Musings on Events in U.S. Immigration Court, Immigration Law, Sports, and Other Random Topics by Retired United States Immigration Judge (Arlington, Virginia) and former Chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals Paul Wickham Schmidt. To see my complete professional bio, just click on the link below.
“As he awaits his fate in a remote Texas jail, Mr. Gutierrez, 54, remains convinced of the peril he faces if deported to his native country. “My life depends on this [appeal],” he said by telephone in a news conference organized Monday by the National Press Club. “I’m terrified to set foot in Mexico.”
The judge who denied asylum in the case, Robert S. Hough, pointed to an absence of documentary and testimonial corroboration of Mr. Gutierrez’s claim. The woman who relayed word of the alleged death threat did not come forward; neither did Mr. Gutierrez’s former boss at the newspaper for which he worked in Chihuahua. Much of Mr. Gutierrez’s case comes down to his word.
Nonetheless, the judge’s cut-and-dried application of the law fails to take into account conditions in Mexico generally and the peril faced there by journalists in particular. It’s not surprising that Mr. Gutierrez cannot recover copies of his articles, written more than a decade ago for a regional newspaper. Nor is it unusual that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, given the fear with which many Mexicans regard the security forces.
As a U.N. report published this month concluded, citing the deaths, disappearances and attacks on dozens of journalists tallied by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, “The data . . . presents a picture for the situation of journalists in Mexico that cannot be described as other than catastrophic.” Against that background, it seems cavalier to dismiss the threat Mr. Gutierrez faces should he be deported to Mexico. He should be granted asylum.”
Read the complete Editorial at the link.
Unfortunately, a “cut and dried application of the law” without proper regard to the facts or reality is a disturbingly accurate snapshot of what all too often happens daily in our Immigration Courts, a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the US Department of Justice and part of the “Trump Conglomerate” (formerly known as the US Government).
Our failing US Immigration Court system and its aggravation by AG “Gonzo Apocalypto’s” oft-expressed hostility to immigrants, asylum, the rule of law (except his 1950s “Jim Crow” views on the law and how it should be a tool for injustice and advancing White Nationalism), lawyers, Latinos, Mexicans, and the press has become an almost daily topic for major editorial boards. At least someone (other than me) is watching and documenting as this mockery of American justice unfolds before us.
In particular, too many U.S. Immigration Judges are tone-deaf to Mexican asylum claims, not wanting to be accused of “opening the floodgates” ( a concept that is nowhere to be found in the actual law) and knowing that “Gonzo” wants lots of “quick removals” rather than asylum grants. Additionally, the only administrative check on the Immigration Judges’ authority is a weak Appeals Board that never “calls out” overly restrictive Immigration Judges by name and seldom publishes precedents granting asylum. Truly, a prescription for a “Due Process Disaster!”
Judge Hough seems to have forgotten that under the law:
”Corroborating evidence” can only be required if it is “reasonably available;”
Testimony may be corroborated by country condition information describing the same abuses that the applicant claims;
The standard for granting asylum is a generous “well-founded fear” or “reasonable likelihood” of future harm which can be “significantly less than probable — as little as a 10% chance can suffice;
Asylum applicants are supposed to be given the “benefit of the doubt” in recognition of the evidentiary challenges of providing proof of persecution and the difficulties of relating traumatic events in the past.
It remain to be seen whether the Board of Immigration Appeals, EOIR’s “Appellate Court,” will correct Judge Hough’s life-threatening errors and, further, issue a strong precedent on asylum for foreign journalists (traditionally one of the most vulnerable and persecuted groups) to prevent further miscarriages of Justice such as this. Such a precedent would also discourage the DHS from continuing to abuse our system by pushing for removal (and needless detention) in cases such as this where a grant of asylum at the DHS Asylum Office or at the hearing following the testimony would be the correct result.
Or, will the next major editorial describe and decry Mr. Gutierrez’s death in Mexico!
In a well-functioning justice system, this case should have been a “Short-docket, No-brainer Grant.” But, Gonzo Apocalypto seeks to use the US Immigration Courts as an extension of DHS enforcement rather than, as they were intended, as Courts guaranteeing fairness, Due Process, and equal justice for all! We need change. Lots of it!
[NOTE: For those interested, Judge Hough apparently has not decided enough asylum cases on the merits in El Paso to be listed on the statistical profile of asylum outcomes maintained by TRAC Immigration.]
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.
“We now address, under the substantial evidence standard, the question of whether Kamar will be persecuted by threat of death if she returns to Jordan, which is relevant to both withholding under the Act and relief under the Convention. Kamar testified at the merits hearing that her cousins, specifically Alias, want to restore their family’s honor by killing her, and her sister confirmed this. She knows this because of letters she received and communications with family and friends. The Board expressly found Kamar to be credible. On remand, the IJ concluded the letter from Alias was not credible and did not facially threaten Kamar. The IJ reasoned that even if it was credible, there was no indication that Alias knew that Kamar had gotten married and might not want to kill her anymore. The IJ found that the intent to kill Kamar was expressed only through an “ambiguous” comment in the letter from Kamar’s mother. The Board agreed that Kamar did not establish that her fear of persecution was objectively reasonable. The probability of harm occurring in these cases is an inference based on facts in the record. Considering the evidence, it is hard to reconcile these findings with the Board’s conclusion that even if Kamar had a subjective fear of persecution, this fear was not objectively reasonable. There is nothing to cast doubt on Kamar’s testimony. Even if the letter from Alias is not considered, the letter from Kamar’s mother states that Alias wishes to kill Kamar even if it is his last act on earth, and credible testimony confirms this. Nothing indicates that Alias does not still intend to carry out the honor killing. Both Kamar and her sister testified that it did not matter that Kamar married her second husband because Alias knows that she had sexual relations outside of marriage and believes that she committed adultery. The record overwhelming supports the finding that she will be persecuted if she returns.
Finally, we consider whether the Jordanian government would be “unwilling or unable” to protect Kamar from harm. In the country reports in the record, it has been established that governors in Jordan routinely abuse the law and use imprisonment to protect potential victims of honor crimes. These victims are not released from imprisonment unless the local governor consents, the victim’s family guarantees the victim’s safety, and the victim consents. One non-governmental organization has provided a temporary, unofficial shelter as an alternative.
On the other hand, successful perpetrators of honor killings typically get their sentences greatly reduced. Additionally, if the victim’s family, who is usually the family of the alleged perpetrator as well, does not bring the charges, the government dismisses the case. See also Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 657 (“After reviewing the evidence of the Jordanian government’s treatment of honor crimes, we conclude that . . . the government is ineffective when it comes to providing protection to women whose behavior places them in the group who are threatened with honor killings.”).
The Board’s decision outlined the Jordanian government’s efforts to combat honor crimes, including placing potential victims in “protective custody.” As the Ninth Circuit concluded in an analogous case, “This observation omits the fact that such protective custody is involuntary, and often involves extended incarceration in jail.” Suradi v. Sessions, No. 14-71463, 2017 WL 2992234, at *2 (9th Cir. July 14, 2017). While victim protection is necessary, incarceration is an insufficient solution. This practice is akin to persecuting the victim as she “must choose between death and an indefinite prison term.” Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 659. Further, nothing in the record suggests that the country conditions in Jordan have changed such that the government will be able to adequately protect Kamar from being killed. This showing satisfies both of the standards for finding governmental action for purposes of withholding of removal under the Act and also those for protection under the Convention, as it amounts to “pain or suffering” that is inflicted with the acquiescence of a public official or a person acting in an official capacity.
We do not address whether Kamar can safely relocate to escape persecution, which is also relevant to withholding of removal and protection under the Convention. The Board did not mention relocation, and the parties’ briefs do not address the issue. Like the particular social group inquiry, the issue of safe relocation must be addressed in the first instance by the Board. Gonzales v. Thomas, supra.
