Aguilar-Escoto v. Sessions, 1st Cir., 10-27-17, published

PANEL: Howard, Chief Judge,Thompson and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION BY: Chief Judge Howard


“We review the BIA’s legal conclusions de novo and its findings of fact under the “substantial evidence” standard, meaning that we will not disturb such findings if they are “supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.” Xin Qiang Liu v. Lynch, 802 F.3d 69, 74 (1st Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). In our review of the record, we note that while the BIA need not “discuss every piece of evidence offered,” it is “required to consider all


relevant evidence in the record.” Lin v. Mukasey, 521 F.3d 22, 28 (1st Cir. 2008) (emphasis added). Consistent with this obligation, the Eleventh Circuit has specifically held that “an adverse credibility determination does not alleviate the BIA’s duty to consider other evidence produced by” an applicant for relief. Hong Chen v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 231 F. App’x 900, 902 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Forgue v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 401 F.3d 1282, 1287 (11th Cir. 2005)). Rather, where the applicant provides evidence other than her own testimony, the agency “must consider that evidence” and may not “rely solely on an adverse credibility determination.” Forgue, 401 F.3d at 1287. According to the Eleventh Circuit, the agency’s failure to fulfill this duty is grounds for vacating the BIA decision, irrespective of the merits of the adverse credibility finding. See Toska v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 194 F. App’x 767, 768 (11th Cir. 2006); see also Khattak v. Holder, 704 F.3d 197, 208 (1st Cir. 2013) (“[W]e will remand if the agency fails to state with sufficient particularity and clarity the reasons for denial of [relief] or otherwise to offer legally sufficient reasons for its decision.” (citation omitted)).

We agree with the Eleventh Circuit’s approach to this issue, which is consistent with our precedent. See Rasiah v. Holder, 589 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2009) (“An adverse credibility finding by itself would not automatically doom a claim for asylum.”). The appropriate result in this case follows easily.


Even assuming that its credibility ruling was supportable, the BIA was required to go further and address whether, setting Aguilar’s testimony to one side, the documentary evidence entitled her to relief. See Lin, 521 F.3d at 28; Forgue, 401 F.3d at 1287. Indeed, the IJ expressly recognized that this documentary evidence, if believed, was sufficient to establish multiple acts of domestic violence against Aguilar by her ex-husband. In these circumstances, the BIA’s failure to consider or even acknowledge the evidence requires remand. See Toska, 194 F. App’x at 768; Khattak, 704 F.3d at 208. We take no position on the merits of the IJ’s holding that the abuse reflected in the documentary evidence was not sufficiently severe to warrant relief. This issue is best left to be addressed by the BIA in the first instance.

We note, for the benefit of the agency on remand, that the Board’s failure to consider Aguilar’s documentary evidence may have been rooted in its fundamental misunderstanding of her claim. Again, the Board appears to have operated under the mistaken assumption that Aguilar had applied for asylum as well as withholding of removal. These two grounds for relief are not identical. For one thing, withholding of removal requires a higher likelihood of persecution than asylum. See Romilus v. Ashcroft, 385 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2004) (noting that applicants for withholding must satisfy a “more likely than not” standard (citation omitted)). There is, however, a different sense in which


the asylum standard may be more exacting. Withholding claims “lack a subjective component and are [thus] concerned only with objective evidence of future persecution.” Paul v. Gonzales, 444 F.3d 148, 155-56 (2d Cir. 2006); see also INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 430 (1987) (explaining that the relevant statutory language “has no subjective component”). Asylum, by contrast, has both a subjective and an objective component: it requires a showing that the applicant “genuinely fears persecution,” in addition to proof that the “fear is objectively reasonable.” Makhoul v. Ashcroft, 387 F.3d 75, 80 (1st Cir. 2004). Applicants “typically” seek to establish the requisite “genuineness” through their “own credible testimony.” Id. at 80-81. An adverse credibility finding thus may prove fatal to this aspect of an asylum claim. But, because withholding of removal requires no such genuine belief, a withholding claim “may, in appropriate instances, be sustained” despite an adverse credibility finding. Paul, 444 F.3d at 156.

In the present case, the BIA may well have been justified in concluding that, absent her own credible testimony, Aguilar failed to establish a subjectively genuine fear that she would be persecuted upon returning to Honduras. This failure would doom an asylum claim notwithstanding additional evidence establishing that a reasonable person in Aguilar’s circumstances would have feared persecution. See Makhoul, 387 F.3d at 80-81. But, in the withholding context, the inquiry is a strictly objective one. See


Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. at 430-31. Thus, even after discrediting Aguilar’s testimony, arguably the only evidence that she did in fact harbor a subjective fear of persecution, the BIA was nonetheless obliged to consider documentary evidence potentially capable of establishing her likelihood of suffering further abuse.

Rather than embarking on this objective assessment, the BIA fell back on the familiar refrain that, because “the applicant did not establish eligibility for asylum, it follows that she cannot establish eligibility for withholding of removal, which has a higher burden of proof.” Such a conclusion is unassailable where the applicant’s subjective fear is proven or assumed, and the denial of the asylum claim turns on the lack of evidence that the fear was objectively reasonable. See, e.g., Makhoul, 387 F.3d at 81. But the same is not necessarily true where an asylum claim fails due to a lack of credible testimony establishing the applicant’s subjective fear. The Board’s failure to apply the appropriate, purely objective standard to Aguilar’s withholding claim provides an independent basis for remand. See Kozak v. Gonzáles, 502 F.3d 34, 38 (1st Cir. 2007) (remanding because “the BIA applied an inappropriate legal standard”); Castañeda-Castillo v. Gonzales, 488 F.3d 17, 22 (1st Cir. 2007) (remanding “to allow the matter to be considered anew under the proper legal standards”).


For the foregoing reasons, we VACATE the BIA’s order

dismissing Aguilar’s appeal and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”


You can read the complete opinion at the link

This type of reversal does not involve a “Chevron-type” legal policy issue where the BIA and the Article IIIs might well reach different conclusions. Rather, this case is all about the BIA misapplying the “fundamental nuts and bolts” of credibility and withholding analysis in putting out a “boilerplate denial.” Why should the Article IIIs be finding “mechanical-analytical” issues that the expert BIA missed? Perhaps the EOIR system is “peddling too fast.” In that case, Sessions’s proposed “production quotas for judges” are the absolute worst thing that could happen to the Immigration Courts and Due Process.

Also, if the Article IIIs are better than the BIA at the basics of immigration and asylum law, why shouldn’t the Article IIIs, not the BIA, be getting “Chevron deference?”