Matter of J-C-H-F-, 27 I&N Dec. 211 (B IA 2018)
“When deciding whether to consider a border or airport interview in making a credibility determination, an Immigration Judge should assess the accuracy and reliability of the interview based on the totality of the circumstances, rather than relying on any one factor among a list or mandated set of inquiries.”
PANEL: BIA Appellate Immigration Judges MALPHRUS, CREPPY, and LIEBOWITZ
OPINION BY: JUDGE GARRY D. MALPHRUS
- Predictably, the respondent loses. Even though faulty analysis leading to unwarranted denial of asylum cases by the BIA and Immigration Judges is a recurring problem (see, e.g., Salgado-Sosa v. Sessions, recent 4th Circuit, Blogged here https://wp.me/p8eeJm-2aS), when was the last time the BIA explained how U.S. Immigration Judges should analyze and grant asylum? No, the BIA’s recent asylum jurisprudence is basically a one-sided “blueprint for denials that will pass appellate muster.” In reality, Due Process is supposed to be about protecting individuals (whether documented or undocumented) from Government overreach, not how to maximize DHS removals. But, you’d be hard pressed to get that from reading the BIA precedents.
- What this decision really tells Immigration Judges: “Presume that sworn statements taken at the border are reliable. Feel free to use any inconsistencies against the asylum applicant. Go ahead and reject all efforts to explain. Deny the application based on credibility Don’t worry, we’ve ‘got your back’ on appeal.”
- Even more seriously, although the BIA is supposed to consider “all relevant factors,” the panel totally ignored strong, impartial, widely disseminated evidence that statements taken at the border on Form I-867A are highly unreliable. Not only that, but such evidence is in the public realm and in fact was actually presented at EOIR training conferences at which Board Judges and staff were present!
- Let’s reprIse a recent article by Hon. Jeffrey Chase, who was both an Immigration Judge and a BIA Attorney Adviser:”
In August 2016 I [Judge Chase] organized and moderated the mandatory international religious freedom training panel at the immigration judges’ legal training conference in Washington, D.C. One of the panelists from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) informed me of a just-published report she had co-authored. The report, titled Barriers to Protection: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal, is the follow-up to a 2005 study by USCIRF of the treatment of arriving asylum seekers in their interactions with the various components of DHS and the Department of Justice involved in the expedited removal process. What jumped out at me from the report was the first key recommendation to EOIR: “Retrain immigration judges that the interview record created by CBP is not a verbatim transcript of the interview and does not document the individual’s entire asylum claim in detail, and should be weighed accordingly.”
The new report referenced the Commission’s 2005 findings, which it described as “alarming.” The earlier study found that “although they resemble verbatim transcripts, the I-867 sworn statements” taken from arrivees by agents of DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) component “were neither verbatim nor reliable, often indicating that information was conveyed when in fact it was not and sometimes including answers to questions that were never asked. Yet immigration judges often used these unreliable documents against asylum seekers when adjudicating their cases.”
The 2016 report found similar problems with the airport statements taken a decade later. The study found the use of identical answers by CBP agents in filling out the form I-867 “transcript,” including clearly erroneous answers (i.e. a male applicant purportedly being asked, and answering, whether he was pregnant, and a four year old child purportedly stating that he came to the U.S. to work). For the record, USCIRF is a bipartisan organ of the federal government. So this is a government-issued report making these findings.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has long recognized the problems inherent in the reliability of airport statements. In Ramseachire v. Ashcroft, 357 F.3d 169, 179 (2d Cir. 2004), the Second Circuit held that “a record of the interview that merely summarizes or paraphrases the alien’s statements is inherently less reliable than a verbatim account or transcript.” The court determined that the airport statement in that case bore “hallmarks of reliability, as it is typewritten, signed by Ramseachire, and initialed on each page. The record also indicates that he was given the opportunity to make corrections to the transcription.”
But was that truly the case? The USCIRF study (the first of which was published a year after the Ramseachire decision) shows that the Second Circuit’s reliance may have been misplaced. The USCIRF researchers found instances in which the statement was not read back; when asked, a CBP agent stated “that he only reads back the contents if the interviewee requests it because it takes too long, and that the interviewee initialing each page only indicates that s/he received a copy of that page.”