Substantial evidence does not support the Board’s refusal to find that Kamar will probably be persecuted if she is returned to Jordan, due to her membership in the particular social group we discussed, or that the Jordanian government can or will do nothing to help her. The Board’s decision with regard to those issues is reversed.
. . . .
The Seventh Circuit has found that the Jordanian government’s “solution” to protect honor killing victims is actually a form of punishing the victims of these crimes amounting to mental “pain or suffering,” which is “inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” 8 C.F.R. § 208.18(a)(1); see Sarhan, 658 F.3d at 659. Taking into account our reasoning and findings above on the factors relating to both withholding of removal under the Act and protection under the Convention, we agree that “[d]espite the contrary conclusion of the Immigration Judge and the Board, the record here also compels the conclusion that the government of Jordan acquiesces to honor killings.” Suradi, 2017 WL 2992234, at *1.
Given the likelihood that Kamar would be subject to involuntary imprisonment at the hands of the Jordanian authorities, resulting in mental pain and suffering, the Board erred in concluding that Kamar failed to establish that it was more likely than not that she would be tortured upon removal to Jordan. We grant the petition with respect to the Board’s reasoning under the Convention.“
This should have been an easy withholding grant by the Immigration Judge. Indeed, the 6th Circuit characterized the evidence of persecution as “overwhelming.”
Instead the BIA and the Immigration Judge spent literally years passing the case back and forth and still got it wrong! No wonder the system is backlogged when judges at both the trial and appellate levels get the law requiring protection wrong time after time! How would an unrepresented individual have any chance of vindicating her rights in a system this complicated and screwed up! Skewing the system as this Administration has done to make it more difficult for individuals to get effective representation is a direct attack on due process.
Instead of making a conscientious effort to fix this system to provide due process, Sessions’s clear xenophobia and his anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rants encourage Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Judges to treat asylum applicants unfairly and misapply the law to deny protection.
There will be no true due process and justice for migrants until the politicized DOJ and this highly biased Attorney General are removed from control of our US Immigration Court system! How would YOU like to be on trial for your life in a court system controlled by Jeff Sessions?
Go on over to Dan Kowalski’s LexisNexis Immigration Community here for all the links to the 19-part series on You Tube made possible by the American Law Institute with an introduction by none other than Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:
“Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions repeatedly denied Tuesday that he deliberately misled or lied to Congress about the Trump campaign’s multiple contacts with Russia, saying he forgot that two aides told him about their meetings with Russian government officials during the 2016 race.
In an often-contentious House Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions sparred for more than five hours with Democrats, who faulted him for changing his story each time he has testified under oath before Congress, and some Republicans, who pushed him to appoint a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
Sessions grew visibly angry at times, insisting again and again that he “always told the truth” as he recalled it, even as he confirmed for the first time that an aide offered to help arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last March. Sessions said he “pushed back” against the offer.
“In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory,” he said.
“But I will not accept, and reject accusations, that I have ever lied,” he added. “That is a lie.”
The nationally-televised hearing was the latest sign of how last year’s bitter presidential campaign has yet to recede. Harsh questions about the Democratic nominee’s alleged misdeeds collided with national security concerns of whether President Trump’s current or former aides helped Russia meddle in an American election — the focus of a special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
Sessions held firm against Republicans who pressed him to swiftly appoint another special counsel to focus on Clinton. Senior prosecutors at the Justice Department were reviewing the record and it would “be done without political influence,” he said.
After Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) laid out a long list of allegations that he said indicated wrongdoing, Sessions responded sharply. “I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” he said.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the House committee’s top Democrat, said the allegations against Clinton — which chiefly involve her use of a private email server as secretary of State, fundraising for the Clinton Foundation, and an Obama administration decision in 2010 to approve sales of uranium to a Russian company — have been “carefully examined and completely debunked” and said the threat of jailing political opponents after an election is something that would happen in “a banana republic.”
The often testy back-and-forth on Russia largely echoed Sessions’ three previous appearances on Capitol Hill this year, creating more heat than light as lawmakers confronted Sessions with his previous statements and other evidence that contradicted his claims, and the attorney general insisting he did “not recall” dozens of times in response.
“I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day, in what meeting, and who said what when,” he said.
He blamed his faulty memory on the political and organizational maelstrom of Trump’s insurgent presidential campaign. The four-term senator from Alabama joined Trump’s side early on and became his top foreign policy advisor.
“It was a brilliant campaign in many ways,” he said. “But it was a form of chaos every day from Day One. We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply.”
. . . .
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) challenged Sessions to explain an FBI report made public in October that said “black identity extremists” were intent on killing law enforcement officers. She said all the groups named were from decades ago, and asked him if any such groups existed today. He said he did not know of any.
He said he was aware of no similar report on white extremist groups, such as the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Va., in August. Later, he said he did not have a senior staff member who is African American, and said Trump has appointed just one African American as a U.S. attorney.
Sessions also declined to defend Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the special election to decide Sessions’ old Senate seat in Alabama. Moore now faces charges of being a serial predator of teenage girls, with five women coming forward to describe their encounters.
“I have no reason to doubt these young women,” he said of Moore’s accusers, adding that he would consider whether the Justice Department should open an investigation. “We would do our duty,” he said. He said he has followed advice from the department’s ethics lawyers and avoided any involvement in the campaign.”
Read the complete article at the link.
Doesn’t seem that unreasonable to expect a former Senator and a guy who got himself appointed and confirmed to the highest legal job in the country to remember key events that happened less than two years ago.
Sessions should contrast his performance with the way some U.S. Immigration Judges exercising his delegated authority treat memory lapses by barely literate individuals trying to go back into traumatic events that happened a decade or more ago. Would that our U.S. Immigration Courts were all as forgiving of others as Sessions is of himself. Perhaps, he needs to ease up a bit on the “gonzo enforcement” push and act more like a human being. Not a bad idea for someone seeking better and more sympathetic treatment for himself.
Dan Kowalski reports at LexisNexis Immigration Community (quoting Respondent’s attorney Humza Kuzma):
“We appealed to the BIA, stating that the IJ was ignoring the law of the case and his direct instructions from a higher court. As Hassan noted in his FB post, we included redacted cases from a FOIA request another attorney had conducted, showing the various instances in the past two years where the IJ had been remanded in asylum proceedings. Yesterday, we got the remand, which reconfirmed that the prior rulings in the case were vacated and relying upon them was in judicial error, and instructed the IJ to grant our client a completely new hearing with an open record, and issue a new decision.”
BIA PANEL: Appellate Immigration Judges Guendelsberger, Kendall Clark, Grant
OPINION BY: Judge Edward R. Grant
Read the full report and the BIA’s unpublished opinion at the link.
Why wasn’t this decision published?
Why wasn’t this Immigration Judge who is showing contempt for the BIA, precedent, asylum seekers, and Due Process named in the decision (a technique used by Article III Courts to deal with recalcitrant Judges)?
Why wasn’t this case remanded to a different Immigration Judge?
Why don’t we see more precedent decisions from appellate panels like this one which appears committed to a fair application of asylum law and reigning in rogue judges like this one?
How would an unrepresented individual ever be able to vindicate his or her statutory and constitutional rights before a biased and abusive judge like this?
What can be done to improve merit selection procedures for U.S. Immigration Judges so that individuals who are biased against migrants, unwilling comply with orders of higher tribunals, and uncommitted to Due Process will no longer be placed in judicial positions?
Interestingly, this panel configuration seldom, if ever, appears in BIA precedent decisions. Nor are these Judges recorded as dissenting or commenting upon the BIA’s generally anti-asylum precedents, some of which almost mock the BIA’s leading precedent on the generous nature of asylum law following the Supreme Court’s decision in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca: Matter of Mogharrbi, 19 I&N Dec. 439 (BIA 1987).
