard as early as 2001, in its decision in Matter of R-A-, 22 I. & N. Dec. 906 (B.I.A.2001). There, the BIA refused to accord a social group status to a group of “Guatemalan women who have been involved intimately with Guatemalan male companions who believe that women are to live under male domination.” Id. at 917-18. Although the outcome of the opinion was unobjectionable even under the traditional Acosta standard, its logic was noteworthy for the BIA’s insistence that the applicant demonstrate “how the characteristic is understood in the alien’s society” and how “the potential persecutors… see persons sharing the characteristic as warranting suppression or the infliction of harm.” Id. at 918. Because at the time R-A- was issued, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was in the process of finalizing a rule defining “membership in a particular social group,” the Attorney General vacated the BIA’s opinion pending the publication of that rule. In re R-A-, 22 I. & N. Dec. 906 (B.I.A.2001). The proposed rule would incorporate R-A-‘s consideration of social visibility, but only as one of several non-exclusive factors. Asylum & Withholding Definitions, 65 Fed.Reg. 76,588, 76,594 (Dec. 7, 2000). Ultimately, the rule was never formalized, and the ball was back in the BIA’s court to define the “particular social group” incrementally, on a case-by-case basis.”

When Gaitan came out in 2012, the Bushies were gone Obama had taken over, and the Attorney General was Eric Holder. One might have thought that someone with Holder’s reputation for civil rights sensitivity and equal justice under the law might have forced the BIA to confront its tarnished past, or at least have appointed some “asylum experts” as Appellate Judges to force the BIA to engage in some “two-sided” appellate deliberation.
But, alas, Holder, like his successor Attorney General Loretta Lynch, didn’t  see a need to extend civil rights and fair legal treatment to refugees and asylum seekers being mistreated by the DOJ’s wholly owned subsidiary, the BIA. It became apparent that Holder and Lynch rather liked the idea of owning a complacent, largely pro-Government appellate court just as much as Ashcroft and the Bushies did.
During the Obama Administration, the BIA continued to be comprised of Appellate Judges who were insiders and/or bureaucrats. They kept the numbers rolling, didn’t rock the boat, almost never dissented, and “went along to get along” even with obviously flawed legal policies that forced scared, often semi-literate women and children to represent themselves before the U.S. Immigration Courts and make out cases under the BIA’s arcane, convoluted, and generally applicant-unfriendly definitions of PSG. So Sessions was able to take over a dysfunctional court system (in terms of its due process mission), but a relatively well-oiled “denial mill” masquerading as a Federal Appellate Court. And, that’s where we stand today, folks!

The U.S. Immigration Courts will not regain integrity until the are removed from the Executive Branch and reconstituted as as an independent Article I or even Article III Court. Until then, it’s likely that refugees and asylum seekers will continue to suffer unfair treatment, bias, and undeserved fates under the U.S. asylum system. Doesn’t anybody care?

PWS

09-14-17

 

THIS IS DUE PROCESS? — 10th Cir. Rips BIA’s Anti-Asylum Decision-Making — BIA Ignores Record, Makes Up Law To “Stick It” To PRC Asylum Seeker! — Qiu v. Sessions! — “The nonsensical nature of the BIA’s supposed reasoning on this point is illustrative of the BIA’s failure to give fair consideration to any of the arguments in Petitioner’s motion to reopen in this case, and it represents the very definition of an abuse of discretion!” — Read My Latest “Mini-Essay” — “HOW THE BIA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKERS!”

16-9522

Qiu v. Sessions, 10th Cir., 09-12-17

PANEL: PHILLIPS, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: Judge McKay

KEY QUOTES:

