The Impact of Returning Children on Well-Founded Fear
I received a request to discuss the following hypothetical: an asylum-seeking couple has a U.S. citizen child. Because of the need for both parents to work, they send the child to their country of origin. The question is what impact the asylum seekers’ decision to send the child to the country of feared persecution has on their well-founded fear of persecution. If the asylum claim is based on past persecution, does the decision in any way rebut the presumption of a future fear of persecution? In claims based solely on prospective persecution, does the decision impact whether the parents have a genuine subjective fear of persecution?
- Applicants who suffered past persecution
Where the parents suffered past persecution, the sending of the child to the parents’ country of origin does not rebut the presumption of future fear as a matter of law. 8 C.F.R. § 1208.16(b)(1)(i) provides two ways in which the presumption may be rebutted: through a showing (by a preponderance of evidence) of (1) “a fundamental change in circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened,” or (2) the applicant’s ability to avoid the threat of future harm by relocating to another part of the country. I am not aware of binding case law addressing children sent to the country of origin. However, circuit case law has considered the return of the asylum seekers themselves. In Kone v. Holder, 596 F.3d 141 (2d Cir. 2010), an immigration judge had ruled that the asylum seeker’s own return to the country of origin rebutted the presumption of well-founded fear arising from the past persecution. The circuit court reversed, noting that the IJ’s “cursory analysis” failed to make a finding of either a fundamental change in circumstances or the possibility of internal relocation as required for a rebuttal finding by 8 C.F.R. §1208.16(b)(1)(i). The circuit court thus concluded that the IJ’s finding “suggests the erroneous belief that voluntary return trips are sufficient, as a matter of law, to rebut the presumption of future persecution to which [the asylum seeker] is entitled.” The court referenced the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Boer-Sedano v. Gonzales, 418 F.3d 1082. In that case, the Ninth Circuit held that “the existence of return trips standing alone” could not rebut the presumption; such return trips could be considered “as one factor, among others, to rebut the presumption.”
If the presumption of well-founded fear is not rebutted by the return of the asylum seeker, it certainly is not rebutted by the return of the child. The decision to send the child, and the manner in which the child was treated, could be considered as a possible factor in determining whether a fundamental change in circumstances occurred or the possibility of internal relocation exists. However, it is a factor that must be considered in the context of the feared harm. For example, where the feared persecution is specific to the asylum applicant alone, or of a type that could not be visited on the child (i.e. the return of a male child where the feared harm is female genital cutting or forcible abortion), the return is not likely to have much significance. But the factfinder may find greater meaning where the claimant fears widespread attacks on members of her race, tribe, or religion, yet sends a child possessing the same trait to stay with family members similarly at risk.
However, even then, the courts have looked at the specific circumstances involved. In Mukamusoni v. Ashcroft, 390 F.3d 125-26 (1st Cir. 2004), a rape victim returned to Rwanda to pursue the free education available to her in that country; after departing, she returned one more time to obtain her transcript to allow her to continue her studies in the U.S. The court concluded that under the circumstances, the returns did not undermine the applicant’s claimed fear of future persecution, noting that “[f]aced with no viable means of support otherwise, people take risks in the face of their fears.”
2. Applicants whose fear is prospective only
The USCIS Asylum Officer Training materials on “well-founded fear” do not mention the return of children. However, they do address two related topics: the impact of the return of the asylum seeker him/herself to the country of feared persecution; and the persecution (or lack thereof) of individuals closely related to the applicant. Regarding the former, the USCIS materials rely on circuit court decisions to conclude that whether the applicant’s own return indicates a lack of subjective fear of persecution or alternatively “does not necessarily defeat the claim” is circumstance-specific, and depends on why the applicant returned, and what occurred when they did. See USCIS, RAIO Combined Training Course, Well-Founded Fear Training Module (June 15, 2014) Section 9, pp.22-24. The USCIS training materials note that the Ninth Circuit has held that the return of an asylum seeker “did not undercut the genuineness of her fear” where the purpose of the return was to retrieve her child after the death of the child’s custodian, or, in another case, to aid his uncle and sister who had been arrested. Id. at 22. The USCIS materials also look to what happened upon the asylum seeker’s return. The materials reference yet another Ninth Circuit case, Karouni v. Gonzales, 399 F.3d 1163 (9th Cir. 2005), in which an asylum applicant returned once to his country to attend to his dying father, but cut his trip short because of his fear of persecution, leaving before the father’s funeral. The applicant returned a second time to attend to his dying mother, but had to delay the trip due to a fear of persecution so that he did not return until the mother had already passed away. The court concluded that these visits did not undermine the applicant’s fear.
Regarding the treatment of relatives, the USCIS training materials provide a hypothetical in which an asylum applicant’s sister is arrested based on her political opinion. The materials state that such arrest should be considered in determining the applicant’s own fear where, e.g. the sister lived in the same city and was active in the same political party as the applicant. However, the sister’s arrest need not be considered if the two were not close, lived in different regions, and were not members of the same party. See Id. section 6, pp. 18-19.
In transposing this approach to the example of children sent to the country of feared persecution, the inquiry would be into whether a connection exists between the child and the applicant’s reason for fearing persecution. When I was an immigration judge, ICE trial attorneys would sometimes comment in such cases that “no refugees sent their children back to Nazi Germany.” Of course, if the asylum applicant based his or her fear on a comparably extreme situation, i.e. that anyone who was a member of their race, nationality/ethnicity/tribe, or religion would be at grave risk, and that family remaining in the country were hiding in fear of discovery, then sending one’s child back to that country to stay with those relatives could open an inquiry into whether the applicant possessed a genuine subjective fear of persecution. However, where that is not the basis of the fear, the question would be what, if any, risk extends to the child? Furthermore, even if such risk was found to exist, as noted above, the reason for sending the child would be weighed against the risk. Whether the feared persecutors were aware of the children’s return, and if so, what their reaction was might also be considered, depending on the specific circumstances.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Honor Killings and Particular Social Group
The threat of honor killing may form the basis of an asylum claim. While men may be targeted as well,1 honor killings are a gender-based form of persecution, as the underlying basis is the view in certain societies that a woman’s failure to strictly adhere to a rigid moral code imposed upon her brings such dishonor on her family in the eyes of the community that nothing short of her murder (at the hands of her own family) can restore the family’s “honor.” The BIA has issued no precedent decisions relating to these types of claims; there are not many published circuit court decisions. In a recent published decision, Kamar v. Sessions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the BIA’s incorrect determination that a woman from Jordan who credibly fears an honor killing was not genuinely at risk, and did not show that the government of Jordan was unwilling or unable to protect her. However, I would like to focus in this article on the particular social group aspects of such claims.
As I have stated in other posts, the BIA established a requirement in its 1985 precedent decision Matter of Acosta that members of a particular social group must share an immutable characteristic. In a series of later decisions beginning with it’s 2006 precedent Matter of C-A-, the BIA additionally required cognizable social groups to satisfy its particularity and social distinction requirements. The former requires that there be a clear benchmark of who is and is not included in the group. The latter requires that the society in question (i.e. not the persecutors alone) view the members as forming a distinct group. It is not easy for a group to meet all three of these requirements.