So, why are the Appellate Immigration Judges who appear to have a good understanding of asylum law that is much more in line with the Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the BIA’s own pre-2003 precedents “buried in obscurity?” Meanwhile, those Appellate Immigration Judges who evince a lack of understanding of asylum law, the realities of being asylum applicants in the “purposely user unfriendly” Immigration Courts, or any visible sympathy for the plight of asylum seekers (even those who are denied under our overly technical legal standards often face life threatening situations upon return — some actually die — we just choose not to take the necessary steps to protect them) seem to be among the “featured” in BIA precedents? Do all of the BIA Judges really agree with every precedent. If not, why aren’t we seeing some public dialogue, debate, and dissent, as with every other collegial, deliberative court in America? What’s the purpose and value of a “deliberative court” that almost never engages in any public deliberation (about some of the most difficult and complex questions facing our nation)? Where’s the accountability if all BIA Appellate Judges are not recording their votes on published precedents?
As you read the BIA decision and the decision below of Judge Randall Duncan of the Stewart Immigration Court here are a few questions you might keep in mind:
Why doesn’t Judge Duncan cite any actual cases? (He refers to “the Eleventh Circuit” with no specific citations.)
Why didn’t Judge Duncan follow (or even discuss) either the BIA’s precedent in Matter of O-Z- & I-Z-, 23 I&N Dec. 22 (BIA 1998) or the Eleventh Circuit precedent in De Santamaria v, U.S. Att’y Gen., 525 F.3d 999, 1008 (11th Cir. 2008) both of which discuss “cumulative harm” and would inescapably have led to the conclusion that this respondent suffered past persecution?
Why isn’t this a published precedent in light of Judge Duncan’s clear misunderstanding of the applicable asylum law and because of the notorious reputation of the Atlanta-Stewart Immigration Courts as an “asylum free zone.”
Why did Judge Duncan, a relatively new Immigration Judge (Nov. 2016), attempt to dispose of this case with an obviously inadequate “Oral Decision.”
What kind of asylum training did Judge Duncan get?
What would have happened if this individual had been unrepresented (as many asylum applicants are at Stewart)?
What steps have the DOJ and EOIR taken to improve the poor substantive performance of some Immigration Judges who ignore applicable legal standards and deny far too many asylum cases?
What will Jeff Sessions’s “more untrained Immigration Judges peddling even faster” do to due process and justice in a court system that is currently failing to achieve fairness and due process in too many cases?
Taking a broken system and trying to expand it and make it run faster is simply going to produce more unfair and unjust results. In other words, it would be “insanely stupid.” The Immigration Court system has some serious quality of decision-making, bias, consistency, and due process issues that must be solved before the system can be expanded. Otherwise, the system will be institutionalizing “bad practices” rather than the “best practices.”
“Washington (CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again under scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding his candor about Russia and the Trump campaign amid revelations that he rejected a suggestion to convene a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump last year.
According to court filings unsealed this week, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested at a March 2016 meeting that he could use his connections to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump with the then-GOP candidate’s national security team. An Instagram picture on Trump’s account shows Sessions attended the meeting at which Papadopoulos made the suggestion.
But Sessions, who was a top surrogate for Trump during the campaign, did not disclose these discussions despite a persistent set of questions from Democrats and some Republicans about Russia during multiple hearings on Capitol Hill. The new information is renewing attention to how forthcoming Sessions has been with Congress.
There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what’s now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.
Huinan Lin v. Sessions, 9th Cir., 01-26-17, unpublished
PANEL: SCHROEDER, D.W. NELSON, and McKEOWN, Circuit Judges.
OPINION: PER CURIAM
“Finally, the BIA’s adverse credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence because the BIA, in adopting the Immigration Judge’s (“IJ”) rationale, used omissions and discrepancies in Cao’s asylum application and testimony in his own immigration proceedings to find Lin not credible. See Bao v. Gonzalez, 460 F.3d 426, 431–32 (2d Cir. 2006) (finding that there was no basis for assuming Bao’s account was fabricated and her husband Zheng’s was the correct account of facts). The IJ found that nothing in Lin’s demeanor detracted from her credibility, yet rejected all of Lin’s explanations, even when she stood by her own version of events. We conclude that the overall reliance on Cao’s asylum application and prior testimony was arbitrary.
As Lin argues, the totality of the circumstances compel that she should be deemed credible. Because neither the BIA nor the IJ made an adverse credibility
finding against Lin’s witness, Xiao Qin Lin (“Qin Lin”), we treat her factual allegations as true. See Aguilar-Ramos v. Holder, 594 F.3d 701, 704 (9th Cir. 2010). Qin Lin testified that she knew Lin was involuntarily taken by officials to have the abortion performed. Qin Lin stated that she took care of Lin two days after the abortion while she was crying, pale, and weak. See Shrestha v. Holder, 590 F.3d 1034, 1040–41 (9th Cir. 2010) (stating that the IJ should not ignore evidence that corroborates the alien’s claim). The 1999 Country Conditions Report notes that forced abortions and sterilizations occurred despite China’s official policy. Zhu v. Gonzales, 493 F.3d 588, 598 (5th Cir. 2007). Further, as part of the evidence in her case, Lin provided documentation from Jiangjing Town Hospital showing that she had an abortion on December 27, 2000. Lin also provided a notice addressed to her to report for IUD and pregnancy checks from the Cangxi Village Committee. The notice stated that if she did not report to the Family Planning Office, she “will be punished pursuant to relevant Family Planning Regulations.” A note from Dr. Gwendolyn P. Chung and Dr. Diana Y. Huang in Hawaii showed that Respondent’s second IUD was removed on September 15, 2008. The Government did not object to the submission of these copies and there was nothing in the record to “support a finding that the documents [were] not credible.” See Wang v. Ashcroft, 341 F.3d 1015, 1021 (9th Cir. 2003) (finding
documentary support credible where “there was no opposition to the introduction or challenge to the authenticity of these documents by the INS,” even where the IJ found the documents unbelievable). Because the documentation and Qin Lin’s testimony are credible, they corroborate her past persecution claim, i.e., that she had a forced abortion and multiple IUD insertions. See Shrestha, 590 F.3d at 1040–41.
After a reversal of an adverse credibility determination, “[w]e must now decide whether we determine eligibility for asylum and withholding of removal or whether we remand for a determination by the BIA.” Wang, 341 F.3d at 1023. As set forth above, this Court finds credible Lin’s claim that she was forced to abort her pregnancy. See He v. Ashcroft, 328 F.3d 593, 604 (9th Cir. 2003). As a victim of forced abortion, Lin is therefore statutorily eligible for asylum and “entitled to withholding of removal as a matter of law.” Tang, 489 F.3d. at 992. Based on the totality of circumstances, there is no “reasonable prospect from the administrative record that there may be additional reasons upon which the IJ or BIA could rely” to find her claim not credible. Soto-Olarte v. Holder, 555 F.3d 1089, 1094-95 (9th Cir. 2009).
In sum, we grant the petition in part and hold that Lin is entitled to withholding of removal as a matter of law. In addition, since Lin is statutorily
eligible for asylum, we remand to the BIA so that the Attorney General may exercise its discretion in granting asylum. See 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(1); Tang, 489 F.3d. at 992. We deny the petition in part as to the due process violation claim and challenge to the IJ’s finding of fear of future persecution.”
You can read the full opinion at the link. Unfortunately, as with many Circuit Court opinions these days, it is “unpublished.” But, it is very instructive.
