Hi immigrationcourtside.com readers:
I am delighted to provide an original article by my good friend and colleague the Honorable Jeffrey Chase, who recently joined us in the ranks of the “retired but still engaged.” Judge Chase is a former U.S. Immigration Judge in New York, a former Senior Attorney Adviser at the BIA, and a former sole immigration practitioner in New York. He’s also a gentleman, a scholar, and an immigration historian. In a subsequent post I’ll be providing some links to parts of the “Chase Immigration History Library” which has previously been published by our friend and former colleague Judge Lawrence O. Burman in the FBA’s The Green Card.
Welcome to retirement and to immigrationcourtside, Judge Chase! We live in interesting times. Enjoy the ride.
Now, for your reading pleasure, here’s the complete original version of Judge Chase’s article about a recent BIA precedent. Enjoy it!
Matter of L-E-A-
Matter of L-E-A-: The BIA’s Missed Opportunity
Jeffrey S. Chase
On May 24, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its long-anticipated precedent addressing family as a particular social group, Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017). Thirteen amicus briefs were received by the Board addressing the issue of whether a “double nexus” is required in claims based on the particular social group of family. The good news is that the Board did not create a “double nexus” requirement for family-based PSG claims. In other words, the decision does not require an asylum applicant to prove both their inclusion in the social group of X’s family, and then also establish that X’s own fear is on account of a separate protected ground.
Nevertheless, the resulting decision was highly unsatisfying. The Board was provided a golden opportunity to adopt the interpretation of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has held persecution to be “on account of” one’s membership in the particular social group consisting of family where the applicant would not have been targeted if not for their familial relationship. Such approach clearly satisfies the statutory requirement that the membership in the particular social group be “at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.” If the asylum seeker would not have been targeted if not for the familial relationship, how could such relationship not be at least one central reason for the harm? L-E-A- rejected this interpretation, and instead adopted a much more restrictive “means to an end” test. Under L-E-A-, even though the respondent would not be targeted but for her familial relationship to her murdered husband, she would not be found to have established a nexus because the gangsters she fears do not wish to harm her because of an independent animus against her husband’s family. Rather, targeting her would be a means to the end of self-preservation by attempting to silencing her to avoid their own criminal prosecution.
Under the fact patterns we commonly see from Mexico and the “northern triangle” countries of Central America, claims based on family as a particular social group will continue to be denied, as such fears will inevitably be deemed to be a means to some criminal motive of gangs and cartels (i.e. to obtain money through extortion or as ransom; to increase their ranks; to avoid arrest) as opposed to a desire to punish the family itself. Applying the same logic to political opinion, a popular political opponent of a brutal dictator could be denied asylum, as the dictator’s real motive in seeking to imprison or kill the political opponent could be viewed as self-preservation (i.e. avoiding losing power in a free and fair election, and then being imprisoned and tried for human rights violations), as opposed to a true desire to overcome the applicant’s actual opinions on philosophical grounds.
Sadly, the approach of L-E-A- is consistent with that employed in a line of claims based on political opinion 20 years ago (see Matter of C-A-L-, 21 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 1997); Matter of T-M-B-, 21 I&N Dec. 775 (BIA 1997); Matter of V-T-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 792 (BIA 1997)) in which attempted guerrilla recruitment, kidnaping, and criminal extortion carried out by armed political groups were not recognized as persecution where the perpetrator’s motive was to further a goal of his/her political organization as opposed to punishing the asylum applicant because of his/her own political opinion.
Nearly a decade earlier, an extreme application of this “logic” resulted in the most absurd Board result of to date. In Matter of Maldonado-Cruz, 19 I&N Dec. 509 (BIA 1988), the Board actually held that a deserter from an illegal guerrilla army’s fear of being executed by a death squad lacked a nexus to a protected ground, because the employment of death squads by said illegal guerrilla army was “part of a military policy of that group, inherent in the nature of the organization, and a tool of discipline,” (to quote from the headnotes). After three decades of following the course of such clearly result-oriented decision making, the Board missed an opportunity to right its course.
The author formerly served as an immigration judge, and as a staff attorney at the Board of Immigration Appeals.
I agree with Judge Chase that this is a missed opportunity that will come back to haunt all of us. A correct decision would have allowed many of the Central American asylum seekers clogging the court system at all levels to be granted needed protection, either at the USCIS or in court. Here is a link to my prior blog and “alternative analysis” of L-E-A-.
Instead, I predict that some of these cases could still be “kicking around the system” somewhere a decade from now, unless some drastic changes are made. And the type of positive, due process, fairness, and protection oriented changes needed are not going to happen under the Trump Administration. So, the battles will be fought out in the higher courts.
Although the BIA did it’s best to obfuscate, it’s prior precedent in Matter of J-B-N- & S-M-, 24 I&N Dec. 208 (BIA 2007) basically established a “common sense/but for” test for one central reason. In a mixed motive case, if the persecution would have occurred notwithstanding the protected ground, then it is tangental, incidental, and not “at least one central reason.” On the other hand, if “but for” the protected ground the perseuction would not have occurred, that ground is at least “one central reason” of the persecution.
In L-E-A- the respondent would not have suffered threats and attempts to kidnap him “but for” his membership in the family. Hence family clearly is “at least one central reason” for the persecution. That’s basically the test the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals would apply.
It’s a fairly straightforward case. The respondent in L-E-A- satisfies the refugee definition. In fact, the serious threats delivered by a gang which clearly has the ability and the means to carry them out amounts to past persecution. Hence, the respondent is entitled to the rebuttable presumption of future persecution.
Instead of properly applying its own precedents and reaching the correct result, the BIA launches into paragraphs of legal gobbledygook designed to mask what’s really going on here: manipulating the law and the facts to deny protection to Central American refugees whenever possible.
I know, this respondent is from Mexico; but, the BIA’s intended target obviously is Northern Triangle gang-based asylum claims. This precedent gives the Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers lots of “hooks” to deny claims by women and children fleeing family-targeted gang violence.
And, it insures that nobody without a really good lawyer and the ability to litigate up to Courts of Appeals if necessary even has a chance. The BIA is certainly well aware that the Trump Administration is pulling out all the stops to effectively deny counsel to arriving asylum seekers by a combination of using expedited removal, increasing negative credible fear determinations, and detaining everyone in out of the way locations where conditions are discouraging and pro bono counsel are not readily available.
Yeah, I don’t suppose any of this is going to bother Trump Administration officials any more than it did the BIA’s DOJ bosses during the Bush and Obama Administrations. Some negative case precedents on repetitive Central American claims proved mighty handy in border enforcement efforts and “don’t come, you’ve got no chance” publicity campaigns. The only problem is the it twists protection law out of shape.
Finally, let the record reflect that I lodged a dissent in Matter of C-A-L-, 21 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 1997); Matter of T-M-B-, 21 I&N Dec. 775 (BIA 1997); and Matter of V-T-S-, 21 I&N Dec. 792 (BIA 1997), wrongly decided BIA precedent cases cited by Judge Chase. Indeed, Matter of T-M-B- eventually was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Borja v. INS, 175 F.3d 332 (9th cir. 1999), something which many BIA Appellate Judges only grudgingly acknowledged in later cases.
So, it will be left for the Courts of Appeals to straighten out nexus in the family context. Or not.
Again, welcome Judge Chase. Look forward to hearing more from you.