However, I believe that women (and sometimes men) targeted for honor killings must be found to meet all three of these requirements, as they are inextricably built into the social code which gives rise to such horrific actions. First, being targeted for an honor killing is clearly an immutable characteristic. The entire reason the society in question requires an act as drastic as murder is that nothing short of eliminating the individual will undo the perceived shame on the family. There is no lesser form of rehabilitation or restitution available. Nor will the passage of time or the target’s departure from the society suffice. USCIS itself states in its own training materials for asylum officers on gender-based persecution that “the family may go to great lengths to pursue women (and men) accused of violating the family’s honor. Families employ bounty hunters, private detectives and social networks to pursue victims and searches may persist over years. In cultures with extended family networks over a large geographic area, relocation may offer no real protection.”2 This is the definition of an immutable characteristic.
Additionally, the group satisfies the particularity requirement. The code giving rise to honor killings (a term which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has called “an oxymoron if we’ve ever heard one”)3 specifies who must be targeted. In societies in which such killings take place, if a family that adheres to a rigid moral code believes that a female member of the family has behaved in a way that tarnished its reputation to the point that an honor killing is required, the family cannot decide to kill, e.g., the third person that walks down the street, or a more distant relative, or the gardener to achieve the goal of restoring honor. The code governing such killings is specific as to who must be targeted.
Furthermore, social distinction is a given in such cases, as it is the perception of the society in question itself that is entirely responsible for both the family’s perceived loss of honor and for the “need” to carry out the murder. It is the society’s moral code that has been violated by the group member’s behavior; it is the society that has distinguished the violator in a manner that brings shame on her family; and it is the society’s perception that the honor killing is intended to appease. Therefore, while the asylum officer, immigration judge, or BIA may deny asylum for another reason, if credible, an asylum applicant who fears an honor killing should not be denied based on a failure to meet her burden of establishing membership in a cognizable particular social group.
In order to avoid the Board’s prohibition against the group being defined in a circular manner, it is best not to include the term “honor killing” in the definition of the proposed group itself. The membership in the group is the reason the person fears persecution. The definition should therefore generally not include the actual harm feared, because a person is not targeted for an honor killing because they are targeted for an honor killing- this is what the Board terms a circular argument. However, a person may be targeted for persecution because they are a member of the group consisting of, for example, “women from country X whose behavior is perceived to have brought dishonor on their family by flouting repressive moral norms.” The honor killing is the type of persecution that the applicant fears as a result of their membership in the group.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
1. On the topic of males targeted for honor killings, see Caitlin Steinke, Male Asylum Applicants Who Fear Becoming the Victims of Honor Killings: The Case for Gender Equality, 17 CUNY L.Rev. 233,(2013).
2. See USCIS, RAIO Directorate, Combined Training Course, Gender Related Claims Training Module, p. 24 (Rev. 9/26/2011)https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/About%20Us/Directorates%20and%20Program%20Offices/RAIO/Gender%20Related%20Claims%20LP%20%28RAIO%29.pdf.
3. Sarhan v. Holder, 658 F.3d 649 (7th Cir. 2011).
Expedited Removal is Not the Answer to the Backlog
With the immigration court backlog at over 600,000 cases and rising, immigration law commentator (and fellow BIA alum) Nolan Rappaport recently suggested that the present administration might view the increased use of expedited removal as “the only viable alternative” to shrink the swelling tide of cases. My fellow blogger Paul Schmidt has opposed such approach; I wish to join him in adding my arguments as to why the expansion of expedited removal would be unacceptable.
If the criminal court system were to be flooded to the breaking point, the solution could not be to let supervisory police officers decide which defendants might have a reasonable enough chance of being found innocent and get to go to court, and just find the rest guilty without the right to a trial. However, that is pretty much the premise of expedited removal. An overwhelming volume of cases cannot be used to justify the stripping away of due process protections.
Our immigration courts have evolved significantly over the decades. Deportation hearings were once conducted by “special inquiry officers,” who were attorneys working for the INS. Beginning in 1973, immigration judges began presiding over hearings. In 1983, those judges were separated from the INS into a separate adjudicatory agency, EOIR. In 2002, INS was moved into three components within the newly-created DHS, while EOIR remained in the Department of Justice. The strong motive behind these developments was that the agency charged with enforcement was not suited to serve as a neutral factfinder and decision maker. Increasing the scale of expedited removal would undo the above progress and return decision-making into the hands of the enforcement branch – the legal equivalent of having the fox guard the hen house.
Immigration judges render decisions independently, with no pressure or influence from their higher-ups. This is not true of asylum officers. I had one case years ago in which the asylum officer’s supervisor so adamantly opposed the grant of asylum that the officer had to wait until the supervisor went on vacation, and then had the acting supervisor sign off approving the grant. I have also heard of an asylum office director pressuring the staff to grant fewer cases in order to bring the office’s grant rate closer to the lower grant rate of another asylum office. Furthermore, to the extent that those seeking expedited removal are able to obtain counsel in the short time frame provided (and while detained, sometimes in remote settings), asylum officers allow attorneys a greatly reduced role in the process. In immigration court, the attorney makes legal arguments and objections, questions the respondent, and lays the foundation for documents to be offered into evidence. Even in full asylum office interviews, attorneys are relegated to sitting in the back row and taking notes. As the government’s own statistics show that represented asylum seekers are twice as likely to be granted relief, the asylum office’s minimizing of the attorney’s role clearly lessens the asylum seeker’s chance of success.
Expedited removal has really never worked well. In opposing its implementation in the mid-1990s, myself and other advocates argued that the legal threshold – the newly-created “credible fear” standard – was problematic. When the 1980 Refugee Act adopted the legal standard of “well-founded fear” for asylum claims, INS interpreted the term to mean “more likely than not;” it took seven years of litigation and a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to correctly define the standard as requiring only a 10 percent chance of persecution. But expedited removal asked us to trust the same INS to properly interpret the vague new “credible fear” standard, and this time without the right to seek judicial review. Not surprisingly, so many mistakes were made after the standard was implemented that by mid-1997, the then INS director of asylum instructed asylum officers to simply find all applicants professing a fear of persecution to have met the credible fear standard. Those who claimed no fear in their countries were summarily removed; INS claimed that the majority of arrivees were in this latter group.
But where they really? A person arriving in this country only gets a credible fear interview if they indicate to the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer who first encounters them that they fear return to their country. Two studies conducted over a decade apart by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government entity, found serious problems with the screening process of those arriving but not found admissible to the U.S. According to USCIRF, some arrivees were never asked whether they feared return; others who were asked and responded in the affirmative had “no” recorded in their statements, which were often not read back to them. The USCIRF report cited instances in which those wishing to seek asylum were pressured into signing inaccurate statements, or even into retracting their fear claims and withdrawing their applications for admission.