Yes, as a former BIA Chair and Appellate Judge, I “get it” that the BIA has lots of cases and nobody’s perfect. Certainly, I made my share of mistakes in my career. But, as I have noted before, these are hardly “major questions of law” on which divergence of opinion between the BIA and the Circuit Courts is understandable.
No, they are “failures of mechanics” — failure to correctly apply the everyday rules that Immigration Judges are supposed to be following in Immigration Courts across the country. And, although the legal issues might not be profound, the effects of such mistakes have a profound adverse effect on individuals’ lives.
This respondent was entitled to mandatory protection that the BIA was perfectly ready to ignore had the respondent not had the good fortune to have a persistent attorney to help her perfect an appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Many respondents in this system, however, do not have the good fortune to be so competently represented at their trial level and have no chance of winning an appeal without attorney assistance.
All of this points to the logical conclusion that the U.S. Immigration Courts, at both the trial and appellate levels are already running at “warp speed” where serious mistakes in the application of routine rules and precedents are all too common. To suggest, as Jeff “Gonzo Apocalyto” Sessions has, that the solution is to make the system go even faster, impose “production quotas,” and restrict the already limited rights of the individuals seeking justice from this system is totally absurd! Yet, he’s getting aways with it, at least so far.
We need an independent Article I U.S. Immigration Court where quality, fairness, Due Process, and “getting it right” are the driving considerations. Until we get such a court, we will be falling short of our Constitutional obligation to provide fair and impartial decisions to those coming before the U.S. immigration system.
Aguilar-Escoto v. Sessions, 1st Cir., 10-27-17, published
PANEL: Howard, Chief Judge,Thompson and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
OPINION BY: Chief Judge Howard
“We review the BIA’s legal conclusions de novo and its findings of fact under the “substantial evidence” standard, meaning that we will not disturb such findings if they are “supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.” Xin Qiang Liu v. Lynch, 802 F.3d 69, 74 (1st Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). In our review of the record, we note that while the BIA need not “discuss every piece of evidence offered,” it is “required to consider all
relevant evidence in the record.” Lin v. Mukasey, 521 F.3d 22, 28 (1st Cir. 2008) (emphasis added). Consistent with this obligation, the Eleventh Circuit has specifically held that “an adverse credibility determination does not alleviate the BIA’s duty to consider other evidence produced by” an applicant for relief. Hong Chen v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 231 F. App’x 900, 902 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Forgue v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 401 F.3d 1282, 1287 (11th Cir. 2005)). Rather, where the applicant provides evidence other than her own testimony, the agency “must consider that evidence” and may not “rely solely on an adverse credibility determination.” Forgue, 401 F.3d at 1287. According to the Eleventh Circuit, the agency’s failure to fulfill this duty is grounds for vacating the BIA decision, irrespective of the merits of the adverse credibility finding. See Toska v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 194 F. App’x 767, 768 (11th Cir. 2006); see also Khattak v. Holder, 704 F.3d 197, 208 (1st Cir. 2013) (“[W]e will remand if the agency fails to state with sufficient particularity and clarity the reasons for denial of [relief] or otherwise to offer legally sufficient reasons for its decision.” (citation omitted)).
We agree with the Eleventh Circuit’s approach to this issue, which is consistent with our precedent. See Rasiah v. Holder, 589 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2009) (“An adverse credibility finding by itself would not automatically doom a claim for asylum.”). The appropriate result in this case follows easily.
Even assuming that its credibility ruling was supportable, the BIA was required to go further and address whether, setting Aguilar’s testimony to one side, the documentary evidence entitled her to relief. See Lin, 521 F.3d at 28; Forgue, 401 F.3d at 1287. Indeed, the IJ expressly recognized that this documentary evidence, if believed, was sufficient to establish multiple acts of domestic violence against Aguilar by her ex-husband. In these circumstances, the BIA’s failure to consider or even acknowledge the evidence requires remand. See Toska, 194 F. App’x at 768; Khattak, 704 F.3d at 208. We take no position on the merits of the IJ’s holding that the abuse reflected in the documentary evidence was not sufficiently severe to warrant relief. This issue is best left to be addressed by the BIA in the first instance.
We note, for the benefit of the agency on remand, that the Board’s failure to consider Aguilar’s documentary evidence may have been rooted in its fundamental misunderstanding of her claim. Again, the Board appears to have operated under the mistaken assumption that Aguilar had applied for asylum as well as withholding of removal. These two grounds for relief are not identical. For one thing, withholding of removal requires a higher likelihood of persecution than asylum. See Romilus v. Ashcroft, 385 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2004) (noting that applicants for withholding must satisfy a “more likely than not” standard (citation omitted)). There is, however, a different sense in which
the asylum standard may be more exacting. Withholding claims “lack a subjective component and are [thus] concerned only with objective evidence of future persecution.” Paul v. Gonzales, 444 F.3d 148, 155-56 (2d Cir. 2006); see also INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 430 (1987) (explaining that the relevant statutory language “has no subjective component”). Asylum, by contrast, has both a subjective and an objective component: it requires a showing that the applicant “genuinely fears persecution,” in addition to proof that the “fear is objectively reasonable.” Makhoul v. Ashcroft, 387 F.3d 75, 80 (1st Cir. 2004). Applicants “typically” seek to establish the requisite “genuineness” through their “own credible testimony.” Id. at 80-81. An adverse credibility finding thus may prove fatal to this aspect of an asylum claim. But, because withholding of removal requires no such genuine belief, a withholding claim “may, in appropriate instances, be sustained” despite an adverse credibility finding. Paul, 444 F.3d at 156.
In the present case, the BIA may well have been justified in concluding that, absent her own credible testimony, Aguilar failed to establish a subjectively genuine fear that she would be persecuted upon returning to Honduras. This failure would doom an asylum claim notwithstanding additional evidence establishing that a reasonable person in Aguilar’s circumstances would have feared persecution. See Makhoul, 387 F.3d at 80-81. But, in the withholding context, the inquiry is a strictly objective one. See
Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. at 430-31. Thus, even after discrediting Aguilar’s testimony, arguably the only evidence that she did in fact harbor a subjective fear of persecution, the BIA was nonetheless obliged to consider documentary evidence potentially capable of establishing her likelihood of suffering further abuse.
Rather than embarking on this objective assessment, the BIA fell back on the familiar refrain that, because “the applicant did not establish eligibility for asylum, it follows that she cannot establish eligibility for withholding of removal, which has a higher burden of proof.” Such a conclusion is unassailable where the applicant’s subjective fear is proven or assumed, and the denial of the asylum claim turns on the lack of evidence that the fear was objectively reasonable. See, e.g., Makhoul, 387 F.3d at 81. But the same is not necessarily true where an asylum claim fails due to a lack of credible testimony establishing the applicant’s subjective fear. The Board’s failure to apply the appropriate, purely objective standard to Aguilar’s withholding claim provides an independent basis for remand. See Kozak v. Gonzáles, 502 F.3d 34, 38 (1st Cir. 2007) (remanding because “the BIA applied an inappropriate legal standard”); Castañeda-Castillo v. Gonzales, 488 F.3d 17, 22 (1st Cir. 2007) (remanding “to allow the matter to be considered anew under the proper legal standards”).
For the foregoing reasons, we VACATE the BIA’s order
dismissing Aguilar’s appeal and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
This type of reversal does not involve a “Chevron-type” legal policy issue where the BIA and the Article IIIs might well reach different conclusions. Rather, this case is all about the BIA misapplying the “fundamental nuts and bolts” of credibility and withholding analysis in putting out a “boilerplate denial.” Why should the Article IIIs be finding “mechanical-analytical” issues that the expert BIA missed? Perhaps the EOIR system is “peddling too fast.” In that case, Sessions’s proposed “production quotas for judges” are the absolute worst thing that could happen to the Immigration Courts and Due Process.
