HON. JEFFREY CHASE: Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B- & The Unresolved Tension In Asylum Adjudication! – Plus My Added Commentary On EOIR Training!

https://www.jeffreyschase.com/blog/2018/2/4/the-proper-role-of-immigration-judges-as-asylum-adjudicators

The Proper Role of Immigration Judges as Asylum Adjudicators

I would like to expand on the topic raised in my response to the BIA’s recent precedent decision in Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B-.  In the U.S. system, what tensions exist between an immigration judge’s role as an independent judge within an adversarial system, and his or her overlapping role as an adjudicator of asylum claims?

As we all know, the 1980 Refugee Act was enacted to put the U.S. in compliance with the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (to which the U.S. acceded through the 1967 Protocol).  For that reason, numerous courts through the years have found the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status to provide “significant guidance in construing the Protocol” and a useful instrument “in giving content to the obligations the Protocol establishes,” as the U.S. Supreme Court stated in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca.  The BIA has referenced the UNHCR Handbook in at least ten precedent decisions, as have numerous circuit courts.

Paragraphs 66 and 67 of the Handbook state the following:

66. In order to be considered a refugee, a person must show well-founded fear of persecution for one of the reasons stated above. It is immaterial whether the persecution arises from any single one of these reasons or from a combination of two or more of them. Often the applicant himself may not be aware of the reasons for the persecution feared. It is not, however, his duty to analyze his case to such an extent as to identify the reasons in detail.

67. It is for the examiner, when investigating the facts of the case, to ascertain the reason or reasons for the persecution feared and to decide whether the definition in the 1951 Convention is met with in this respect… (emphasis added.)

Not surprisingly, this approach is employed by the USCIS Asylum Office.  Created in the implementation of the 1990 asylum regulations, the office’s first director, Gregg Beyer, previously worked for UNHCR for more than 12 years.  The Asylum Officer Basic Training Manual (“AOBTM”) on the topic of nexus states that although the applicant bears the burden of proving nexus, the asylum officer has an affirmative duty to elicit all relevant information, and “should fully explore the motivations of any persecutor involved in the case.”  The AOBTC therefore directs the asylum officer to “make reasonable inferences, keeping in mind the difficulty, in many cases, of establishing with precision a persecutor’s motives.”

The AOBTC also cites the 1988 BIA precedent decision in Matter of Fuentes.1  In that case, the Board held that “an applicant does not bear the unreasonable burden of establishing the exact motivation of a ‘persecutor’ where different reasons for actions are possible.  However, an applicant does bear the burden of establishing facts on which a reasonable person would fear that the danger arises on account of” a protected ground.

In Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board takes the view that “it is for the Refugee Division to determine the ground, if any, applicable to the claimant’s fear of persecution.”  The U.S. is unusual, if not unique, among western nations in not also delegating this responsibility to immigration judges. Also, note that the IRB references the “Refugee Division;” like many countries, Canada’s equivalent of immigration courts is divided into immigration and refugee divisions, in recognition of the special obligations and knowledge that asylum determinations require.  The U.S. immigration court system does not have a separate refugee determination division; asylum claims are heard by the same judges and under the same conditions as all other types of immigration cases.  Furthermore, as noted above, U.S. immigration judges hear cases in an adversarial setting, in which judges assume a passive, neutral role.

The role of asylum adjudicator carries responsibilities that are at odds with the the role of neutral arbiter.  Asylum adjudicators are required to share the burden of documenting the asylum claim; the UNHCR Handbook at para. 196 states that “in some cases, it may be for the examiner to use all of the means at his disposal to produce the necessary evidence in support of the application.”2  And, as discussed above, once the facts are ascertained, it is the adjudicator who should identify the reasons for the feared persecution and determine if such reasons bear a nexus to a protected ground.

During the Department of Justice’s asylum reform discussions in the early 1990s, Gregg Beyer stated that the idea of separate asylum judges was considered, but ultimately rejected.  To my knowledge, EOIR has never conducted an in-depth analysis of the conflicts between the judge’s responsibilities as an asylum adjudicator and his or her role as a neutral arbiter in adversarial proceedings.  I discussed the Board’s incorrect holding in Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B- under which genuine refugees may be ordered returned to countries where they will face persecution because the asylum applicants lacked the sophistication to properly delineate a particular social group, a complex legal exercise that many immigration attorneys (and immigration judges) are unable to do.  The problem also extends to other protected grounds.  Would an unrepresented asylum applicant (who might be a child) understand what an imputed political opinion is?  Would most asylum applicants be able to explain that actions viewed as resisting the authority of a third-generation gang such as MS-13 might constitute a political opinion?  Regulations should be enacted making it the responsibility of immigration judges to consider these questions.  Additionally, immigration judges, BIA Board Members and staff attorneys should be required to undergo specialized training to enable them to identify and properly analyze these issues.

Notes:

1. 19 I&N Dec. 658 (BIA 1988).

2. See also the BIA’s precedent decision in Matter of S-M-J-, 21 I&N Dec. 722 (BIA 1997), which I have referenced in other articles.

Copyright 2017 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

 

 

fullsizeoutput_40da.jpeg

Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First.  He is a past recipient of AILA’s annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA’s Asylum Reform Task Force.”

********************************************

Jeffrey points out the pressing need for better “specialized training” in asylum adjudication for Immigration Judges at both the BIA and Immigration Court levels. Sadly, however, DOJ & EOIR appear to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.