The answer to the immigration court backlog is clearly not to subject more people to the flawed and biased expedited removal system in lieu of removal hearings. To my knowledge, every other high volume court employs prosecutorial discretion and stipulated settlements to lessen the case load. Plea bargains are employed in everything from murder to traffic court cases. Under the Obama administration, prosecutorial discretion was employed in immigration court and significantly helped prosecutors and judges deal with the caseload. For unknown reasons, the present administration has ended this useful practice. DHS attorneys are also being instructed to oppose requests to terminate proceedings made by those wishing to leave the U.S. to attend immigrant visas abroad. These intending immigrants want to leave the country, and will only be allowed to return legally if they are found by a U.S. consular officer to be qualified and admissible to this country; under the prior administration, termination under these circumstances was readily agreed to by DHS. At the same time DHS is forcing so many immigrants to unnecessarily remain in removal proceedings, the agency will not put into proceedings those who want to be there in order to apply for certain types of relief that may only be granted by an immigration judge, such as cancellation of removal. Preventing immigrants from obtaining legal status to which they might be entitled seems suspiciously consistent with the present administration’s desire to stem the pace of naturalization in order to preserve the voting bloc that brought them to office last year.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Here’s the answer:
The BIA’s Withdrawn Amicus Invitation
The BIA recently withdrew as moot its invitation for amicus briefs on the following issue: whether an applicant who filed a late application for asylum based on two separate grounds (i.e. religion and coercive population control), and who demonstrated changed conditions as to the religion-based claim to allow for late filing, could have their asylum claim considered as to both grounds. My question is why the Board felt the need to invite briefing on this issue in the first place?
In the 1990s, several high profile events caused Congress to address the issue of asylum reform. An early version of a House bill addressing the subject would have required an asylum application to be filed within 30 days of arrival in this country. The bill’s sponsors believed that asylum applications filed by individuals who had been in this country several years lacked legitimacy, and were being filed as a dilatory tactic in removal proceedings, or affirmatively simply as a way to obtain employment authorization. I remember explaining to members of Congress (including one of the three sponsors of the bill) that it took potential asylum seekers well in excess of 30 days just to get an initial appointment with pro bono groups such as the one I volunteered with at the time. If the organization accepted the case, it would take additional time to place it with a law firm (which would usually have to first determine that representation was free of any conflicts of interest). That was all before the pro bono attorney had even met with the client for the first time. Furthermore, the filing deadline was being considered in conjunction with a sped-up asylum adjudication process under which asylum officers would issue a final decision on asylum claims within 60 days of receipt. This meant that asylum applicants really needed to file their documentation along with the application. But for a refugee forced to suddenly flee their country, compiling supporting documentation from overseas can take time. Advocacy efforts succeeded in persuading Congress to extend the original 30-day filing deadline to the present one year.
However, an additional concern remained. When meeting with members of Congress on this issue in the 1990s, I raised the following hypothetical: what if a lawful F-1 student receives a call from home during their third year of college, informing the student that their brother was arrested, the police were asking about the student’s own whereabouts, and warning the student to not return home. The student in this scenario is a legitimate refugee, but the one-year deadline has long passed. Congress therefore created an exception to the one-year deadline for changed conditions that give rise to a well-founded fear of persecution. And in the case before the BIA, the respondent satisfied this exception by establishing changed conditions arising more than one year after the last entry to this country that gave rise to a fear of persecution on account of the respondent’s religion.
Apparently, in addition to the new religion claim, the respondent had a preexisting basis for claiming asylum based on China’s coercive population control policies. Having been allowed to apply for asylum, the respondent sought to include the older basis for asylum as well as the new ground. It is not clear what the argument might be for not allowing this. As the respondent was already found eligible to file an asylum application based on the religion claim, allowing the coercive population control claim would not bestow on the respondent any additional benefits beyond those already obtained through the accepted religion-based asylum claim. Thus, allowing both grounds to be considered would not encourage the late filing of fraudulent applications for the purpose of obtaining employment authorization. Furthermore, as the respondent was already pursuing the religion-based asylum claim in removal proceedings, allowing consideration of the additional ground would not serve any dilatory purpose. The length of time required to complete the removal proceedings before the immigration judge would be the same whether the claim was based on one or two grounds. Thus, allowing both grounds to be considered would not run afoul of either of the concerns that Congress meant to address in establishing the one year filing deadline. It is thus entirely unclear why the BIA would consider barring the second ground from consideration.
There are legitimate reasons why one might not file an asylum claim within one year of entry. In some instances, the refugee was simply not aware of the filing deadline; it is possible that he or she did not even learn of the relief of asylum until well after arrival. Some refugees may be forced to stay with family or friends living in remote areas where legal advice is not readily available. But even in urban centers, pro bono resources are presently stretched to their limits, and many lack the funds upon arrival to retain private attorneys. Some with legitimate fears of persecution might have chosen not to apply due to unfavorable case law, a lack of supporting documentation, or a variety of other legal considerations.
The decision as to whether or not to come forward and apply for asylum, and possibly expose oneself to the risk of deportation, is a complicated one. But once the decision has been made, it is to the advantage of all to hear any and all bases for asylum at once. Besides from the administrative efficiency of such an approach, the Board needs to realize that a person’s fears and risks of harm are not so clearly compartmentalized. An asylum claim begins with the applicant’s subjective fear of persecution. Various fears may overlap or provide context. For example, would an asylum claimant who had already experienced traumatic persecution at the hands of China’s government for violating the family planning policies be more likely to possess a genuine subjective fear of future persecution by the same governmental authorities on account of their religion? Or would the applicant be objectively more likely to be singled out for religious persecution where the government had previously targeted them on population control grounds?
Although it became moot in the case presently before the Board, the issue is likely to be a recurring one. As the Board’s recent asylum decisions have left much to be desired, it is hoped that when its members eventually consider this issue in a precedential decision, they will reach the correct result.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Dara Lind reports for VOX
“Omar Siagha has been in the US for 52 years. He’s a legal permanent resident with three children. He’d never been to prison, he says, before he was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention — faced with the loss of his green card for a misdemeanor.
His brother tried to seek out lawyers who could help Siagha, but all they offered, in his words, were “high numbers and no hope” — no guarantee, in other words, that they’d be able to get him out of detention for all the money they were charging.
Then he met lawyers from Brooklyn Defender Services — part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, an effort to guarantee legal representation for detained immigrants. They demanded only one thing of him, he recalls: “Omar, you’ve got to tell us the truth.”
But Siagha’s access to a lawyer in immigration court is the exception.
There’s no right to counsel in immigration court, which is part of the executive branch rather than the judiciary. Often, an immigrant’s only shot at legal assistance before they’re marched in front of a judge is the pro bono or legal aid clinic that happens to have attorneys at that courthouse. Those clinics have such limited resources that they try to select only the cases they think have the best shot of winning — which can be extremely difficult to ascertain in a 15-minute interview.
But advocates and local governments are trying to make cases like Siagha’s the rule, not the exception. Soon, every eligible immigrant who gets detained in one of a dozen cities — including New York, Chicago, Oakland, California, and Atlanta — will have access to a lawyer to help fight their immigration court case.
The change started at Varick Street. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project started in New York City in 2013, guaranteeing access to counsel for detained immigrants.