Also, if the Article IIIs are better than the BIA at the basics of immigration and asylum law, why shouldn’t the Article IIIs, not the BIA, be getting “Chevron deference?”
Mica Rosenberg, Read Levinson, & Ryan McNeill report:
“They fled danger at home to make a high-stakes bet on U.S. immigration courts
Threatened by gangs in Honduras, two women sought asylum in the United States. Their stories illustrate what a Reuters analysis of thousands of court decisions found: The difference between residency and deportation depends largely on who hears the case, and where.
OAKLAND, California – The two Honduran women told nearly identical stories to the immigration courts: Fear for their lives and for the lives of their children drove them to seek asylum in the United States.
They were elected in 2013 to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. They hoped that mothers working together could oust the violent gangs that plagued the campus.
Instead, they became targets. Weeks apart, in the spring of 2014, each of the women was confronted by armed gang members who vowed to kill them and their children if they didn’t meet the thugs’ demands.
Unaware of each other’s plight, both fled with their children, making the dangerous trek across Mexico. Both were taken into custody near Hidalgo, Texas, and ended up finding each other in the same U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. There, they applied for asylum.
That’s when their fates diverged.
Sandra Gutierrez joined her husband in California, where her case was heard by a San Francisco immigration court judge. At the end of her asylum hearing in September 2016, she received a one-page form, with an “X” in the box next to “granted.” She was free to settle into life with her family in the United States.
The other woman, Ana, joined her daughter’s father in the southeastern United States, and her case was assigned to an immigration court in Charlotte, North Carolina. The judge denied her petition and ordered her deported. She is now awaiting a court date after new lawyers got her case reopened.
Ana declined to be interviewed for this article. Through her lawyers, she asked that her full name not be used because of her uncertain status and her fear that Honduran gangs could find her.
The women’s lawyers framed their respective cases with some important differences. However, the women said their reasons for seeking asylum were the same: Gangs had targeted them because of their involvement in the parent-teacher association, and for that, they and their families had been threatened.
Taken together, the two cases – nearly indistinguishable in their outlines but with opposite outcomes – illustrate a troubling fact: An immigrant’s chance of being allowed to stay in the United States depends largely on who hears the case and where it is heard.
Judge Stuart Couch, who heard Ana’s case in Charlotte, orders immigrants deported 89 percent of the time, according to a Reuters analysis of more than 370,000 cases heard in all 58 U.S. immigration courts over the past 10 years. Judge Dalin Holyoak, who heard Gutierrez’s case in San Francisco, orders deportation in 43 percent of cases.
In Charlotte, immigrants are ordered deported in 84 percent of cases, more than twice the rate in San Francisco, where 36 percent of cases end in deportation.
Couch and Holyoak and their courts are not rare outliers, the analysis found. Variations among judges and courts are broad.
Judge Olivia Cassin in New York City allows immigrants to remain in the country in 93 percent of cases she hears. Judge Monique Harris in Houston allows immigrants to stay in just four percent of cases. In Atlanta, 89 percent of cases result in a deportation order. In New York City, 24 percent do.
The Reuters analysis used data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the U.S. Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts. The count of deportations included cases in which judges allowed immigrants to leave the country voluntarily.
The analysis excluded immigrants who were in detention when their cases were heard because such cases are handled differently. It also excluded cases in which the immigrant did not appear in court, which nearly always end in a deportation order, and cases terminated without a decision or closed at the request of a prosecutor.
About half the cases in the analysis were filed by asylum seekers like the two Honduran women. The rest were requests for cancellation of deportation orders or other adjustments to immigration status.
Of course, other factors influence outcomes in immigration court. For example, U.S. government policy is more lenient toward people from some countries, less so for others.
Also, immigration judges are bound by precedents established in the federal appeals court that covers their location. Immigration courts in California and the Pacific Northwest fall under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they rule in favor of immigrants far more often than courts in the 4th Circuit, which includes North and South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, Reuters found.
Even so, the Reuters analysis determined that after controlling for such factors, who hears a case and where it is heard remain reliable predictors of how a case will be decided. An immigrant was still four times as likely to be granted asylum by Holyoak in San Francisco as by Couch in Charlotte.
The Reuters analysis also found that an immigration judge’s particular characteristics and situation can affect outcomes. Men are more likely than women to order deportation, as are judges who have worked as ICE prosecutors. The longer a judge has been serving, the more likely that judge is to grant asylum.
“These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
The findings underscore what academics and government watchdogs have long complained about U.S. immigration courts: Differences among judges and courts can render the system unfair and even inhumane.
“It is clearly troubling when you have these kinds of gross disparities,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings School of the Law in San Francisco. “These are life or death matters. … Whether you win or whether you lose shouldn’t depend on the roll of the dice of which judge gets your case.”
EOIR spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said the agency does not comment on external analyses of its data.
Devin O’Malley, a Department of Justice spokesman, challenged the Reuters analysis, citing “numerous conflicting statements, miscalculations, and other data errors,” but declined to elaborate further.
Immigration judges, appointed by the U.S. attorney general, are not authorized to speak on the record about cases.
Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said each case is like “a 1,000 piece puzzle.” While two cases might look identical on the surface, she said, each judge has to weigh the nuances of immigration law to allow someone to stay in the country, which could lead to different outcomes.
The question of equality of treatment among judges has gained urgency as the number of cases in immigration court has ballooned to record highs. Under President Barack Obama, the courts began efforts to hire more immigration judges to reduce the system’s burgeoning backlog, which now stands at more than 620,000 cases, nearly 100,000 of them added since last December.
The administration of President Donald Trump is continuing the effort. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that the Justice Department planned to hire more than 50 judges this year and 75 in 2018, which would put the total number of sitting judges above 400.
Of the 28 immigration judges Sessions has appointed so far, 16 are former ICE prosecutors. That experience, the Reuters analysis found, makes them 23 percent more likely to order deportation. (Neither Holyoak nor Couch worked as an ICE prosecutor, according to their EOIR biographies.)
In a wish list of immigration proposals sent to Congress on Oct. 8, the White House said that “lax legal standards” had led to the immigration court backlog and that “misguided judicial decisions have prevented the removal of numerous criminal aliens, while also rendering those aliens eligible to apply for asylum.” Among the proposals offered in exchange for a deal with Congress on the roughly 800,000 “dreamers” – children brought to the country illegally by their parents – the Trump administration said it wanted to hire even more immigration judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys, while “establishing performance metrics for Immigration Judges.”
CRISIS AT THE BORDER
In 2014, an unprecedented 68,000 parents and children, most of them fleeing violence and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, crossed into the United States from Mexico – a refugee crisis that has contributed to the bloated backlog of asylum petitions. Many of the migrants, including Gutierrez and Ana, convinced initial interviewers that they had a “credible fear” of returning home, the first step in filing an asylum claim.
Having come from a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world may have helped establish “credible fear.” But the two women were already at a disadvantage – precisely because they came from Honduras.
Country of origin is a big factor in determining who gets to stay in the United States because immigrants from some countries are afforded special protections. For example, courts ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants 75 percent of the time, the Reuters analysis found. A 1996 law expanded the definition of political refugees to include people who are forced to abort a child or undergo sterilization, allowing Chinese women to claim persecution under Beijing’s coercive birth-control policies.
Hondurans enjoy no special considerations. They were allowed to stay in the United States in just 16 percent of cases, the Reuters analysis found.
The mass exodus from Central America was under way when Gutierrez and Ana were elected to the board of the parent-teacher association at their children’s school in spring 2013.
Two rival gangs – the Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13 – were operating brazenly in the neighborhood. The year before, according to police records in Honduras, gang members killed a school security guard. Now, they were extorting teachers, selling drugs openly and assaulting or killing anyone who confronted them.
