“INEXCUSABLE OMISSIONS” — 4th Cir. Slams BIA For Unjustified Denial Of Family-Based Gang Threat Asylum Claim From El Salvador — BIA’s Shoddy Factual & Legal Analysis Of “One Central Reason” Exposed — ZAVALETA-POLICIANO v. SESSIONS!

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ZAVALETA-POLICIANO v. SESSIONS, 4th Cir., as amended 09-18-17 (Published)

PANEL:  GREGORY, Chief Judge, WILKINSON, Circuit Judge, and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judge

OPINION BY:  Chief Judge Gregory

KEY QUOTE:

“We hold that the BIA abused its discretion in affirming the IJ’s clearly erroneous factual finding. To start, the IJ unjustifiably relied on the fact that the threatening notes themselves did not explain why Zavaleta Policiano was targeted. As this Court recently explained, the single-minded focus on the “articulated purpose” for the threats while “failing to consider the intertwined reasons for those threats” represents “a misapplication of the statutory nexus standard.” Cruz v. Sessions, 853 F.3d 122, 129 (4th Cir. 2017). It is unrealistic to expect that a gang would neatly explain in a note all the legally significant reasons it is targeting someone. The IJ’s heavy reliance on the fact that El Salvadoran gangs target various groups of people in the country was similarly misguided. That “the criminal activities of MS-13 affect the population as a whole,” we have explained, is simply “beside the point” in evaluating an individual’s particular claim. Crespin-Valladares, 632 F.3d at 127.

More fundamentally, the IJ and BIA failed to appreciate, or even address, critical evidence in the record. It is this Court’s responsibility to “ensure that unrebutted, legally significant evidence is not arbitrarily ignored by the factfinder.” Baharon v. Holder, 588 F.3d 228, 233 (4th Cir. 2009). The IJ did discuss the threatening notes (although while drawing unwarranted conclusions, as discussed above). But the IJ failed to address, or to assign any weight to, the significant body of unrebutted, indeed, undisputed, probative evidence giving meaning and context to the threatening notes: (1) Zavaleta Policiano and her father’s stores, as well as their familial relationship, were well-known in the community; (2) MS-13 threatened Zavaleta Policiano several times by phone; (3) Zavaleta Policiano’s statement that MS-13 “threatened me because my father had left;” and (4) the threats against Zavaleta Policiano began immediately after her father fled to Mexico. These are inexcusable omissions in the agency’s analysis.

The Government asks us to reject much of the overlooked evidence, characterizing it as Zavaleta Policiano’s “subjective beliefs [] as to the gangs’ motives.” Appellees’ Br. 22–23. This argument does not explain away the IJ’s and BIA’s wholesale failure to discuss the evidence, however. See Ai Hua Chen v. Holder, 742 F.3d 171, 179 (4th Cir. 2014) (explaining that the IJ and BIA must “offer a specific, cogent reason for rejecting evidence” (quoting Tassi, 660 F.3d at 720)). What is more, Zavaleta Policiano’s affidavit includes much more than her “subjective beliefs”—it contains key evidence of the context, nature, frequency, and timing of the gang’s threats against her and her family. By stipulating to the credibility and veracity of the affidavit, the Government forwent the opportunity to probe and weaken the evidentiary basis of Zavaleta Policiano’s claims.

When considering the unchallenged record evidence, we are compelled to conclude that Zavaleta Policiano’s familial relationship to her father was “at least one central reason” MS-13 targeted and threatened her. The evidence shows that MS-13 explicitly threatened to kill Zavaleta Policiano’s father and his family if he did not pay the extortion demands, and that “[i]mmediately after” he fled El Salvador, the gang began threatening Zavaleta Policiano. A.R. 210. The timing of the threats against Zavaleta Policiano is key, as it indicates that MS-13 was following up on its prior threat to target Barrientos’s family if he did not accede to the gang’s demands. This explanation appears especially probable given the absence of record evidence that Zavaleta Policiano was ever threatened before her father’s departure. Beyond the timing, Zavaleta Policiano’s affidavit outlines the well-known relationship between the two businesses and the Policiano family, and contextualizes her statement that she was threatened because her father left. And just as MS-13 threatened Zavaleta Barrientos and his children, the gang threatened Zavaleta Policiano and her children, suggesting a pattern of targeting nuclear family members. The totality of this undisputed evidence demonstrates that Zavaleta Policiano was persecuted on account of her family membership.

