Qiu v. Sessions, 10th Cir., 09-12-17
PANEL: PHILLIPS, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.
OPINION BY: Judge McKay
The BIA held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show a change in country conditions, and thus that her motion to reopen was untimely under 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C). The BIA first held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened since her 2011 immigration hearing. This factual finding is not supported by substantial—or, indeed, any—evidence in the record. The agency provided no rational explanation as to how numerous accounts of a 300 percent increase in the persecution of Christians, “unprecedented violations” of religious freedoms beginning in 2014, and possibly “the most egregious and persistent” wave of persecution against Christians since the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 was insufficient to show that the treatment of Christians in China had worsened since 2011. Nor is there anything in the record that would contradict Petitioner’s extensive evidence of a substantial increase in the government’s mistreatment of Christians since 2011. The BIA pointed to the fact that some portions of the State Department’s 2014 report include substantially similar language to the 2008 and 2009 reports. However, the State Department’s habit of cutting and pasting portions of its old reports into newer reports does nothing to refute all of the other evidence that the level and intensity of persecution against Christians has increased significantly since 2011. Nor does anything in the State Department report suggest that the U.S. Commission and various human-rights organizations are all reporting false data or drawing false conclusions about the deterioration of the treatment of Christians in China. The BIA thus abused its discretion by holding, completely contrary to all of the evidence, that Petitioner had not shown that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened in recent years.
The BIA also suggested that the substantial increase in the persecution of Christians was simply irrelevant because “[a] review of the record before the Immigration Judge indicated that China has long repressed religious freedom, and that underground or unregistered churches continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression, including breaking up services, fines, detention, beatings, and torture.” (R. at 5.) However, the fact that there was already some level of persecution in China does not prevent Petitioner from showing a change in country conditions due to a significant increase in the level of persecution faced by Christians in her country. To hold otherwise would be to bar reopening for petitioners who file for asylum when they face some, albeit insufficient, risk of persecution in their country, while permitting reopening for petitioners who file for asylum without there being any danger of persecution, then seek reopening after their country fortuitously begins persecuting people who are in their protected category thereafter. But surely Congress did not intend for 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) to protect only petitioners who file frivolous asylum applications under no threat of persecution, while extending no help to petitioners who seek reopening after an existing pattern of persecution becomes dramatically worse. The BIA’s reasoning would lead to an absurd result, one we cannot condone.
Instead, we agree with the Second, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits that a significant increase in the level of persecution constitutes a material change in country conditions for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C) and that the BIA abuses its discretion when it fails to assess and consider a petitioner’s evidence that the persecution of others in his protected category has substantially worsened since the initial application. See Paul v. Gonzales, 444 F.3d 148, 157 (2d Cir. 2006) (“Proof that persecution of Christians in Pakistan has become more common, intense, or far-reaching—i.e., the very proof that petitioner purports to have presented in filing his motion to reopen—would clearly bear on this objective inquiry [into the likelihood of future persecution]. Under the circumstances, the BIA’s refusal even to consider such evidence constitutes an abuse of discretion.”); Poradisova v. Gonzales, 420 F.3d 70, 81–82 (2d Cir. 2005) (holding that the BIA abused its discretion in denying a motion to reopen based on worsened country conditions: evidence that the human-rights situation in Belarus is “in an ‘accelerating deterioration’” and “that the situation has worsened since the Poradisovs’ original application” “certainly warranted more than a perfunctory (and clearly inaccurate) mention by the BIA as being ‘merely cumulative’”); Shu Han Liu v. Holder, 718 F.3d 706, 709, 712–13 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that a petitioner seeking to file an untimely motion to reopen must meet her burden of “show[ing] that Chinese persecution of Christians (of her type) had worsened,” and concluding that the BIA abused its discretion in ignoring evidence that current conditions in China were worse than conditions at the date of the petitioner’s final removal hearing); Chandra v. Holder, 751 F.3d 1034, 1039 (9th Cir. 2014) (“The BIA abused its discretion when it failed to assess Chandra’s evidence that treatment of Christians in Indonesia had deteriorated since his 2002 removal hearing.”); Jiang v. U.S. Attorney Gen., 568 F.3d 1252, 1258 (11th Cir. 2009) (holding that the BIA clearly abused its discretion by overlooking or “inexplicably discount[ing]” evidence of “the recent increased enforcement of the one-child policy” in the petitioner’s province and hometown).