The new six-member association board set about trying to improve security at the school, which sits on a dirt road behind a high wall topped with razor wire.
“Before, no one wanted to say anything about the gangs,” Gutierrez said. “We were the brave ones. The previous president was a man, so we thought, ‘We are women, they won’t do anything to us.’ ”
The school’s principal, who asked that he and the school not be identified out of fear of retaliation, worked with the board. They had early success, he said, when they persuaded police to provide officers to guard the school. But the patrols left after a few weeks, probably intimidated by the gangs.
One evening in April 2014, Gutierrez was watching television at home with her two sons, ages 5 and 11, when she heard banging at the front door. Her older boy recognized the three armed and heavily tattooed young men on the stoop as the same ones who had thrown him to the ground earlier that day, telling him, not for the first time, that they wanted him to join their ranks. Now they had come to deliver a message to Gutierrez.
“They said they knew I was involved in the parents’ association,” Gutierrez said. “They said they would kill me and my children.
“I began to panic and shake,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have to go now. I am not going to risk my child’s life.’ ”
She quickly packed some backpacks for her and her children and called the only friend she knew who had a car. They drove all night to her friend’s mother’s house in another town.
“NO POLICE HERE”
Two months later, according to court documents, Ana was walking her 7-year-old daughter home from school when three members of a rival gang confronted them. Two of them grabbed Ana and her daughter, pinned their wrists behind their backs, and pointed a gun at the child’s head. The third pointed a gun at Ana’s head. They demanded that a payment of more than $5,000 be delivered in 24 hours, a huge sum for a woman who sold tortillas for a living.
Ana testified in her asylum hearing that she knew they were gang members “because they were dressed in baggy clothing and they also had ugly tattoos … all over their bodies and faces.”
Ana and her daughter ran home and then, fearing the gang would come after them, fled out the back door. “We had to jump over a wall, and I hurt my foot doing so,” she said in an affidavit. “I was desperate and knew that I had to leave – my daughter’s life and mine were in danger.”
The school principal said he understands why Gutierrez and Ana left Honduras. “Because there were no police here, (the gangs) did what they wanted,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to kill the members of the parent-teacher association to get them out of here.’ So the women fled.”
Gutierrez hid for two months at her friend’s mother’s house outside Tegucigalpa. She joined another woman and, with their children, they set out to cross Mexico. On the journey, they were kidnapped – common for Central American migrants – and held for a $3,500 ransom. Gutierrez contacted relatives who wired the money. The kidnappers released her and her two sons near the U.S. border.
There they piled with another group of migrants into an inflatable raft and crossed the Rio Grande, the border between Mexico and the United States. They landed near Hidalgo, Texas.
After walking for an hour and a half, lost and desperate, Gutierrez and her sons sat down in the middle of a dirt road and waited for someone to pass. Two officials in uniforms picked them up. They were eventually transferred to the ICE detention center in Artesia.
Ana fled with her daughter the night the gang members threatened them on the street. “We bought a bus pass to go to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Mexico and to the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to her court testimony. The journey took three weeks. In Mexico, she hired a coyote – a smuggler – to help them cross into the United States and then turned herself in to Border Patrol agents near Hidalgo. She arrived at the Artesia detention center just weeks after Gutierrez.
“The other women in the center told me that there was someone else from Honduras who I might know, but I wasn’t sure who they were talking about,” Gutierrez said. “And then one day we went to lunch, and there they were.”
Gutierrez said that was when she first learned that her fellow parent-teacher association board member had been threatened and had fled from home.
Volunteer lawyers helped the women prepare and submit their applications for asylum.
In late 2014, the two women were released on bond. Gutierrez moved with her boys to Oakland, California, to join her husband, and petitioned to have her case moved to San Francisco. Ana moved with her daughter to live with her daughter’s father and petitioned to have her case moved to Charlotte.
“ASYLUM FREE ZONES”
Many immigrants released on bond before their cases are heard have no idea that where they settle could make the difference between obtaining legal status and deportation.
People familiar with the system are well aware of the difference. When Theodore Murphy, a former ICE prosecutor who now represents immigrants, has a client in a jurisdiction with a high deportation rate but near one with a lower rate, “I tell them to move,” he said.
The Charlotte court that would hear Ana’s case was one of five jurisdictions labeled “asylum free zones” by a group of immigrant advocates in written testimony last December before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The courts in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Atlanta also received the designation.
The advocates testified that, while asylum is granted in nearly half of cases nationwide, Charlotte judges granted asylum in just 13 percent of cases in 2015. The Charlotte court was singled out for displaying a particular “bias against Central American gang and gender-related asylum claims.”
Couch is the toughest of Charlotte’s three immigration judges, according to the Reuters analysis.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University in New York, first sounded the alarm about disparities in immigration court decisions in 2006. The next year, researchers at Temple University and Georgetown Law School concluded in a study titled “Refugee Roulette” that “in many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns an application to a particular asylum officer or immigration judge.” In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found similar disparities in its own study.
In response to the rising criticism, the Executive Office for Immigration Review began tracking decisions to identify judges with unusually high or low rates of granting asylum. Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency held training sessions for judges to address the disparities in 2008 and 2009. It then created a system for the public to file complaints against immigration judges.
In a 2016 report, the GAO found that little had changed. EOIR held a two-day training session last year. There is no training on the 2017 calendar.
From 2012 to 2016, EOIR received 624 complaints against judges. The 138 complaints lodged in 2016 alone included allegations of bias, as well as concerns about due process and judges’ conduct within the courtroom. Of the 102 complaints that had been resolved when the data were published, only three resulted in discipline, defined as “reprimand” or “suspension” of the judge. “Corrective actions” such as counseling or training were taken in 39 cases. Close to half the complaints were dismissed.
The agency does not identify judges who were the subjects of complaints.
Mattingly, the EOIR spokeswoman, said the agency “takes seriously any claims of unjustified and significant anomalies in immigration judge decision-making and takes steps to evaluate disparities in immigration adjudications.”
DAY IN COURT
Asylum applicants cannot gain legal U.S. residency because they fled their countries in mortal fear of civil strife or rampant crime or a natural disaster. They must convince the court that they have well-founded fears of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. The definition of a “particular social group” has been subject to conflicting interpretations in the courts, but in general, such a group comprises people who share basic beliefs or traits that can’t or shouldn’t have to be changed.
In the San Francisco court, Gutierrez’s lawyers argued that she qualified for asylum because as a leader of the parent-teacher association, she was at risk for her political opinion – her stand against gangs – and for belonging to a particular social group of Hondurans opposed to gang violence and recruitment in schools. The lawyers also argued that she was part of another particular social group as the family member of someone under threat, since the gangs had terrorized her son in trying to recruit him.
Holyoak was convinced. Gutierrez told Reuters that during her final hearing, the judge apologized for asking so many questions about what had been a painful time in her life, explaining that he had needed to establish her credibility.
In the Charlotte court, Ana’s lawyer focused more narrowly on her political opinion, arguing that she was at risk of persecution for her opposition to gangs in her position on the parent-teacher association board.
After hearing Ana’s case, Couch concluded in his written opinion that Ana was not eligible for asylum because she had “not demonstrated a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground.” He wasn’t convinced that she risked persecution in Honduras because of her political opinion.
Well-established law recognizes family as a protected social group, according to the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. Cases that claim opposition to gangs as a protected political opinion, the center says, have generated fewer precedent-setting decisions, making that argument a more difficult one to win in court, though it has prevailed in some cases.
Ana’s response to Couch’s extensive questioning played a part in the decision. In immigration court, the asylum seeker is typically the only witness. As a result, “credibility is really the key factor. Persecutors don’t give affidavits,” said Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge who now works at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit organization that supports lower levels of immigration.