According to a study released Thursday by the Vera Institute for Justice (which is now helping fund the representation efforts in the other cities, under the auspices of the Safe Cities Network), the results were stunning. With guaranteed legal representation, up to 12 times as many immigrants have been able to win their cases: either able to get legal relief from deportation or at least able to persuade ICE to drop the attempt to deport them this time.
So far, cities have been trying to protect their immigrant populations through inaction — refusing to help with certain federal requests. Giving immigrants lawyers, on the other hand, seemingly makes the system work better. And if it works, it could leave the Trump administration — which is already upset with the amount of time it takes to resolve an immigration court case — very frustrated indeed. (The Department of Justice, which runs immigration courts, didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Immigration court is supposed to give immigrants a chance for relief. In reality … it depends.
As federal immigration enforcement has ramped up over the past 15 years, nearly every component of it has gotten a sleek bureaucratic upgrade, a boatload of money, and heightened interest and oversight from Congress. But immigration court has been overlooked as everything else has been built up around it.
The reason is simple. Chronologically, most immigrants have to go through immigration court after being apprehended and before being deported. But bureaucratically, immigration courts are run by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, housed in the Justice Department instead of by the Department of Homeland Security. And when it comes to money and bureaucratic attention, that makes all the difference in the world.
From the outside, the striking thing about immigration court is how slow it is — lawyers already report that hearings for those apprehended today are scheduled in 2021. That’s also the Trump administration’s problem with it; the federal government is sweeping up more immigrants than it did in 2016 but deporting fewer of them.
But it doesn’t seem that way from the inside, to an immigrant who doesn’t have any idea what’s going on — especially one who’s being kept in detention.
This is the scene that Peter Markowitz accustomed himself to, as a young immigration lawyer at the Varick Street courtroom in New York: “People brought in, in shackles, with their feet and hands shackled to their waist, often not understanding the language of the proceedings, having no idea of the legal norms that were controlling their fate — being deported hand over fist.”
I know he’s not exaggerating; in my first morning watching immigration court proceedings in Minneapolis in 2008, I saw at least 10 detainees get issued deportation orders before lunch. Almost none had lawyers. Sometimes the judge would pause and explain to the detainee, in plain English, what was really going on — but she didn’t have to, and sometimes she wouldn’t bother.”
Read Dara’s full article at the link.
No lawyer = no due process. Rather than trying to hustle folks out of the country without a full and effective chance for them to be heard — in other words, true Due Process — Jeff Sessions should be changing the Immigration Court system to put less reliance on detention and detention center “kangaroo courts” and more emphasis on insuring that each individual scheduled for a hearing has fair and reasonable access to competent counsel.
I totally agree that due process can’t be put on a “timetable,” as Sessions and his crew at the DOJ seem to want. As observed by none other than Chief Justice John Roberts — certainly no “bleeding heart liberal” —“It takes time to decide a case on appeal. Sometimes a little; sometimes a lot.” Nken v. Holder, 556 U.s. 418 (2009). That’s even more true on the trial level.
I have a somewhat different take on whether representation and providing full due process will ultimately slow down the system. In the short run, represented cases might take longer than unrepresented ones (although I personally found that not invariably true). However, as noted by Chief Judge Katzmann, lack of representation both promotes wrong, and therefore unfair, results, but also inhibits the proper development of the law. (Perhaps not incidentally, I note that Chief Judge Katzmann actually took time to attend and participate in Annual Immigration Judge Training Conferences back in the day when the “powers that be” at DOJ and EOIR deemed such training to be a necessary ingredient of a fair judicial system — something that was eliminated by Sessions’s DOJ this year. Apparently, new, untrained Immigration Judges can be expected to “crank out” more final orders of removal than trained judges.)
When I was in Arlington, the vast majority of the non-detained respondents were represented, and the majority of those got some sort of relief — in other words, won their cases to some extent. As time went on, this development required the DHS to adjust its position and to stop “fully litigating” issues that experience and the law told them they were going to lose.
That, in turn, led to more efficient and focused hearings as well as decisions to drop certain types of cases as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Had that process been allowed to continue, rather than being artificially arrested by the Trump regime, it could well have eventually led to more efficient use of docket time and alternate means of disposing of cases that were “likely losers” or of no particular enforcement value to the DHS or the country at large.
By contrast, “haste makes waste” attempts to force cases through the system without representation or otherwise in violation of Due Process often led to appellate reversals, “do-overs,” and re-openings, all of which were less efficient for the system than “doing it right in the first place” would have been!
In my view (echoed at least to some extent by my colleague retired Judge Jeffrey Chase), more conscientious publication of BIA precedents granting asylum could and should have taken large blocks of asylum cases off the “full merits” dockets of Immigration Judges — either by allowing them to be “short docketed” with the use of stipulations or allowing them to be favorably disposed of by the DHS Asylum Offices.
No system that I’m aware of can fully litigate every single possible law violation. Indeed, our entire criminal justice system works overwhelmingly from “plea bargaining” that often bears little if any resemblance to “what actually happened.” Plea bargaining is a practical response that reflects the reality of our justice system and the inherent limitations on judicial time. And effective plea bargaining requires lawyers on both sides as well as appropriate law development as guidance that can only happen when parties are represented. The absurd claim of Sessions and the DHS that the law allows them no discretion as to whether or not to bring certain categories of removal cases is just that — absurd and in direct contradiction of the rest of the U.S. justice system.
The current policies of the DHS and the DOJ, which work against Due Process, rather than seeking to take advantage of and actively promote it, are ultimately doomed to failure. The only question is how much of a mess, how many wasted resources, and how much pain and unfairness they will create in the process of failing.
Andrea Saenz, mentioned in the article is a former Judicial Law clerk at the New York Immigration Court. I have always admired her clear, concise, “accessible” legal writing — much like that of Judge Jeffrey Chase — and have told her so.
I am also proud that a number of attorneys involved in the “New York Project” and the Brooklyn Defenders are alums of the Arlington Immigration Court or my Georgetown Law RLP class — in other words, charter members of the “New Due Process Army!” They are literally changing our system, one case and one individual life at a time. And, they and their successors will still be at it long after guys like Jeff Sessions and his restrictionist cronies and their legally and morally bankrupt philosophies have faded from the scene.
Thanks to my friend the amazing Professor Alberto Benítez from the GW Law Immigration Clinic for sending me this item!
IJs, Tiered Review, and Completion Quotas
EOIR recently announced its intent to subject immigration judges to tiered performance reviews. Most notably, EOIR plans to impose case completion quotas on the individual judges. The American Bar Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) were among the many organizations to express their strong objection to the proposal.
Immigration judges have always been exempt from the tiered reviews that other Department of Justice attorneys undergo each year. The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge deserves credit for understanding that it is not possible to impose any type of review criteria without impeding on judges’ neutrality and independence. To begin with, how many cases should a judge complete in a given period of time? Are the judges with the most completions affording due process to the respondents? Are they identifying all of the issues, spending enough time reviewing the records, and giving proper consideration and analysis to the facts and the law? Do their decisions provide sufficient detail for meaningful review? Are those at the other end of the scale completing less cases because they are working less hard, or to the contrary, because they are delving deeper into the issues and crafting more detailed and sophisticated decisions? Or is it because they are granting more continuances out of a sense of fairness to the parties, or to allow further development of the record in order to allow for a more informed decision? And regardless of the reasons, might they be prejudicing some respondents by delaying their day in court? How would management turn all of these factors into an objective grade?