The BIA held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show a change in country conditions, and thus that her motion to reopen was untimely under 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C). The BIA first held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened since her 2011 immigration hearing. This factual finding is not supported by substantial—or, indeed, any—evidence in the record. The agency provided no rational explanation as to how numerous accounts of a 300 percent increase in the persecution of Christians, “unprecedented violations” of religious freedoms beginning in 2014, and possibly “the most egregious and persistent” wave of persecution against Christians since the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 was insufficient to show that the treatment of Christians in China had worsened since 2011. Nor is there anything in the record that would contradict Petitioner’s extensive evidence of a substantial increase in the government’s mistreatment of Christians since 2011. The BIA pointed to the fact that some portions of the State Department’s 2014 report include substantially similar language to the 2008 and 2009 reports. However, the State Department’s habit of cutting and pasting portions of its old reports into newer reports does nothing to refute all of the other evidence that the level and intensity of persecution against Christians has increased significantly since 2011. Nor does anything in the State Department report suggest that the U.S. Commission and various human-rights organizations are all reporting false data or drawing false conclusions about the deterioration of the treatment of Christians in China. The BIA thus abused its discretion by holding, completely contrary to all of the evidence, that Petitioner had not shown that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened in recent years.

The BIA also suggested that the substantial increase in the persecution of Christians was simply irrelevant because “[a] review of the record before the Immigration Judge indicated that China has long repressed religious freedom, and that underground or unregistered churches continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression, including breaking up services, fines, detention, beatings, and torture.” (R. at 5.) However, the fact that there was already some level of persecution in China does not prevent Petitioner from showing a change in country conditions due to a significant increase in the level of persecution faced by Christians in her country. To hold otherwise would be to bar reopening for petitioners who file for asylum when they face some, albeit insufficient, risk of persecution in their country, while permitting reopening for petitioners who file for asylum without there being any danger of persecution, then seek reopening after their country fortuitously begins persecuting people who are in their protected category thereafter. But surely Congress did not intend for 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) to protect only petitioners who file frivolous asylum applications under no threat of persecution, while extending no help to petitioners who seek reopening after an existing pattern of persecution becomes dramatically worse. The BIA’s reasoning would lead to an absurd result, one we cannot condone.

Instead, we agree with the Second, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits that a significant increase in the level of persecution constitutes a material change in country conditions for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) and that the BIA abuses its discretion when it fails to assess and consider a petitioner’s evidence that the persecution of others in his protected category has substantially worsened since the initial application. See Paul v. Gonzales, 444 F.3d 148, 157 (2d Cir. 2006) (“Proof that persecution of Christians in Pakistan has become more common, intense, or far-reaching—i.e., the very proof that petitioner purports to have presented in filing his motion to reopen—would clearly bear on this objective inquiry [into the likelihood of future persecution]. Under the circumstances, the BIA’s refusal even to consider such evidence constitutes an abuse of discretion.”); Poradisova v. Gonzales, 420 F.3d 70, 81–82 (2d Cir. 2005) (holding that the BIA abused its discretion in denying a motion to reopen based on worsened country conditions: evidence that the human-rights situation in Belarus is “in an ‘accelerating deterioration’” and “that the situation has worsened since the Poradisovs’ original application” “certainly warranted more than a perfunctory (and clearly inaccurate) mention by the BIA as being ‘merely cumulative’”); Shu Han Liu v. Holder, 718 F.3d 706, 709, 712–13 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that a petitioner seeking to file an untimely motion to reopen must meet her burden of “show[ing] that Chinese persecution of Christians (of her type) had worsened,” and concluding that the BIA abused its discretion in ignoring evidence that current conditions in China were worse than conditions at the date of the petitioner’s final removal hearing); Chandra v. Holder, 751 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2014) (“The BIA abused its discretion when it failed to assess Chandra’s evidence that treatment of Christians in Indonesia had deteriorated since his 2002 removal hearing.”); Jiang v. U.S. Attorney Gen., 568 F.3d 1252, 1258 (11th Cir. 2009) (holding that the BIA clearly abused its discretion by overlooking or “inexplicably discount[ing]” evidence of “the recent increased enforcement of the one-child policy” in the petitioner’s province and hometown).