Couch wrote in his opinion that Ana’s difficulty recounting the names of the women on the association board weighed against her credibility. He noted that she testified about her fears of the gang “with a flat affect and little emotion,” displaying a “poor demeanor” that “did not support her credibility.”
The judge also questioned why, in an early interview with an asylum officer, Ana never mentioned threats to the parent-teacher association, and instead said she thought the gangs were targeting her for the money her daughter’s father was sending from the United States to build a house in Honduras.
Ana’s assertion that she learned from Gutierrez in detention about gang threats to the parent-teacher association was not “persuasive,” Couch wrote. “The evidence indicates this is a case of criminal extortion that the respondent attempts to fashion into an imputed political opinion claim.”
“SOMEONE WANTS TO KILL THEM”
Gutierrez said Ana told her in one of their occasional phone conversations that she felt intimidated by the intense questioning of the ICE attorney. Gutierrez also said her friend “is very forgetful. … It’s not that she is lying. It’s just that she forgets things.”
Lisa Knox, the lawyer who represented Gutierrez, said judges where she practices tend to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. “They have more understanding of trauma survivors and the difficulty they might have in recounting certain details and little discrepancies,” she said.
Further, Knox said, asylum seekers aren’t thinking about the finer points of U.S. asylum law when they are fleeing persecution. “People show up in our office (and) they have no idea why someone wants to kill them. They just know someone wants to kill them.”
Ana’s lawyer appealed her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the first step in the appellate process. This time, her lawyer included arguments about her membership in a particular social group. She lost. In a three-page ruling, one board member said Ana’s lawyer could not introduce a new argument on appeal and agreed with Couch that Ana hadn’t proved a political motive behind the gang members’ attack.
Ana missed the deadline to appeal the BIA decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because her lawyer confused the deadline. She petitioned the BIA through new lawyers to reopen her case and send it back to the immigration court to allow her to present new evidence of her persecution. The new lawyers argued that her previous representation had been ineffective.
In July, the BIA granted Ana the right to a rehearing in immigration court, sending her case back to Charlotte, where it could be heard again by Couch.
Gutierrez can live and work legally in the United States and will ultimately be able to apply for citizenship. The 43-year-old, who worked as a nurse in Honduras, lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her husband, her two sons – now 15 and 8 – her adult daughter and her grandson. She works as an office janitor and is taking English classes. Her boys are in school. The older one, once threatened by gangs in Honduras, likes studying history and math and is learning to play the cello.
Ana, 31, has had a baby since arriving in the United States and has been granted work authorization while she awaits a final decision on her case. She and her lawyers declined to share more detailed information about her situation because she remains fearful of the gangs in Honduras.
“I am very worried about her,” Gutierrez said. “The situation in our country is getting worse and worse.”
Last February, a 50-year-old woman and her 29-year-old son who were selling food at the school Gutierrez and Ana’s children attended were kidnapped from their home and decapitated, according to police records.
The head of the son was placed on the body of the mother and the head of the mother was placed on the body of the son. The murders, like more than 93 percent of crimes in Honduras, remain unsolved.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Kristina Cooke
A not-quite-independent judiciary
U.S. immigration courts are administrative courts within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unlike federal court judges, whose authority stems from the U.S. Constitution’s establishment of an independent judicial branch, immigration judges fall under the executive branch and thus are hired, and can be fired, by the attorney general.
More than 300 judges are spread among 58 U.S. immigration courts in 27 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Cases are assigned to an immigration court based on where the immigrant lives. Within each court, cases are assigned to judges on a random, rotational basis.
The courts handle cases to determine whether an individual should be deported. Possible outcomes include asylum; adjustments of status; stay of deportation; and deportation. Decisions can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Department of Justice. From there, cases can be appealed to federal appeals court.
The Federal Bar Association and the National Association of Immigration Judges have endorsed the idea of creating an immigration court system independent of the executive branch. The Government Accountability Office studied some proposals for reform in 2017, without endorsing any particular model.
By Mica Rosenberg in Oakland, California, and Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill in New York, with additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco
Data: Reade Levinson and Ryan McNeill
Graphics: Ashlyn Still
Photo editing: Steve McKinley and Barbara Adhiya
Video: Zachary Goelman
Design: Jeff Magness
Edited by Sue Horton, Janet Roberts and John Blanton”
Go to the link at the beginning to get the full benefit of the “interactive” features of this report on Reuters.
Also, here is an interactive presentation on the Trump Administration’s overall immigration policies:
Interesting to note that the Arlington Immigration Court, where I sat for 13 years, has one of the most consistent “grant rates” in the country, ranging from approximately 54% to 60% grants. Compare that with the Charlotte Immigration Court at 11% to 28% grants within the same judicial circuit (the Fourth Circuit). Something is seriously wrong here. And, Jeff Sessions has absolutely no intent of solving it except by pushing for 100% denials everywhere! That’s the very definition of a “Kangaroo Court!”
It’s time for an Article I Court. But, not sure it will happen any time soon. Meanwhile Sessions is making a mockery out of justice in the Immigration Courts just as he has in many other parts of the U.S. Justice system.
“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!
“When people arrive at the border seeking asylum from persecution, the United States gives them the benefit of the doubt. As long as they can show there’s a “significant possibility” that they deserve protection, they’re allowed to stay and make their case to an immigration judge. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress want to change that.
On Sunday, the Trump administration demanded that Congress overhaul the US asylum system as part of any legislation to protect the nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation. The White House’s asylum proposal, laid out in nine bullet-pointed items as part of the broader immigration plan, appears to be modeled on the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, a bill that Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approved in July. The bill, which has not been passed by the full House, would make it easier for the Department of Homeland Securityto quickly reject asylum claims and force most asylum seekers to remain in detention while their cases are decided. The overall effect would be to transform a system for protecting persecuted people, created in the wake of World War II, into a much more adversarial process.
At a hearing in July, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) warned that the GOP proposal would “all but destroy the US asylum system.” Now Trump is trying to fold those changes into a deal to protect the Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children—who were previously covered by Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Eleanor Acer, an expert on refugees at the advocacy group Human Rights First, saidin a statement Monday that Trump’s demands will “block those fleeing persecution and violence from even applying for asylum, and punish those who seek protection by preventing their release from immigration detention facilities and jails.”
But Republicans like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argue that asylum reform is needed to address “pervasive” fraud, such as false claims of persecution. Asylum claims from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have been a major focus for Republicans. Between 2013 and 2015, there were more asylum claims from the Northern Triangle, which has been terrorized by MS-13 and other gangs, than in the previous 15 years combined. A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the United States has “limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud.” But the scope of the problem is not known. Leah Chavla, a program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, says going after fraud is misguided in light of the many checks and balances that are already in place.
The real “fraudsters” here are the GOP restrictionists, led by folks like Goodlatte, Miller, and Sessions, trying to fob off their knowingly false and contrived narrative on America. Shame!
Second, the current system intentionally denies lawyers to the respondents in detention in obscure locations along the Southern Border, specifically selected to make it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights.Raising the standards would virtually guarantee rejection of all such asylum seekerswithout any hearing at all.The standard for having asylum granted is supposed to be a generous “well-founded fear” (in other words, a 10% chance or a “reasonable chance”). In fact, however, DHS and EOIR often fail to honor the existing legal standards. Forcing unrepresented individuals in detention with no chance to gather evidence to establish that it is “more likely than not” that they would be granted asylum is a ridiculous travesty of justice.