In terms of completion quotas, all cases are not equal. A respondent who has no relief and simply wants to depart can have his or her case completed in minutes, whereas a respondent seeking relief in New York will presently be scheduled for a merits hearing in the Spring of 2020, at which time the lengthy testimony of multiple witnesses, disputes over the admissibility of evidence, the need to wait for DHS to adjudicate pending petitions for relief, etc. might result in months or even years of additional continuances. Decisions in some cases are delivered orally in just a few sentences; others require 25 written pages. Yet all count the same in EOIR’s completion ledger.
I am pretty certain that the move for tiered review is not coming from the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, but from higher up – either the new Acting Director of EOIR, or Main Justice. Even under more liberal administrations, the Department of Justice never really understood the IJs, who are the only judges within a predominantly enforcement-minded department. The need for neutrality and fairness is further lost on the present Attorney General, who has made his anti-immigrant agenda clear. IJs are in an interesting position: they represent the Attorney General (i.e. are acting as the AG’s surrogates, where the statute delegates authority to make determinations or grant relief to the AG). Yet in spite of such posture, IJs often reach decisions that are at odds with the AG’s own views. For example, does Jeff Sessions, who last month issued a memo allowing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals under the guise of protecting the discriminators’ “religious liberty,”, approve of his immigration judges granting asylum claims based on sexual orientation or sexual identity? In light of Sessions’ recent charges of widespread asylum fraud, does he agree with his judges’ high asylum grant rates?
It is probably this tension that provides the impetus for the Department’s present proposal. The tiered criteria and completion quotas are likely designed to pressure judges with more liberal approaches into issuing more removal orders. They would also provide the department with a basis to take punitive action against judges who resist such pressures. Given the high percentage of immigration judges who are retirement eligible, the department might be counting on judges targeted under the new review criteria to simply retire, allowing them to be replaced with more enforcement-minded jurists.
It should be noted that the changes are at this point proposals. The immigration judge corps is represented by a very effective union. As the present leadership within the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge is fair minded, there is hope that reason will prevail. However, in a worst-case scenario in which the plan is implemented, what should immigration judges do?
Having worked both as an IJ and a BIA staff attorney subjected to both quotas and tiered review, I can state that there are big differences. BIA staff attorneys draft decisions that Board members then have to approve, whereas immigration judges are in complete control of the case outcome. Furthermore, unlike BIA attorneys who are dealing with records of completed decisions, immigration judges are conducting proceedings in which the protection of due process must be safeguarded above all, as the Chief Immigration Judge pointed out in her July 31, 2017 memo on continuances. Circuit courts are not going to excuse due process violations because immigration judges have to meet arbitrary completion goals.
Although the intent may be to create more removal orders, completion quotas can prove to be a two-edged sword. Should the ICE attorney not have the file at the first Master Calendar hearing, or should they lack a certified copy of the conviction record or proof of service of the NTA, will the IJ feel compelled to terminate proceedings (which constitutes a completion) rather than grant the government a continuance? Many hearings turn on credibility findings, but credibility findings take time to get right. The Second Circuit, for example, has held that an immigration judge should probe for additional details to clear up doubts about credibility.1 As Deborah Anker has pointed out in her Law of Asylum in the United States, “Federal courts have overturned adverse credibility findings where an immigration judge has interrupted an applicant repeatedly, rushed the hearing, and then criticized an applicant’s testimony for lacking specificity.”2 But won’t completion quotas likely encourage exactly such prohibited behavior? In order to avoid reversal on appeal, judges who are forced to rush or curtail hearings will may need to give the benefit of the doubt to respondents and find them credible. Additionally, judges may no longer be able to continue cases to allow DHS to subject documents to forensic examination, or to conduct consular investigations in the applicants’ home countries. Under pressure to complete cases, judges may be forced to credit witness affidavits as opposed to allowing DHS to subject those witnesses to cross-examination.
For the above reasons, it is not impossible that completion quotas might actually result in more grants of relief and terminations of proceedings, resulting in fewer removal orders. Like so many of the poorly thought out policies of the current administration seeking to erode individual protections, completion quotas (if implemented) may just be the latest that will fail to achieve its intended result. The proposal provides further evidence of the need for a truly independent immigration court.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
1. Yang v. Board of Immigration Appeals, 440 F.3d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 2006).
2. Anker, Law of Asylum in the United States (2017 Edition) at 199.
1st Cir. on Why All Evidence Must Be Considered
In Aguilar-Escoto v. Sessions, No. 16-1090 (1st Cir. Oct. 27, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the BIA’s erroneous decision affirming an immigration judge’s denial of withholding of removal. The circuit court employed an interesting approach that lawyers and judges may wish to examine.
In Aguilar-Escoto, the Board upheld the immigration judge’s adverse credibility finding. However, the petitioner also provided significant documentary evidence. Although the IJ had considered and disposed of such evidence, the Board did not address it. On appeal, the First Circuit adopted the view of the Eleventh Circuit in holding that “an adverse credibility determination does not alleviate the BIA’s duty to consider other evidence…” The court concluded that remand was required “irrespective of the supportability of the adverse credibility finding” in order for the Board to consider the previously neglected evidence. However, the court reached such conclusion in an unusual way.
Although the IJ had correctly noted that the application was for withholding of removal, the Board carelessly stated that the petitioner “failed to meet her burden of proof for asylum.” As those of us who practice in this field all know, asylum and withholding have different burdens of proof. As the Board is fond of saying in its decisions, if the respondent did not meet her burden of proof for asylum, “it follows that she has not satisfied the more stringent burden that applies to withholding of removal.” The Board used similar boilerplate in this case.
However, the circuit court here stated that in one way, the burden for asylum “may be more exacting.” The court noted that asylum has a subjective and objective component: an applicant must establish both a genuine subjective fear, and then must show that such fear is objectively reasonable. Although withholding of removal requires a much greater probability of harm (more than 50 percent, as opposed to the 10 percent needed for asylum), the court observed that the focus is entirely on the objective; i.e. there is no inquiry into the applicant’s own subjective fear. In other words, asylum applicants must first convince the adjudicator that they are genuinely afraid of being persecuted, and must then provide enough objective evidence to show that such fear is reasonable. Withholding applicants must show through objective evidence that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that they will suffer persecution; their own fear is irrelevant to the inquiry. The reason for this distinction is that asylum requires one to meet the statutory definition of “refugee,” which involves a “well-founded fear of persecution.” Withholding of removal does not incorporate the refugee definition, but rather prohibits removal to a country where the Attorney General decides that the individual’s freedom would be threatened on account of a protected ground. Thus, in asylum, the adjudicator is reviewing the reasonableness of the applicant’s own fear; in withholding of removal, the A.G. is the one determining the threat to safety.