Finally, the BIA rejected Petitioner’s mother’s statement regarding her recent religious persecution in Petitioner’s hometown as both unreliable and irrelevant. The BIA held that the statement was unreliable for two reasons: (1) it was unsworn, and (2) it was prepared for the purposes of litigation. The first of these reasons is incorrect both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law. Petitioner’s mother concluded her statement by expressly swearing to the truth of everything she had stated therein, and thus the BIA’s factual finding that the statement was unsworn is refuted by the record. And even if the BIA were correct in its factual finding, we note that several “[o]ther circuits have admonished the Board for dismissing or according little weight to a statement due to its unsworn nature.” Yu Yun Zhang v. Holder, 702 F.3d 878, 881 (6th Cir. 2012). There is no statutory support for the BIA’s contention that documents at immigration hearings must be sworn, and “numerous courts,” “without so much as pausing to note the unsworn nature of a document, . . . have relied on such documents when considering claims of asylum applicants.” Zuh v. Mukasey, 547 F.3d 504, 509 (4th Cir. 2008). “Moreover,” the Fourth Circuit noted in Zuh, “it seems untenable to require a sworn statement from a person harassed because of a relationship with an asylum applicant and potentially endangered by helping that applicant.” Id.; see also Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 881 (“Given the documented persecution of Christians in China, it seems an arbitrarily high threshold to require that letters attesting to government abuse and admitting membership in a persecuted organization be notarized.”).

As for the BIA’s second reason for rejecting the statement as unreliable, the fact that the evidence was prepared while litigation was ongoing is all but inevitable in the context of a motion to reopen, and we hold that the BIA may not entirely dismiss an asylum applicant’s evidence as unreliable based solely on the timing of its creation. Neither the BIA decision nor the government brief cites to a single statute or circuit court decision to support the idea that the timing of a statement’s creation is a dispositive or even permissible factor in evaluating its reliability in an asylum case. Furthermore, we note that the Sixth Circuit has held that it simply “does not matter that [evidence] may have been written for the express purpose of supporting [a petitioner’s] motion to reopen,” citing for support to a Ninth Circuit case which held that the BIA may not “denigrate the credibility” of letters written by the petitioner’s friends based simply on the inference that her friends “‘would tend to write supportive letters.’” Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 882 (quoting Zavala-Bonilla v. INS, 730 F.3d 562, 565 (9th Cir. 1984)). We need not resolve this broader question in the case before us today; even if the timing of a statement’s creation might perhaps play some role in determining its credibility and the weight it should be afforded, the BIA cannot entirely dismiss a statement as unreliable based simply on the fact that it was prepared for purposes of litigation. The protections that the asylum statute was intended to provide would be gutted if we permitted the BIA to entirely reject all evidence presented by an asylum applicant that is prepared following the filing of the initial asylum application, and we see neither legal or logical support for such a ruling. We accordingly hold that the BIA abused its discretion in this case by rejecting Petitioner’s mother’s statement as unreliable based solely on the (erroneous) finding that it was unsworn and on the timing of its creation.

Finally, the BIA dismissed Petitioner’s mother’s statement as irrelevant because “the respondent’s mother is not similarly situated to the respondent, inasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. Tinasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. The nonsensical nature of the BIA’s supposed reasoning on this point is illustrative of the BIA’s failure to give fair consideration to any of the arguments in Petitioner’s motion to reopen in this case, and it represents the very definition of an abuse of discretion. 

The BIA provided no rational, factually supported reason for denying Petitioner’s motion to reopen. We conclude that the BIA abused its discretion by denying the motion on factually erroneous, legally frivolous, and logically unsound grounds, and we accordingly remand this case back to the BIA for further consideration. In so doing, we express no opinion as to the ultimate merits of the case.”

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

HOW THE BIA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKERS

By

Paul Wickham Schmidt

United States Immigration Judge (Retired)

Everyone should read the Tenth Circuit’s full opinion detailing the mounds of evidence that the BIA ignored and/or mischaracterized, at the above ink.

Folks, the 10th Circuit, former home of Justice Neil Gorsuch, is hardly known as a “haven” for asylum seekers. So, that the 10th finally is fed up with the BIA’s biased anti-asylum seeker decision making speaks volumes.