We add that the BIA’s attempt to distinguish our precedent is unpersuasive. The BIA found, in a single sentence without any analysis, that Zavaleta Policiano’s claim is distinct from the one at issue in Hernandez-Avalos. A.R. 4 (mentioning Hernandez- Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949–50). But that decision actually bolsters Zavaleta Policiano’s position. There, the BIA denied asylum to a mother who was threatened by an El Salvadoran gang after she refused to allow her son to join the gang. The BIA held that the mother was not threatened on the basis of familial ties, but rather “because she would not consent to her son engaging in a criminal activity.” Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949 (citation omitted). In other words, the BIA determined that the gang’s threats against the mother were motivated by its desire to recruit the son. This Court rejected that “excessively narrow reading of the requirement that persecution be undertaken ‘on account of membership in a nuclear family.’” Id. We instead found that the nexus requirement was satisfied, explaining that the mother’s relationship “to her son is why she, and not another person, was threatened with death if she did not allow him to join [the gang].” Id. at 950. The same logic applies here. MS-13 warned Zavaleta Barrientos that it would target his family if he did not pay the extortion demands, and the gang in fact threatened Zavaleta Policiano immediately after her father left. Zavaleta Policiano’s relationship to her father is why she, rather than some other person, was targeted for extortion.

For all the reasons outlined above, we conclude that the BIA erred by affirming the IJ’s clearly erroneous finding. Zavaleta Policiano was not required to prove that the gang’s threats were “exclusively” motivated by her family ties—such “a requirement defies common sense.” See Cruz, 853 F.3d at 130. She only needed to show that the relationship with her father was “at least one central reason” MS-13 threatened her. Because Zavaleta Policiano made this showing, we find the BIA decision to be manifestly contrary to law and an abuse of discretion. See Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 953 n.10. By establishing that she was persecuted on account of her family membership, Zavaleta Policiano has satisfied the first two requirements of her asylum claim.”

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Read the complete decision at the above link.

“Inexcusable” describes how the Immigration Courts under the BIA’s defective leadership are skewing facts and law to deny protection to Central American refugees. Not everyone can get a great lawyer like Tamara Jezic, and not every Circuit Court is as conscientious as this Fourth Circuit panel. That means that many of those Central Americans being railroaded through the system by DHS and EOIR are being improperly denied protection.

How can Federal Courts including the Supremes justify continuing to give “deference” to an appellate body that possesses neither expertise in the law nor care in reviewing records? It’s clear that BIA appellate review has become highly politicized and biased against asylum seekers. How much more of this nonsense are the Federal Courts going to put up with?

It also appears that the term “excessively narrow reading” is a perfect description of the BIA’s recent precedent in  Matter of L-E-A, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), in which the BIA tortured the law to come up with a way of denying most family-based claims. Will the Fourth Circuit “call out” the BIA on this attempt to evade the law by denying family-based asylum claims?

We need an independent Article I Immigration Court!

Thanks and congratulations to respondent’s attorney Tamara Jezic for alerting me to this important decision.

PWS

09-18-17

 

 

BREAKING: Out Of Control “Tweeter In Chief” Continues To Undermine Own Case! — Basically Admits Revised Order Was A Ruse!

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/05/politics/trump-travel-ban-courts/index.html

CNN reports:

“(CNN)President Donald Trump on Monday emphatically referred to his executive order on immigration as a “travel ban” and said his Justice Department should not have submitted a “watered down, politically correct version” to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s suggestion that changes to the ban — which, among other things, temporarily restricts travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries — were due to political correctness could hamper his administration’s legal argument that the executive order did not target Muslims. As a candidate, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the United States.
Trump's terror tweets make a statement
Trump’s terror tweets make a statement
In a string of tweets, Trump reiterated comments he made in light of the London terror attacks that the travel ban was necessary.
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN,” he tweeted at 6:25 a.m. ET.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” he added.”

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Read the entire breaking story at the link!

Gotta feel for the pros in the SG’s Office trying to defend the Prez while maintaining some semblance of credibility with the Court. Talk about the “Client from Hell!”

Back to two “soft predictions” that I had made earlier.

Frist, every time Trump tweets or throws gratuitous barbs at the Court, the chances increase that the Supremes will leave this mess to the lower Courts to sort out. There are also some practical difficulties, since the “Travel Ban” was supposed to be temporary and will soon expire by its own terms. Why mess with this mess? As noted in a previous blog, even some in the GOP are starting to acknowledge the untenability of Trimp’s position on the Travel Ban.