The First Circuit explains the importance of this distinction: an adverse credibility finding impacts the genuineness of the applicant’s subjective fear. However, it does not impact the independent objective evidence regarding the likelihood of the applicant suffering harm if returned to her country. The court noted that in mistakenly thinking it was affirming a denial of asylum based on adverse credibility, the Board then added common boilerplate language that, since the applicant did not meet the lower burden required for asylum, it follows that she did not meet withholding’s higher burden. But the court said that logic only applies where the subjective fear element is satisfied, but the claim was denied due to a failure to provide sufficient objective evidence to support such fear. Here, as the adverse credibility finding precluded the petitioner from establishing a genuine subjective fear of persecution, the withholding of removal application required a separate inquiry as to whether the independent objective evidence was sufficient to establish the likelihood of persecution. The record was therefore remanded for such inquiry.
To illustrate by way of example, let’s say an applicant applies for asylum and withholding based on her Christian religion. The applicant claims to be afraid to return to her country because she received multiple threatening phone calls and letters referencing her religion. The applicant also submits news articles and human rights reports detailing violent attacks on Christians in her hometown. Now, let’s assume that the immigration judge believes that the respondent is in fact a practicing Christian. However, the IJ concludes that the claimed threats lack credibility. Asylum requires the applicant to first demonstrate a genuine subjective fear of persecution. The respondent testified that her fear was based on the threats. Under the First Circuit’s holding, if the IJ finds that the threats didn’t actually occur, the IJ can determine that the respondent did not establish a genuine fear of persecution.
However, what if the reports and articles believably establish that Christians run a high risk of being persecuted on account of their religion? The IJ did believe that the respondent was in fact a practicing Christian. According to the First Circuit, the IJ therefore just can’t dispose of the withholding claim by stating that the respondent didn’t meet the lower burden of proof for asylum, so therefore couldn’t have met the higher burden for withholding. The IJ would instead have to apply a separate analysis as to whether the articles and reports independently establish that it is more likely than not the respondent would be persecuted on account of her religion if removed to her country. If so, the respondent is entitled to withholding of removal (which is a non-discretionary form of relief).
Both immigration practitioners and government adjudicators should take note, and approach their arguments and drafting of decisions accordingly. As an aside, the nuances and degree of analysis that the circuit court’s decision requires of adjudicators underscores the danger of the Department of Justice’s stated intent to impose case completion quotas on immigration judges. As my good friend and fellow blogger Paul Schmidt recently wrote on the topic (and as this case clearly illustrates), immigration judges are not piece workers, and fair court decisions are not widgets (well said, Paul!).
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
“In a recent address at EOIR headquarters, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed the immigration courts’ present backlog of over 600,000 cases on asylum fraud. In order to lend support to his claim, Sessions conveniently omitted some important facts.
First, Sessions somehow failed to mention that after gaining majority control in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans in Congress forced a hiring freeze, followed by a “sequester” requiring government-wide budget cuts. EOIR was not able to hire immigration judges or other support staff, while suffering personnel departures. In 2015 testimony to Congress by EOIR’s then director, the late Juan Osuna attributed much of the 101 percent increase in the immigration court’s backlog over the preceding five years to the hiring freeze. Furthermore, the sequester’s budget cuts rendered EOIR unable to replace obsolete computer servers, which resulted in a total system failure in 2014 which wreaked havoc on the courts for more than 5 weeks. These Republican-created problems coincided with the 2014 surge along the southern border of legitimate refugees fleeing increased violence in the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The 2014 violence was followed by a 70 percent increase in the murder rate in El Salvador the following year, which, according to a January 2016 article in The Guardian, made it the most dangerous peacetime country in the world.
EOIR publishes a statistical yearbook each year; the most recent is for fiscal year 2016. The report divides asylum claims into affirmative and defensive categories. Defensive applications are filed by individuals who find themselves in removal proceedings facing deportation from the U.S. Some are detained; some are not represented by attorneys. The majority of these individuals are eligible to apply for only one form of relief: asylum. Given the fact that most people in removal proceedings would like to remain in the U.S. and avoid deportation, it is not surprising that a number of these individuals file applications for the only form of relief that might keep them here, even if the likelihood of success is a longshot. Nevertheless, in FY 2016, 31 percent (i.e. nearly a third) of these defensive claims for asylum were granted by immigration judges, according to EOIR’s own numbers.
The second category of asylum applicants listed in EOIR’s annual report consists of affirmative applicants. These are individuals who are not detained or in imminent danger of deportation. Nevertheless, these individuals decided to come forward and apply for asylum, bringing themselves to the attention of DHS and risking deportation should their claims be denied. In FY 2016, EOIR reported that 83 percent of such claims were granted by immigration judges. It should be noted that affirmative applicants are first interviewed by asylum officers with USCIS, a component of DHS. DHS grants asylum to those applicants it deems approvable, and refers the rest to EOIR. So if the cases granted by DHS are added to the EOIR numbers, the grant rate is actually higher.
In removal proceedings, asylum applications are contested by DHS trial attorneys, who nearly always subject asylum applicants to detailed cross-examination.. DHS attorneys may send evidence submitted by asylum applicants for consular investigation in the country of origin, or for forensics examination to determine if there is evidence of fabrication or alteration. The DHS attorneys may also check other databases for evidence that may conflict with the information provided in the asylum application. DHS may offer any results that might indicate fraud into evidence. Sessions falsely claims that “there is no way to reasonably investigate the claims of an asylum applicant in their own country;” in my 12 years as an immigration judge, I was presented with the results of many such in-country consular investigations. I also commonly received reports and heard testimony from forensics examiners employed by DHS.
In addition, in response to reports of fraud, Congress included provisions in the 2005 REAL ID Act that gave immigration judges greater authority to find that asylum applicants lacked credibility. The legislation also made it more difficult to establish asylum eligibility by requiring that one of the five statutorily protected grounds (i.e. race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion) be “one central reason” for the feared persecution. Also, the BIA has spent the last 11 years issuing precedent decisions that increase the difficulty of establishing asylum eligibility.
And in spite of all of the above, immigration judges last year found more than 8 of 10 affirmative asylum applicants to be legitimate. The IJs granting these claims are employees of the Attorney General’s own Department of Justice. Immigration Judges are appointed by the Attorney General, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Many previously worked on the enforcement side; many are Republican appointees. Sessions claims that “vague, insubstantial, and subjective claims have swamped our system.” If true, how are more than 80 percent being granted by judges that he and his predecessors appointed?
So then where is the evidence of widespread asylum fraud supporting Sessions’ assertion? What support does he provide in claiming that “any adjudicatory system with a grant rate of nearly 90 percent is inherently flawed?” Why would that be true of the applicants in question chose to come forward and apply for asylum; their claims were screened and prepared by competent attorneys; and where the immigration laws contain significant penalties for filing fraudulent claims, including a lifetime bar on any and all immigration benefits?