I’ve made the observation before that the BIA appears to be on “anti-asylum autopilot.” This looks for all the world like a “cut and paste” denial mass-produced by BIA staff from boilerplate that is unrelated to the facts, evidence, or, as this case shows, even the law. The BIA sometimes twists the law against asylum seekers; other times, as in this case, the BIA simply pretends that the law doesn’t exist by ignoring it. I can just imagine the BIA opinion drafter thinking to him or her self, “Oh boy, another routine PRC motion denial. This should sail through the panel without any problem.  Need to get those numbers up for the month.”

This is not an isolated incident. As I’ve pointed out before, there is a strong anti-asylum bias in the BIA’s decisions. Virtually no BIA precedents (particularly since the “Ashcroft purge” when true deliberation and dissent were tossed out the window) illustrate how commonly arising situations can and should result in many more grants to asylum seekers under the generous principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca and by the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, yet routinely ignored by today’s BIA.

The majority of asylum seekers are credible individuals coming from countries where persecution, torture, and human rights abuses are well-documented. Even in the Northern Triangle, where the BIA has intentionally skewed the law against asylum seekers, torture by gangs by and cartels while the corrupt government authorities are either complicit or “willfully blind” abounds. The BIA, and some U.S. Immigration Judges, have to work overtime and routimely turn a blind eye to both facts and the law to deny protection in the majority of cases.

At a minimum, most Southern Border arrivals fleeing gang violence should be getting temporary grants of protection under the CAT. Instead, they are often railroaded out of the country, sometimes without even seeing a U.S. Immigration Judge, other times with no legal assistance to help them in making a claim. And, the Sessions-led Justice Department had the absolute gall to claim that this lawless and unconstitutional behavior amounts to a “return to the rule of law” at EOIR!

Where’s the outrage from this type of gross abuse of the system by politicos who should have no role in the operations of the U.S. Immigration Courts? Where is the Congressional oversight of Sessions’s use of the USDOJ as a tool to advance a blatantly restrictionist, White Nationalist political agenda? How does a system that functions this poorly, on all levels, justify elimination of annual in-person training of U.S. Immigration Judges?

When you read the full decision, you can see the voluminous evidentiary package that the respondent’s counsel put together just to get a reopened hearing. And, it resulted in an illegal denial by the BIA. Only an appeal to a Court of Appeals saved the day. How could any unrepresented asylum seeker achieve due process in a system that demands unreasonable documentation, routinely denies individuals the legal assistance necessary to assemble and present such evidence, and then ignores the evidence when it is presented? What kind of due process is this?

And, the Article III Courts have to shoulder some of blame. In particular, the Fifth Circuit “goes along to get along” with the BIA, and turns a blind eye to violations of human rights laws and skewed factfinding in “rubber stamping” inadequate hearings coming from detention centers in obscure locations in Texas.

Reiterating a point I’ve made numerous times, why is a captive, enforcement-oriented, pro-Government tribunal that performs in the manner detailed in this case entitled to “deference” on either the facts or the law (so-called “Cheveon deference” that has been criticized by Justice Gorsuch and others)? What’s “expert” about a tribunal that routinely ignores and misconstrues basic asylum law as detailed in this decision?

At a minimum, in light of the types of gross miscarriages of justice that have come to light in some recent Court of Appeals decisions, the BIA should change its internal operating procedures to require that all asylum denials be reviewed by a  three-judge panel. But, don’t hold your breath. That would slow down the “assembly line” at the “Falls Church Service Center.” And turning out large numbers of final orders of removal without any real deliberation is what the “Sessions-Era BIA & EOIR” is all about.

Folks, we need an independent U.S. Immigration Court, including a competent Appellate Division (“BIA”). And in the future, selections of BIA Appellate Immigration Judges should be made in the same careful manner that applies to U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges.

The “life and death” power wielded by U.S. Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Immigration Judges actually exceeds that of most Article III Judges. Yet the selection process for the Immigration Judiciary is opaque, cumbersome, secretive, closed, and consistently produces one-sided results skewed toward “insiders” or those with government experience. In other words, those with a history of “going along to get along” in the system rather than showing independent thinking and the courage to stand up for due process even when  it isn’t “in vogue” with the politicos in an Administration (and genuine due process for migrants is seldom”in vogue” these days in either GOP or Democratic Administrations).