Second, over the course of an Administration, the Solicitor General’s Office is likely to lose its hard-earned credibility with the Supremes by defending the off the wall actions of a serial liar. Yeah, the Supremes take up the cases of, and even rule in favor of, some pretty scuzzy individuals. But, lack of candor before the courts and attempting to “bully” the judiciary are strongly frowned upon. At some point, courts at all levels hold the attorney responsible for his or her client’s conduct.

And, it is a mark of Jeff Sessions’s unsuitability to be Attorney General that he can’t get his primary client “under control.”

PWS

06-05-17

NOT YOUR FATHER’S FOURTH CIRCUIT: Technology, Innovation, & A More Diverse Judiciary Change Tribunal Sitting In The Former Capital Of The Confederacy!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/after-a-ruling-on-trumps-travel-ban-all-eyes-are-on-the-4th-circuit/2017/06/02/b7a555f2-4545-11e7-bcde-624ad94170ab_story.html?utm_term=.825d55d2e2d7

Carl Tobias reports for the Washington Post.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is a court in transition. The Richmond-based appeals court was long considered the most ideologically conservative of the 12 regional circuits, the intermediate appellate tribunals across the country that are the courts of last resort for 99 percent of appeals. When a case heard in Maryland and Virginia federal district courts is appealed, it goes to the 4th Circuit. This is the court that has resolved appeals involving Maryland gun laws and Virginia transgender students’ rights, for example.

And change has come to the 4th Circuit.

This was recently on display when the entire court — all judges in active service who did not have conflicts of interest — substantially affirmed a Maryland district court’s nationwide injunction that blocked enforcement of President Trump’s revised travel ban. Notably, a majority of the judges proclaimed that the Constitution “protects Plaintiffs’ right to challenge the Executive Order that in text speaks in vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

For decades, the 4th Circuit was a conservative stronghold. Seated in the former capital of the Confederacy, the court hears appeals in the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse, a building that served as the official headquarters for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The circuit retains Southern manners. For instance, judges descend from the bench after oral arguments to shake the hands of counsel.

President George W. Bush tried to continue the court’s conservative legacy when numerous vacancies materialized in his administration. However, the White House insisted on pressing for confirmation of nominees whom many Democratic senators considered outside the mainstream, even after Democrats had captured a Senate majority in November 2006. Political machinations left four vacancies at the Bush administration’s close, enabling President Barack Obama to appoint numerous judges. The court now has nine members whom Democratic presidents appointed, five whom Republican presidents confirmed and Chief Judge Roger Gregory, whom President Bill Clinton recess-appointed and Bush confirmed.

Two recent developments in the travel ban appeal demonstrate change in the court. First, all of the active judges without conflicts heard the appeal, called an initial en banc proceeding, which is so extraordinary that the last one was decades ago. One judge, not the parties, suggested this procedure, and the court requested the litigants’ views on an en banc process, while a circuit majority favored it apparently because of the appeal’s exceptional public importance.

Another sign of change was the court’s April 27 announcement that the argument would be livestreamed. Allowing “cameras in the courtroom” has proved extremely controversial at the Supreme Court, which has never permitted live broadcast of arguments. Indeed, since-retired Justice David Souter famously declared “over my dead body.” A few lower federal courts allow broadcasts. The 9th Circuit began livestreaming all oral arguments in 2015.”

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Read the complete article at the above link.

As a U.S. Immigration Judge sitting in the Fourth Circuit, I credited the Fourth Circuit’s carefully-crafted asylum jurisprudence and overriding concern for due process and fairness for asylum seekers as reasons why asylum grant rates were relatively high in the Arlington and Baltimore Immigration Courts (of course, along with my judicial colleagues’ careful attention the what the Fourth Circuit was saying; new Fourth Circuit rulings were a frequent topic of our lunch conversations.)

Apparently, however, the word didn’t reach as far south as the Charlotte Immigration Court, where advocates regularly complain of the rights of asylum seekers being “steamrolled.” To date, the BIA has failed to step in and fix the Charlotte situation. And, I wouldn’t expect it to happen with Jeff Sessions in charge of the U.S. Immigration Courts.

PWS

06-04-17

HuffPost: Trump Calls On Supremes For Help On Travel Ban 2.0!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-travel-ban-supreme-court_us_5930da0ae4b0c242ca229563

Nick Visser reports:

“The Trump administration on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revive the president’s controversial executive order that intended to temporarily bar travel to the U.S. by citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.