Third, access to lawyers, not detention, is the most cost-effective way to secure appearance at Immigration Court hearings.Individuals who are able to obtain lawyers, in other words those who actually understand what is happening, have a relatively low rate of “failure to appear.” In fact, a long-term study by the American Immigration Council shows that 95% of minors represented by counsel appear for their hearings as opposed to approximately 67% for those who are unrepresented. See,e.g., https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/taking-attendance-new-data-finds-majority-children-appear-immigration-court
Rather than curtailment of rights or expensive and inhumane detention, the best way of insure that all asylum applicants appear for their scheduled hearings and receive full due process would be to insure that the hearings take place in areas with adequate supplies of pro bono and “low bono” counsel and that hearings are scheduled in a predictable manner that does not intentionally outstrip the capabilities of the pro bono bar.
Fourth, a rational response to fraud concerns would be building better fraud detection programs within DHS, rather than denying vulnerable individuals their statutory and constitutional rights. What would a better system look like: more traditional law enforcement tools, like undercover operations, use of informants to infiltrate smuggling operations, and much better intelligence on the operations of human trafficking rings. And, there’s plenty of resources to do it. DHS just lacks the ability and/or the motivation. Many of the resources now wasted on “gonzo” interior enforcement and mindless detention — sacking up janitors and maids for deportation and detaining rape victims applying for asylum — could be “redeployed” to meaningful, although more challenging, law enforcement activities aimed at rationally addressing the fraud problem rather than using it as a bogus excuse to harm the vulnerable.
Fifth, Goodlatte’s whole premise of fraud among Southern Border asylum applications is highly illogical. Most of the Southern Border asylum claims involve some variant of so-called “particular social groups” or “PSGs,” But, the entire immigration adjudication system at all levels has traditionally been biased against just such claims. and, it is particularly biased againstsuch claims from Central America. PSG claims from Central America receive “strict scrutiny’ at every level of the asylum system! No fraudster in his or her right mind would go to the trouble of “dummying up” a PSG claim which will likely be rejected. No, if you’re going to the trouble of committing fraud, you’d fabricate a “political or religious activist or supporter claim” of the type that are much more routinely granted across the board.
Don’t let Trump, Miller, Sessions, Goodlatte, and their band of shameless GOP xenophobes get away with destroying our precious asylum system! Resist now! Resist forever! Stand up for Due Process, or eventually YOU won’t any at all! Some Dude once said “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” While arrogant folks like the restrictionists obviously don’t believe that, it’s still good advice.
Alimbaev v. Attorney General, 3rd Cir., 09-25-17, published
Before: JORDAN and KRAUSE, Circuit Judges,
and STEARNS, District Judge.*
* The Honorable Richard G. Stearns, United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts, sitting by designation.
OPINION BY: Judge Krause
“This disconcerting case, before our Court for the second time, has a lengthy procedural history marked by conflict between the Board of Immigrations Appeals (BIA) and the Immigration Judge (IJ) and fueled by troubling allegations that Petitioner, an Uzbek national, relished watching violent terroristic videos, while apparently harboring anti-American sympathies. The issue on appeal, however, is whether the BIA correctly applied the clear error standard of review, as required, when reviewing the IJ’s factfinding in this case—an inquiry that highlights the role of faithful adherence to applicable standards of review in preserving the rule of law, safeguarding the impartiality of our adjudicatory processes, and ensuring that fairness and objectivity are not usurped by emotion, regardless of the nature of the allegations. Because we conclude that the BIA misapplied the clear error standard when reversing the IJ’s finding that Petitioner’s testimony was credible, we will grant the petition for review of the BIA’s removal order, vacate the denial of Petitioner’s applications for adjustment of status, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and remand once more to the BIA.”
Read the entire, rather lengthy, decision at the above link.
While the Third Circuit Judges were obviously unhappy with the performance of the BIA Panel here, I’ll bet decisions like this don’t hurt the Appellate Immigration Judges involved wth their boss, Jeff Sessions. Running over the regulations, Due Process, fairness, impartiality, and objectivity in the name of getting perceived “bad guys” out of the country is probably what “Old Gonzo” expects and even demands from his wholly owned judiciary.
There is a massive gap in expectations here. The Third Circuit speaks of “faithful adherence to applicable standards of review in preserving the rule of law, safeguarding the impartiality of our adjudicatory processes, and ensuring that fairness and objectivity.” But a U.S. Immigration Court System (including the BIA) headed by the “Immigration Enforcer in Chief,” could not possibly achieve “impartiality, fairness, and objectivity” either in appearance or in practice.
Sessions exudes anti-immigrant enforcement zeal, xenophobia, White Nationalism, and disregard for the rule of law as it is commonly understood on a daily basis. He also regularly misinterprets statistics to paint a false picture of an “alien crime wave” and positively gloried in the chance to publicly disrespect and threaten to remove Dreamers.
How could these very clear messages that Sessions despises both legal and undocumented immigrants of all types, considers them bad for America, and would like them gone and restricted in the future, possibly not get down to to the mere civil servants who work for him? Do you think that Sessions is really going to defend an Immigration Court and/or a BIA that publicly and regularly stands up for the Due Process rights of foreign nationals and their rights to favorable consideration under many provisions of the immigration law? That doesn’t fit with his “restrictionist myth” that all undocumented immigrants are “law breakers” who deserve to be “punished” by removal from the United States.
Look how Trump heaps disrespect on Article III Judges who don’t go along with his illegal programs. How do you think he’s going to react if one of Jeff Sessions’s wholly owned judges stands up to one of the Administration’s gonzo legal positions or illegal policies? And, neither Immigration Judges nor Appellate Immigration Judges have the protections of life tenure. Do you seriously think that Jeff Sessions is really going to stand up for the right of one of his judges to “Just Say No” to Trump. In any event, Sessions has the the totally inappropriate and legally questionable authority to reverse any Immigration Court decision he doesn’t like anyway. That robs the whole system of any semblance of fairness, impartiality, and objectivity.
So, the Third Circuit Judges are tiptoeing around the real problem here. You can’t possibly have “impartiality, fairness, and objectivity” from an Immigration Court run by Jeff Sessions, a man who throughout his long career has demonstrated none of those characteristics.At some point, the Third Circuit Judges and their Article III colleagues elsewhere are going to have to face up to the glaring constitutional due process problems with the current U.S. Immigration Court structure. The question is when?
I love Jeffrey’s clear, concise, practical analysis of complex issues!
The Patel case raises a recurring issue: How can a supposedly “expert” tribunal obviously hurrying to produce final orders of removal for the Administration’s deportation machine (thereby, probably not coincidentally, insuring their own job security) keep ignoring clear statutory and constitutional rights of individuals as well as their own precedents and those of Courts of Appeals? Unfortunately, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
The Administration has announced that it’s looking for ways to deal with the backlog not by any rational means, but by ramming still more cases through the already overloaded system. Although the DOJ mouths “due process” that’s not true. As long as we have “gonzo enforcement” with hundreds of thousands of cases on the Immigration Courts’ dockets that should be settled out of court through grants of relief or prosecutorial discretion, there will continue to be insurmountable backlogs. And, as long as the Immigration Courts are part of the Executive Branch, lacking true judicial independence to put a stop to some of the more outrageous ICE and DOJ policies and practices, the problem will not be solved. Due process can’t be put on an assembly line. The only questions are if and when the Article III Courts will put a stop to the due process travesty in the Immigration Courts. Or will they adopt the EOIR approach and “go along to get along.” Clearly, the Administration is banking on the latter.
I also note that the 8th Circuit is “hardly the 9th Circuit or even the 7th or 2d Circuits.” Indeed, the 8th routinely defers to the BIA. Many critics say that the 8th gives the BIA far too much deference. So, when the 8th Circuit starts finding gaping holes in the BIA’s approach to due process in Immigration Court, we know that “we’ve got trouble, right here in River City.”