  • Last year, notwithstanding the addition of many new Immigration Judges and retirement of some of the most experienced Immigraton Judges, DOJ cancelled the nationwide Immigration Judge Conference, the only “off the bench” training that most Judges get.
  • Cancellation of the annual training conference or resort to ridiculously amateurish “CD training” was a fairly regular occurrence in the “Post-Moscato Era” (post-2000) of EOIR.
  • Too often so-called “asylum training” at EOIR was conducted by DOJ Attorneys from the Office of Immigration Litigation (“OIL”), Board Members, or Board Staff. The emphasis was basically on “how to write denials that will stand up on appeal” rather than how to recognize and grant legally required protection.
  • Immigration Judges with “special insights” into the situation of asylum seekers seldom were invited to be speakers. For example, one of my most distinguished colleagues was Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the San Francisco Immigration Court. Judge Marks successfully represented the applicant in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421 (1987)  (as the INS Deputy G.C. & Acting G.C. I was helping the Solicitor General with the “losing argument” in behalf of my “client.”) Cardoza-Fonseca established the “well founded fear” standard for asylum and probably is the most important case in the history of U.S. asylum law. Yet, I never remember hearing Judge Marks on any panel at the Annual Conference, let alone one dealing with asylum.
  • One notable exception were the “mandatory” presentations by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”), an independent Government agency. Led by Senior Advisor on Refugee Issues Mark Hetfield (now President and CEO of HIAS) the USCIRF provided examples of bias in asylum adjudication and explained how Immigration Judges and the BIA sometimes erred by filtering religious claims through our “Americanized Judeo-Christian prism” instead of taking time to understand the unique conditions affecting religion and religious freedom in each country.
  • There was never much positive follow-up on the USCIRF observations. I was probably one of the few Immigration Judges who regularly consulted and discussed the reports and findings of the USCIRF in my decision-making (even many experienced asylum advocates often overlooked this invaluable resource).
  • I remember at my “Immigration Judge Basic Training” in 2003 being told to prepare for the fact that most of my “oral decisions” would be asylum denials. I was skeptical then and found that quite to the contrary, the majority of asylum cases that got to Individual Hearing in Arlington were eminently “grantable.” Pretty much as I had unsuccessfully argued for years with my colleagues while I was on the BIA. For the most part, the U.S. Courts of Appeals eventually reaffirmed much of what my long-since banished “dissenting colleagues” and I had been saying all along about the overly restrictive application of U.S. asylum law by the BIA and many U.S. Immigration Judges.
  • There is absolutely nothing in the recent anti-asylum campaign (based on distorted narratives, no facts, or just plain intentional misinformation) by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and EOIR leadership that would lead me to believe that any type of fair, professional, properly balanced asylum training for Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Immigration Judges is in the offing.
  • All of this adds up to the pressing need for the elimination of USDOJ control over the U.S. Immigration Courts, the creation of an independent U.S. Immigration Court, and the restructuring of the Immigration Courts into a true Due Process oriented court system, rather than a mere “whistle-stop on the deportation railroad!”

PWS

02-05-18

DANGEROUS MISSION: 2 UN Investigators Killed In DRC!

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/africa/congo-zaida-catalan-michael-j-sharp-united-nations-democratic-republic-of-congo.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

The NY Times reports:

“Zaida Catalán was on to something, and it was making her jumpy.

“Exciting development,” she scribbled in her diary in late January. “I can maybe nail this bastard. Damn!”

Weeks later, Ms. Catalán, a United Nations investigator with little training and no safety equipment or even health insurance, headed into a remote area teeming with militia fighters to find the culprits behind a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A grainy cellphone video shows what happened next: A cluster of men with rifles and red bandannas lead Ms. Catalán, a 36-year-old Swedish-Chilean, into a grove with her American colleague, Michael J. Sharp, 34. The two investigators are barefoot.

Mr. Sharp starts arguing. He and Ms. Catalán are forced onto the ground. Suddenly, shots are fired, hitting Mr. Sharp first. Ms. Catalán screams and tries to run for cover. She is shot twice.

Their bodies were discovered weeks later in a shallow grave, laid out carefully, side by side, in opposite directions. Ms. Catalán had been decapitated. Her head had been taken.

Their deaths raise tough questions about the United Nations and its work in the most dangerous places in the world. Almost two months passed before the United Nations even assembled a panel to look into what went wrong. The United Nations Security Council could go further and order a more formal investigation, but more than two months after the murders, it has taken no steps in that direction.

Instead, it has left the investigation to Congo, a nation where violence, corruption and impunity are so widespread that the United Nations has had to spend billions of dollars over the years in a failed effort to bring peace and stability. Indeed, a big focus of Ms. Catalán and her colleagues was whether the Congolese government played a role in the massacre and broader chaos she was investigating.

“The U.N. needs to take ownership,” said Akshaya Kumar, a deputy director at Human Rights Watch. She added that the Congolese authorities, who are implicated in the region’s conflict, were in no position to carry out a credible investigation.

The killings have also stirred a sharp debate over the United Nations’ responsibility to prepare and protect the people it hires to investigate wrongdoing around the world. Ms. Catalán and Mr. Sharp belonged to a panel of six experts authorized by the Security Council to investigate rapes, massacres and the exploitation of Congo’s vast natural resources.”

*******************************************************

Sometimes we forget or minimize the great dangers faced by those fighting for human rights throughout the world.

Probably the most vivid personal example in my career was the untimely death of noted human rights activist and attorney Arthur Helton in Iraq.  During my “Legacy INS” career I opposed, and probably helped depose, Arthur in a number of vigorously litigated Federal Court cases. But, I always considered Arthur a gentleman, a scholar, a person of great principle and integrity, and a most worthy opponent. His death was indeed a shock. In 2004, the American Society of International Law established the Arthur Helton Fellowship in his memory.