Proven expertise, excellence, sensitivity to individual situations, and commitment to due process for migrants and correct application of human rights law and protections should be a minimum qualification for an Appellate Immigration Judge. And, the same question should be asked that was asked of Justice Gorsuch: “If necessary, are you willing to stand up and rule against the President and the Administration.” Obviously, in the case of the current BIA, the answer would largely be “No.”

PWS

09-13-17

 

UNPUBLISHED 2D CIR REMINDS BIA THAT “PERSECUTION”DOESN’T REQUIRE ACTUAL PHYSICAL HARM — Mann v. Sessions

MANN AKA v. SESSIONS III | FindLaw

KEY QUOTE:

“Were the only grounds available to Mann those of future persecution, we would be inclined to affirm. But however unsuccessful Mann’s case may be with respect to future persecution, without a full consideration of the first prong of “persecution”, that is, of “past persecution”, the IJ’s analysis is incomplete, and thus the result in this suit invalid. In evaluating a past persecution claim, the agency must consider the harm suffered in the aggregate.

In evaluating a past persecution claim, the agency must consider the harm suffered in the aggregate. Poradisova, 420 F.3d at 79-80. Past persecution can be established by harm other than threats to life or freedom, including “non-life-threatening violence and physical abuse,” Beskovic v. Gonzales, 467 F.3d 223, 226 n.3 (2d Cir. 2006). And, while the harm must be severe, rising above “mere harassment,” Ivanishvili v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 433 F.3d 332, 341 (2d Cir. 2006), it is sufficient, in order to show past persecution, that the applicant was “within the zone of risk when [a] family member was harmed, and suffered some continuing hardship after the incident.” Tao Jiang v. Gonzales, 500 F.3d 137, 141 (2d Cir. 2007).

Mann’s claim of past persecution rested on the following incidents: Mann and his brother were longtime members of the Congress Party. Members of opposition parties, the Akali Dal Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (“BJP”) had successively solicited Mann and his brother’s departure from the Congress Party to join their parties. After Mann and his brother refused to depart the Congress Party, the opposition party members stopped Mann and his brother in the street and assaulted Mann’s brother. At the time of the assault, both Mann and his brother were in a car in the middle of doing political work. Mann managed to escape the car and their attackers. His brother, however, was severely injured: he both lost a leg and suffered mental incapacitation. Subsequently, Mann fled his hometown, residing in Chandigarh, a neighboring city, for two months, and, after that, moved to Delhi. During that time, his family was responsible for caring for his brother’s permanent disabilities and injuries.

Upon review, the IJ found the fact that Mann himself had not suffered physical harm to be dispositive of his past persecution claim. Yet physical harm is not always needed for a showing of past persecution. And, it is not required in an analysis undertaken under Tao Jiang’s “zone of risk” and “continuing hardship” tests.

Because (i) the IJ’s analysis does not directly address the question of whether Mann was sufficiently within “the zone of risk” when a family member (here, his brother) was seriously harmed, and, (ii) it is certainly conceivable that on direct reconsideration Mann’s flight from his hometown and help to his family in caring for his brother constitutes the sufferance of “some continuing hardship,” we hereby GRANT Mann’s petition for review, and VACATE the decision of the BIA. We REMAND Mann’s claim of persecution to the BIA for further consideration in light of Tao Jiang’s “zone of risk” and “continuing hardship” requirements.”

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Another example of faulty asylum analysis by the BIA. Why does the Supreme Court require Federal Courts to “defer” to a supposedly “expert” administrative tribunal that all too often appears to have less expertise in applying asylum law than the Article III Courts? Also, why doesn’t the Second Circuit publish helpful cases like this so that they can be widely cited and used as a tool to improve BIA adjudications?

According to the UN Handbook, credible asylum seekers should be given “the benefit of the doubt.” That’s not happening in some Immigration Courts and on some BIA panels.Why not? What’s the excuse?

Just another example of why we need an independent Article I Immigration Court. And, we need a diverse BIA with real expertise and an overriding commitment to fairness, due process, careful appellate adjudication, and correct application of  human rights laws.

PWS

09-11-17