About three years ago, while I was the country conditions expert for EOIR, I was one of a number of EOIR employees invited by DHS to attend a training session on country conditions in the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The presenters described horrific conditions in the lawless Northern Triangle, in which murders occur with impunity, boys as young as 7 years old are recruited for gang membership, 11 year old girls are raped, and their fathers killed if they try to intervene. The presenters concluded that in spite of the danger, parents are making very informed decisions in paying to have their children smuggled north under dangerous conditions, considering the horrible conditions at home. Remember, this was not a program put on by Amnesty International; this was DHS training its asylum officers. I enlisted one of the presenters to repeat his presentation for the immigration judges at their training conference the following year. Is Sessions somehow unaware of this information when he portrays such claims as fraudulent?
In support of his fraud claim, Sessions stated that many who were found to have a credible fear of persecution and paroled into the U.S. did not subsequently apply for asylum. However, he neglected to mention that many of those parolees are unaccompanied children. He also did not mention that many parolees cannot afford attorneys, and that pro bono groups’ limited resources are completely overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers, and that those dedicated pro bono programs who have attempted creative approaches such as providing limited pro bono assistance to pro se applicants have been hampered by EOIR itself, which issued a “cease and desist” letter to at least one such program, the highly regarded Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Sessions referenced a 2014 investigation resulting in the arrest of 8 attorneys for engaging in asylum fraud. There are thousands of immigration attorneys in the United States. The overwhelming majority are honest, hardworking and highly respectful of our laws. Since departing the government I been inspired by the seriousness with which private immigration attorneys treat asylum matters. When attorneys speak of a client being granted asylum, they nearly always describe years of preparation, a lengthy hearing, well-researched legal theories, and loads of supporting evidence, often including expert witnesses. These are not half-hour hearings; they are exhausting, contested matters that can last many hours. The attorneys engaged in such work should be applauded for their efforts. And I can’t express enough admiration for the hundreds of immigration judges who, in spite of the pressure created by a daunting workload and biased remarks by the Attorney General they report to, nevertheless continue to afford due process and render fair and impartial judgement on those appearing before them.
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.”
Reprinted with permission.
Right on Jeffrey! Thanks for your incisive commentary and analysis!
Gonzo’s extensive record of lies, omissions, intentional distortions, bias, and willful ignorance make him unqualified for any position of public trust, let alone the chief legal official of the US! The inappropriateness of placing such an individual in charge of the US Immigration Courts is simply jaw dropping!
Sen. Liz Warren was right! Our country and our entire system of justice are suffering because a majority of her colleagues “tuned her out!” Speaking truth to power is seldom easy.
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
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!
“So then why did the circuit court grant the petition, in spite of the regulation, the petitioner being advised of his right to appeal, the attorney’s letter, and the non-response to the DHS motion to summarily dismiss? As the court explained, “the constitutional requirements of a valid waiver of the right to appeal cannot be so lightly disregarded.” The court continued that the Supreme Court has held that a valid waiver of the right to appeal must be “considered” and “intelligent.” The court found that, where the petitioner had heard his attorney reserve his right to appeal, and had even been informed by the immigration judge that his attorney would appeal, the petitioner’s waiver could not be intelligent and informed without the immigration judge warning him that his departure would constitute a waiver of the right to appeal that he previously reserved.
This decision is not likely to impact a large number of people. But the case does illustrate (in the immigration context) the tremendous respect that circuit court judges afford to constitutional protections. While our prior commander-in-chief (who taught constitutional law for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School) might not have needed a reminder of that point, the incumbent might wish to take note.”
Read the rest of Jeffrey’s blog, including a great piece of immigration history involving Judge Carlos Bea at the link.
Here’s a link to my previous post on Chavez-Garcia:
Jeffrey writes in his blog:
“In August 2016 I organized and moderated the mandatory international religious freedom training panel at the immigration judges’ legal training conference in Washington, D.C. One of the panelists from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) informed me of a just-published report she had co-authored.
The report, titled Barriers to Protection: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal, is the follow-up to a 2005 study by USCIRF of the treatment of arriving asylum seekers in their interactions with the various components of DHS and the Department of Justice involved in the expedited removal process. What jumped out at me from the report was the first key recommendation to EOIR: “Retrain immigration judges that the interview record created by CBP is not a verbatim transcript of the interview and does not document the individual’s entire asylum claim in detail, and should be weighed accordingly.”
The new report referenced the Commission’s 2005 findings, which it described as “alarming.” The earlier study found that “although they resemble verbatim transcripts, the I-867 sworn statements” taken from arrivees by agents of DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) component “were neither verbatim nor reliable, often indicating that information was conveyed when in fact it was not and sometimes including answers to questions that were never asked. Yet immigration judges often used these unreliable documents against asylum seekers when adjudicating their cases.”
The 2016 report found similar problems with the airport statements taken a decade later. The study found the use of identical answers by CBP agents in filling out the form I-867 “transcript,” including clearly erroneous answers (i.e. a male applicant purportedly being asked, and answering, whether he was pregnant, and a four year old child purportedly stating that he came to the U.S. to work). For the record, USCIRF is a bipartisan organ of the federal government. So this is a government-issued report making these findings.”
Read the rest of Jeffrey’s analysis at the above link.
Too bad that the Trump Administration has eliminated Annual Immigration Judge Training! With a bunch of new Immigration Judges on board and the push to rubber stamp removals as quickly as possible to comply with the President’s Executive Orders on Enforcement, I guess there is no time for training in how to make correct decisions.
In fact, when judges have enough experience to know what’s really happening and are able to selectively regulate the speed of cases to make sound decisions and achieve due process, they find out that there are lots of problems in how the DHS prepares and presents cases, not all of which immediately meet the eye.
To state the obvious, how would an unrepresented respondent in detention get together the necessary Circuit Court case law to learn and effectively challenge unreliable airport statements introduced by DHS Counsel? How would he or she subpoena Immigration Officers or get documentation necessary to show that many airport statements are prepared by rote with exactly the same information in the same language. Mistakes as to age, gender, and “best language” of applicants are common, suggesting that the reports too often have little to do with the actual facts of a particular case.
Short answer, they wouldn’t! As a result, the chances of the Imigration Judge using unreliable information to reach an incorrect decision against the respondent greatly increase.
And their use in the “kangaroo court” procedure known as “Expedited Removal” where enforcement officers make the decisions is prima facile problematic. Someday, all of the Article III Judges who have turned a blind eye to this unconstitutional procedure will have their judicial records forever tarnished in the light of history.
No wonder this Administration likes to detain individuals in out of the way locations (where conditions are coercive and lawyers are not readily available) to make their removal stats look good. And, while most Immigration Judges are conscientious, without a good lawyer to help pick apart the weaknesses and inaccuracies that are often in airport statement, invoking concepts drawn from Federal case law, the possibility of an incorrect or unjust decision is much greater.
We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigraton Court whose sole objective is achieving due processs and making correct legal decisions. And, that would include providing regular in person judicial training from a wide range of sources, including academic experts and those with litigation experience outside the government, on how to fairly evaluate evidence. It would also include a focus on insuring that every individual who goes to a “Merits Hearing” in Immigraton Court has a fair chance to be represented by counsel and reasonable access to his or her lawyer and the evidence and resources necessary to prepare a successful case.
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.
“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,”
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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.
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.”
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?