Lawyers at the Department of Justice filed two emergency applications with the nation’s highest court asking it to block two lower court rulings that effectively halted the implementation of his second travel ban, which also halted refugees seeking to enter the U.S. The filing asks for a stay of a ruling made last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and another stay of an injunction made by a judge in Hawaii.

The Justice Department has asked for expedited processing of the petitions so the court can hear the case when it begins a new session in October.

“We have asked the Supreme Court to hear this important case and are confident that President Trump’s executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the Nation safe and protect our communities from terrorism,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. “The president is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States.”

The filing drew an almost immediate response from advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which pledged to fight the ban in court yet again.
Trump’s executive order, signed March 6, was the White House’s second travel ban attempt. It sought to bar citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States. The watered-down order came after the bungled rollout of a similar ban, one that included Iraqis, which prompted nationwide protests and its own smack-down by a federal judge in Seattle.

In a 10-3 ruling last week, the 4th Circuit issued perhaps the biggest setback to the White House when a full panel of its judges refused to lift a nationwide injunction that halted key aspects of the revised ban.

U.S. Chief Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote at the time that the order “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

“Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute,” Gregory continued. “It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

Any travel ban’s chances have been harmed by Trump’s own rhetoric on the campaign trail, when he promised to completely ban Muslims from entering the country. He later backed down on those statements, but several judges cited them as evidence that the White House was targeting members of a religious group, not from any specific countries.

In one ruling, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson said the president’s “plainly worded statements” betrayed the ban’s “stated secular purpose.” U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang said Trump’s statements provided “a convincing case that the purpose of the second Executive Order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.”

Throughout the continued defeat in the courts, Trump and his administration have defiantly pledged to fight for the order and have denied the ban is intended to target members of the Islamic faith. After Watson ruled on the second order in Hawaii, the president called the decision “flawed” and slammed it as “unprecedented judicial overreach.”

“This ruling makes us look weak, which by the way we no longer are,” Trump said.

At the time, he pledged to bring the fight to the Supreme Court, a call Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated last month.”

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Most experts believe that the Administration has a reasonable chance of prevailing if the Court takes the case. But, I’m not sure that heaping intemperate insults on U.S. trial and appellate judges, and then asking the top U.S. judges to invoke emergency procedures to bail you out of difficulties caused to a large extent by your own inflammatory rhetoric is necessarily a winning litigation strategy. We’ll soon see how this plays out. Because the Court’s term concludes at the end of this month, expect a decision on the Government’s emergency requests by then. Even if the Court agrees to take the case, it’s unlikely that arguments on the merits will be heard until the beginning of the 2017 Term next Fall.

Thanks to Nolan Rappaport for sending me this link.

PWS

06-02-17

N. Rappaport Reviews Travel Ban Litigation For HuffPost!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5929ff8ce4b08861ed0cca0e

Man, Nolan sure gets around in terms of different publications! And, he is both timely and highly relevant! Here, Nolan writes in HyuffPost:

“In April 2016, I wrote an article entitled, “If he is elected to the presidency, Donald Trump will have statutory authority to suspend the entry of all Muslim aliens.”

The article included a successful prediction of Trump’s temporary travel ban. But I failed to foresee that it would be rejected on the basis of his campaign statements, or that using campaign statements that way would put our country on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

. . . .

The campaign statements that Judge Gregory uses to justify his decision can be used again and again to attack anything Trump does that has a negative impact on a country with a large Muslim population.

If the Supreme Court does not reverse Judge Gregory’s decision, other courts will follow suit and President Trump ultimately will be faced with the constitutional crisis of not being able to meet his national security responsibilities as the Chief of the Executive Branch with respect to terrorism coming from Muslim countries unless he defies the orders of the Judicial Branch.”

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Read Nolan’s complete article on HuffPost at the above link!

I appreciate Nolan’s helpful summary of what has happened to date on the “Travel Ban” litigation.  Nevertheless, I disagree with his conclusion that the President will not be able to “meet his national security responsibilities as Chief Executive.”

I have little doubt that if there were a legitimate “national security” crisis, the Federal Courts would give the Executive considerable discretion to operate. President Trump’s problem is that there is no obvious national security crisis at present. Therefore, his attack on nationals of predominantly Muslim countries seems to be out of bounds, and motivated by religious animus and a desire to fulfill campaign promises, rather than by any legitimate national security considerations.

FPWS

05-29-17

Noah Feldman In Bloomberg View: 4th Circuit’s Stunning Rebuke Of Trump — Court Basically Calls Prez A Liar!