Finally, the BIA rejected Petitioner’s mother’s statement regarding her recent religious persecution in Petitioner’s hometown as both unreliable and irrelevant. The BIA held that the statement was unreliable for two reasons: (1) it was unsworn, and (2) it was prepared for the purposes of litigation. The first of these reasons is incorrect both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law. Petitioner’s mother concluded her statement by expressly swearing to the truth of everything she had stated therein, and thus the BIA’s factual finding that the statement was unsworn is refuted by the record. And even if the BIA were correct in its factual finding, we note that several “[o]ther circuits have admonished the Board for dismissing or according little weight to a statement due to its unsworn nature.” Yu Yun Zhang v. Holder, 702 F.3d 878, 881 (6th Cir. 2012). There is no statutory support for the BIA’s contention that documents at immigration hearings must be sworn, and “numerous courts,” “without so much as pausing to note the unsworn nature of a document, . . . have relied on such documents when considering claims of asylum applicants.” Zuh v. Mukasey, 547 F.3d 504, 509 (4th Cir. 2008). “Moreover,” the Fourth Circuit noted in Zuh, “it seems untenable to require a sworn statement from a person harassed because of a relationship with an asylum applicant and potentially endangered by helping that applicant.” Id.; see also Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 881 (“Given the documented persecution of Christians in China, it seems an arbitrarily high threshold to require that letters attesting to government abuse and admitting membership in a persecuted organization be notarized.”).
As for the BIA’s second reason for rejecting the statement as unreliable, the fact that the evidence was prepared while litigation was ongoing is all but inevitable in the context of a motion to reopen, and we hold that the BIA may not entirely dismiss an asylum applicant’s evidence as unreliable based solely on the timing of its creation. Neither the BIA decision nor the government brief cites to a single statute or circuit court decision to support the idea that the timing of a statement’s creation is a dispositive or even permissible factor in evaluating its reliability in an asylum case. Furthermore, we note that the Sixth Circuit has held that it simply “does not matter that [evidence] may have been written for the express purpose of supporting [a petitioner’s] motion to reopen,” citing for support to a Ninth Circuit case which held that the BIA may not “denigrate the credibility” of letters written by the petitioner’s friends based simply on the inference that her friends “‘would tend to write supportive letters.’” Yu Yun Zhang, 702 F.3d at 882 (quoting Zavala-Bonilla v. INS, 730 F.3d 562, 565 (9th Cir. 1984)). We need not resolve this broader question in the case before us today; even if the timing of a statement’s creation might perhaps play some role in determining its credibility and the weight it should be afforded, the BIA cannot entirely dismiss a statement as unreliable based simply on the fact that it was prepared for purposes of litigation. The protections that the asylum statute was intended to provide would be gutted if we permitted the BIA to entirely reject all evidence presented by an asylum applicant that is prepared following the filing of the initial asylum application, and we see neither legal or logical support for such a ruling. We accordingly hold that the BIA abused its discretion in this case by rejecting Petitioner’s mother’s statement as unreliable based solely on the (erroneous) finding that it was unsworn and on the timing of its creation.
Finally, the BIA dismissed Petitioner’s mother’s statement as irrelevant because “the respondent’s mother is not similarly situated to the respondent, inasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. Tinasmuch as the incidents giving rise to her purported violations occurred in China, not in the United States.” (R. at 4.) This reasoning defies understanding. The heart of the matter is whether Petitioner will be persecuted if she is removed to China—to the town where her mother has allegedly been persecuted for the religious beliefs she shares with Petitioner, and where the local police have allegedly made threatening statements about Petitioner—and it is simply absurd to dismiss her mother’s experiences as irrelevant because her mother’s experiences occurred in China. Indeed, it is the very fact that her mother’s experiences occurred in China that makes them relevant to Petitioner’s motion to reopen. The nonsensical nature of the BIA’s supposed reasoning on this point is illustrative of the BIA’s failure to give fair consideration to any of the arguments in Petitioner’s motion to reopen in this case, and it represents the very definition of an abuse of discretion.
The BIA provided no rational, factually supported reason for denying Petitioner’s motion to reopen. We conclude that the BIA abused its discretion by denying the motion on factually erroneous, legally frivolous, and logically unsound grounds, and we accordingly remand this case back to the BIA for further consideration. In so doing, we express no opinion as to the ultimate merits of the case.”
HOW THE BIA FAILS TO PROVIDE FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS TO ASYLUM SEEKERS
Paul Wickham Schmidt
United States Immigration Judge (Retired)
Everyone should read the Tenth Circuit’s full opinion detailing the mounds of evidence that the BIA ignored and/or mischaracterized, at the above ink.
Folks, the 10th Circuit, former home of Justice Neil Gorsuch, is hardly known as a “haven” for asylum seekers. So, that the 10th finally is fed up with the BIA’s biased anti-asylum seeker decision making speaks volumes.