“Sep 7 We Are All Dreamers
One of the best recurring experiences of my first stint in private practice (prior to my appointment as an immigration judge in 1995) would begin with my answering the phone and hearing “Jeff, buddy, Abe Rosenthal!” A.M. Rosenthal was one of the biggest names in journalism. A Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent, Abe then became the long-time editor of the New York Times. He courageously pushed to publish the Pentagon Papers over the objection of the Nixon administration, which led to a landmark Supreme Court decision protecting freedom of the press. He also oversaw the paper’s coverage of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Abe heard me speak at a press briefing on asylum in the early 1990s, and would call from time to time to discuss an immigration column he was working on.
Abe once told me that many would ask him why he was so conservative in his views on other topics (an opinion that Abe himself disputed) but was so liberal in his views on immigration? He explained as follows: he was born in Canada; his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child. He added that his family’s reason for coming to the U.S. was entirely economic: he therefore saw nothing wrong with immigrants coming to this country solely in search of better wages. When Abe was 18 (which would have been around 1940), he went to enlist in the Army; as was normal procedure, he was asked for his proof of citizenship. When he went home to ask his mother for his citizenship papers, her face took on a strange expression; she then explained to him that he had no legal status in the U.S. Abe said that this was a traumatic experience; he had always thought he was American. He added that back in that time, the authorities were very understanding about this issue, and he was able to obtain U.S. citizenship quickly and easily. But the experience forever shaped his views on immigration.
Abe passed away in 2006, but I thought of his story on Tuesday not long after hearing the depressing, infuriating announcement by our nation’s supposed defender of justice, revoking the legal status that President Obama had through executive order bestowed on some 800,000 youths who, like the late Abe Rosenthal, possessed all that it means to be American with the exception of a citizenship paper. Many others have by now responded to the termination of DACA far more eloquently, emotionally, and intelligently than I could do. I therefore simply wish that A.M. Rosenthal, a Dreamer some 70 years ahead of his time, were still around to write one more column from his heart in response to the sickening injustice that just befell 800,000 of our own youth and our nation’s future.”
Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.
Republished with permission.
Tessa Berenson writes in Time:
“The president and attorney general have vowed to crack down on illegal immigration, and the new directive could help move cases through the system at a faster clip. Most immigration lawyers agree that the overloaded courts are a major issue. But they fear the end result will be more deportations as judges use the wide discretion afforded to them to curtail continuances. The Immigration and Nationality Act doesn’t establish a right to a continuance in immigration proceedings, Keller’s letter notes. They’re largely governed by a federal regulation which says that an “immigration judge may grant a motion for continuance for good cause shown.”
Immigration lawyers often rely heavily on continuances for their prep work because immigration law grants limited formal discovery rights. Unlike in criminal cases, in which the prosecution is generally required to turn over evidence to the defense, immigration lawyers often have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out what the government has on their client. These can take months to process.
“If their priority is speed, we all know that sounds really good, to be more efficient, but usually due process takes a hit when your focus is efficiency,” says Andrew Nietor, an immigration attorney based in San Diego. “By the time we are able to connect with our clients, that first court appearance might be the day after we meet somebody, so we haven’t had the opportunity to do the investigation and do the research. And up until several months ago, it was standard to give immigration attorneys at least one continuance for what they call attorney preparation. Now it’s not standard anymore.”
The Justice Department’s guidance says that “the appropriate use of continuances serves to protect due process, which Immigration Judges must safeguard above all,” and notes that “it remains general policy that at least one continuance should be granted” for immigrants to obtain legal counsel.
But the memo is more skeptical about continuances for attorney preparation. “Although continuances to allow recently retained counsel to become familiar with a case prior to the scheduling of an individual merits hearing are common,” it says, “subsequent requests for preparation time should be reviewed carefully.”
It remains to be seen if this careful review will streamline the ponderous system or add another difficulty for the harried lawyers and hundreds of thousands of immigrants trying to work their way through it. For Jeronimo, it may have been decisive. In mid-August, the judge found that the defense didn’t adequately prove Jeronimo’s deportation would harm his young daughter and gave him 45 days to voluntarily leave the United States. Now Jeronimo must decide whether to appeal his case. But he’s been held in a detention center in Georgia since March, and his lawyers worry that he has lost hope. He may soon be headed back to Mexico, five months after he was picked up at a traffic stop in North Carolina.”
Read the complete article at the link.
OK, let’s have a reality check here. The tremendous backlog is NOT caused by giving respondents time to find an attorney in an already overwhelmed system or by giving those overworked and under-compensated private attorneys time to adequately prepare their clients’ cases.
No, it’s caused by two things both within the control of the Government. The first is the abuse of the system, actively encouraged by this Administration, for cases of individuals who are law abiding members of the U.S. community, helping our nation prosper, who either should be granted relief outside the Immigrant Court process, or whose cases should be taken off the docket by the reasonable use of prosecutorial discretion (something that the Trump Administration eliminated while outrageously calling it a “return to the rule of law” — nothing of the sort — it’s a return to docket insanity enhanced by intentional cruelty).
Your tax dollars actually pay for the wasteful and counterproductive abuses being encouraged by the Trump Administration! Eventually, Congress will have to find a solution that allows all or most of these folks to stay. But, mindlessly shoving them onto already overwhelmed Immigration Court dockets is not that solution.
The second major cause is even more invidious: Aimless Docket Reshuffling (“ADR”) by the Government! The problematic continuances being given in this system — those of many months, or even many years — are forced upon Immigration Judges by EOIR and the DOJ, usually without any meaningful input from either the sitting Immigration Judges or the affected public. Immigration Judges are required to accommodate politically-motivated “changes in priorities” and wasteful transfer of Immigration Judges wth full dockets (which then must be reset, usually to the end of the docket, sometimes to another Immigration Judge) to other locations, often in detention centers, to support enforcement goals without any concern whatsoever for due process for the individuals before the court or the proper administration of justice within the U.S. Immigration Court system.
There is only one real cure for this problem: removal of the U.S. Immigration Courts from the highly politicized U.S. Department of Justice to an independent Article I Court structure that will focus on due process foremost, and efficient, but fair, court administration. But, until then, it’s up to the press to expose what’s really happening here and to the Article III Courts to call a halt to this travesty.
The “heroes” of the U.S. Immigration Court system, dedicated NGOs and attorneys, many of them acting without compensation or with minimal compensation, are under attack by this Administration and the DOJ. Their imaginary transgression is to insist on a fair day in court for individuals trying to assert their constitutional right to a fair hearing. They are being scapegoated for problems that the U.S. Government has caused, aggravated, and failed to fix, over several Administrations.
The DOJ is creating a knowingly false narrative to cover up their failure to deliver due process in the U.S. Immigration Courts and to shift the blame to the victims and their representatives. A simple term for that is “fraud.”
If we allow this to happen, everyone will be complicit in an assault not only on American values but also on the U.S. Constitution itself, and the due process it is supposed to guarantee for all. If it disappears for the most vulnerable in our society, don’t expect it to be there in the future when you or those around you might need due process of law. And, when you don’t get due process, you should also expect the Government to blame you for their failure.