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

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

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

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

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


Read the full opinion at the link.

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

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

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

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

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

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