I’ve made the observation before that the BIA appears to be on “anti-asylum autopilot.” This looks for all the world like a “cut and paste” denial mass-produced by BIA staff from boilerplate that is unrelated to the facts, evidence, or, as this case shows, even the law. The BIA sometimes twists the law against asylum seekers; other times, as in this case, the BIA simply pretends that the law doesn’t exist by ignoring it. I can just imagine the BIA opinion drafter thinking to him or her self, “Oh boy, another routine PRC motion denial. This should sail through the panel without any problem. Need to get those numbers up for the month.”
This is not an isolated incident. As I’ve pointed out before, there is a strong anti-asylum bias in the BIA’s decisions. Virtually no BIA precedents (particularly since the “Ashcroft purge” when true deliberation and dissent were tossed out the window) illustrate how commonly arising situations can and should result in many more grants to asylum seekers under the generous principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca and by the BIA in Matter of Mogharrabi, yet routinely ignored by today’s BIA.
The majority of asylum seekers are credible individuals coming from countries where persecution, torture, and human rights abuses are well-documented. Even in the Northern Triangle, where the BIA has intentionally skewed the law against asylum seekers, torture by gangs by and cartels while the corrupt government authorities are either complicit or “willfully blind” abounds. The BIA, and some U.S. Immigration Judges, have to work overtime and routimely turn a blind eye to both facts and the law to deny protection in the majority of cases.
At a minimum, most Southern Border arrivals fleeing gang violence should be getting temporary grants of protection under the CAT. Instead, they are often railroaded out of the country, sometimes without even seeing a U.S. Immigration Judge, other times with no legal assistance to help them in making a claim. And, the Sessions-led Justice Department had the absolute gall to claim that this lawless and unconstitutional behavior amounts to a “return to the rule of law” at EOIR!
Where’s the outrage from this type of gross abuse of the system by politicos who should have no role in the operations of the U.S. Immigration Courts? Where is the Congressional oversight of Sessions’s use of the USDOJ as a tool to advance a blatantly restrictionist, White Nationalist political agenda? How does a system that functions this poorly, on all levels, justify elimination of annual in-person training of U.S. Immigration Judges?
When you read the full decision, you can see the voluminous evidentiary package that the respondent’s counsel put together just to get a reopened hearing. And, it resulted in an illegal denial by the BIA. Only an appeal to a Court of Appeals saved the day. How could any unrepresented asylum seeker achieve due process in a system that demands unreasonable documentation, routinely denies individuals the legal assistance necessary to assemble and present such evidence, and then ignores the evidence when it is presented? What kind of due process is this?
And, the Article III Courts have to shoulder some of blame. In particular, the Fifth Circuit “goes along to get along” with the BIA, and turns a blind eye to violations of human rights laws and skewed factfinding in “rubber stamping” inadequate hearings coming from detention centers in obscure locations in Texas.
Reiterating a point I’ve made numerous times, why is a captive, enforcement-oriented, pro-Government tribunal that performs in the manner detailed in this case entitled to “deference” on either the facts or the law (so-called “Cheveon deference” that has been criticized by Justice Gorsuch and others)? What’s “expert” about a tribunal that routinely ignores and misconstrues basic asylum law as detailed in this decision?
At a minimum, in light of the types of gross miscarriages of justice that have come to light in some recent Court of Appeals decisions, the BIA should change its internal operating procedures to require that all asylum denials be reviewed by a three-judge panel. But, don’t hold your breath. That would slow down the “assembly line” at the “Falls Church Service Center.” And turning out large numbers of final orders of removal without any real deliberation is what the “Sessions-Era BIA & EOIR” is all about.
Folks, we need an independent U.S. Immigration Court, including a competent Appellate Division (“BIA”). And in the future, selections of BIA Appellate Immigration Judges should be made in the same careful manner that applies to U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges.
The “life and death” power wielded by U.S. Immigration Judges and BIA Appellate Immigration Judges actually exceeds that of most Article III Judges. Yet the selection process for the Immigration Judiciary is opaque, cumbersome, secretive, closed, and consistently produces one-sided results skewed toward “insiders” or those with government experience. In other words, those with a history of “going along to get along” in the system rather than showing independent thinking and the courage to stand up for due process even when it isn’t “in vogue” with the politicos in an Administration (and genuine due process for migrants is seldom”in vogue” these days in either GOP or Democratic Administrations).
Proven expertise, excellence, sensitivity to individual situations, and commitment to due process for migrants and correct application of human rights law and protections should be a minimum qualification for an Appellate Immigration Judge. And, the same question should be asked that was asked of Justice Gorsuch: “If necessary, are you willing to stand up and rule against the President and the Administration.” Obviously, in the case of the current BIA, the answer would largely be “No.”