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-25/court-essentially-says-trump-lied-about-travel-ban

Feldman writes:

“In a remarkable 10-to-3 decision, a federal appeals court on Thursday affirmed the freeze on the second iteration of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration from six majority Muslim countries. The court said that national security “is not the true reason” for the order, despite Trump’s insistence to the contrary. It’s extraordinary for a federal court to tell the president directly that he’s lying; I certainly can’t think of any other examples in my lifetime.

The decision and the breakdown of the judges voting against the ban — which includes Republican appointees — presages defeat for the executive order in the U.S. Supreme Court, should the Trump administration decide to seek review there. Faced with this degree of repudiation from the federal judiciary, Trump would be well advised not to go to the Supreme Court at all.

The decision for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, who has the distinction of having been appointed to the court first by Bill Clinton, in a recess appointment that would have expired, and then by George W. Bush — a reminder of bipartisanship in the judicial nomination process that seems almost inconceivable today.

Gregory’s opinion had three basic parts, of which the middle one was the most important.

First, Gregory found that the plaintiffs in the case had standing to challenge the executive order as a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. He pointed out that under the “endorsement test” first offered by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the establishment clause is violated when the government sends a message to some people that they are insiders, favored members of the political community, or a message to others that they are outsiders, disfavored as citizens.

In O’Connor’s analysis, feelings count. As the 4th Circuit put it in the passage quoted by Gregory, “feelings of marginalization and exclusion are cognizable forms of injury” under the endorsement test. Thus, Muslim plaintiffs who alleged that they experienced a sense of exclusion and harm have the constitutional right to bring a lawsuit. 1

Although the 4th Circuit dissenters objected plausibly that this reliance on emotional experience would allow anyone “who develops negative feelings” to bring an establishment clause case, their objection isn’t really to Gregory’s reasoning, but to the endorsement test itself. And that’s part of constitutional doctrine.

That led Gregory to the heart of his opinion — and the condemnation of Trump as a liar. The strongest legal argument available to the Trump administration was based on a 1972 Supreme Court case called Kleindienst v. Mandel.

In the Mandel case, immigration authorities denied a visa to a Belgian Marxist who had been invited to give lectures in the U.S. The professors who invited him argued that his exclusion violated the freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court denied the claim, stating that when the executive branch excludes a noncitizen from the country “on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason,” the courts would not “look behind the exercise of that discretion.” That holding looked pretty good for the Trump executive order, which on its face asserts a national security interest in denying visas to people from the six majority Muslim countries.

Here’s where the opinion got personal. Gregory acknowledged that the executive order was “facially legitimate.” But, he said, “bona fide” literally means “in good faith.”

And here, he reasoned, the plaintiffs had provided “ample evidence that national security is not the true reason” for the order. That evidence, the court said, came mostly from Trump himself, in the form of his “numerous campaign statements expressing animus towards the Islamic faith.”

This was really the punchline of the opinion: Trump’s own statements show that he lied when he said the purpose of the executive order was national security. Once that conclusion was on the table, Gregory easily went on to show that such animus violated the establishment clause by sending a message to Muslims that they are outsiders in the political community.

One other George W. Bush nominee, Judge Allyson Duncan, joined the opinion. The three dissents came from Judge Paul Niemeyer, appointed by George H.W. Bush, and two court’s two other George W. Bush nominees. Thus, the breakdown was mostly partisan.

As a result, it’s plausible that Trump might get a few votes for the executive order at the Supreme Court. But he isn’t going to win. Justice Anthony Kennedy will be moved by the argument that the executive order was adopted in bad faith. And even conservative Justice Samuel Alito is likely to be unsympathetic, given his strong record as a defender of religious liberty.
Trump’s lawyers should be telling him right now that it would be a mistake for him to seek Supreme Court review. Not only is he likely to lose, he is likely to lose in a way that undermines his legitimacy and credibility. But it’s doubtful whether he will listen. If Trump had been listening to his lawyers, he wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in now, where the judiciary is telling him to his face that he has bad faith.”

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I’m not even sure the Supremes will take this case.

First, it’s in an odd procedural posture of a preliminary injunction. No trial has ever been held.

Second, the “urgency” — which was fake anyway — clearly doesn’t exist.

Third, there is no Circuit split that needs to be resolved.

On the other hand, it is an interesting constitutional/separation of powers issue, and the Court is now back to “full strength.”

Trump and Sessions would be well advised at this point to heed the advice of the “Supreme Court pros” in the Solicitor General’s Office. But, based on performance to date, that’s unlikely to happen.

PWS

05-25-17