As noted in the USCIRF study, the problems with airport statements go beyond merely summarizing or paraphrasing, to include actual misstatements and omissions. But the I-867 statements as prepared by the CBP agents give the appearance of being verbatim transcripts, and further claim to contain multiple safeguards to guarantee their accuracy which, pursuant to the findings of the USCIRF studies, may not have actually been employed. And based upon the appearance of those safeguards, immigration judges have relied on the contents of these statements to reach adverse credibility findings that result in the denial of asylum. And as in Ramseachire, many of those credibility findings are being affirmed on appeal.
This is not to say that all airport statements are unreliable. But the point is that, as in Ramseachire, courts see something that looks like a verbatim transcript, see additional signs that safeguards were employed to ensure accuracy, and as a result, afford the document more evidentiary weight than it might actually deserve. Under such circumstances, an immigration judge might reasonably rely on an airport statement purporting that the respondent had stated he came to the U.S. to work when in fact, he or she said no such thing. And the judge might discredit the respondent’s denial of such statement when the words are recorded in a seemingly verbatim transcript bearing the respondent’s signature and initials which says it was read back to him and found accurate.
Attorneys and immigration judges should therefore be aware of the report and its findings. The link to the report is: https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Barriers%20To%20Protection.pdf
- You can find Jeffrey’s commentary with my additional comments on “Courtside” here: http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/09/22/use-with-extreme-caution-hon-jeffrey-chase-on-the-use-of-so-called-airport-statements-in-removal-proceedings-they-often-prove-to-be-highly-unreliable/
- So we have clearly documented “credibility and reliability problems” with Forms I-867A, uncovered by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”), a highly respected non-partisan body of experts. These problems have been festering for years, and remained just as bad in 2016 as they were more than a decade earlier when the USCIRF did its initial study! And, we have clear evidence that BIA Judges and staff were well aware of these unresolved problems, yet totally ignored them in this decision.
- No wonder EOIR barely bothers to do judicial training any more! Obviously, anything that might require critical thinking or judicial analysis unfavorable to the DHS just goes in one ear and out the other!
- How bad are Forms -867? Here’s a description of a well-publicized recent incident in which the Border Patrol “Sworn Statement” on Form I-867 asserted that a three-year old toddler was coming to America to “find work!” AllGov reports from June 20, 2015 (http://www.allgov.com/news/unusual-news/border-patrol-agents-accused-3-year-old-of-crossing-border-in-search-of-work-150520?news=856769):
Border Patrol agents claim that a 3-year-old boy said the reason he came to the United States was to look for work, thus making it easier for the undocumented immigrant to be deported.
The boy, hailing from Honduras and identified in court documents as Y.F., was allegedly interviewed in the summer of 2014 by Border Patrol agents trying to determine if immigrants had a credible fear of harm or death if they returned to their home countries. Those who claim such fear—and can prove it—have a shot at getting asylum in the United States, while those who say they came looking for work are most often deported.
Agents interviewed Y.F. and wrote on the appropriate form that he said he was looking for work. A brief (pdf) filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) with the Justice DepartmentBoard of Immigration Appeals points out the unlikelihood of that being true. “Y-F-’s interview, so painstakingly transcribed, sworn, signed and counter-signed, almost certainly never happened in the format in which it was memorialized. The impossibility of the interview, in spite of the DHS officers’ affirmations of veracity and the rule of government regularity is plain on the face of the writings themselves: Y-F- was three years old at the time he was interrogated,” the brief said.
AILA says that information on those forms, I-867 A/B, “are not inherently reliable because they often contain fake responses, do not accurately reflect testimony presented, and were almost always created under coercive conditions,” according to AILA.
The case of Y.F. isn’t unique. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) argued that a particular undocumented immigrant should be deported because she came to the United States to find work in Dodge City, Kansas, according to Elise Foley of Huffington Post. The immigrant was 11 days old at the time.
The case against the infant girl was thrown out because her mother claimed the baby was born in the United States. The boy, now 4, has been living in a detention center in Texas for a year. He has been approved for release, but his mother has not, so he remains in detention.
Maybe he can apply for a work release.
- Let’s see what else the BIA Judges “blew by” in J-C-H-F-.
- The Border Patrol agent acted as the Spanish interpreter. Interpretation is a professional job. It’s different from being “bilingual.” Indeed, at one past ImmigratIon Judge Conference, we actually received a graphic demonstration from the EOIR Interpretation Staff of how and why being bilingual wouldn’t necessarily qualify someone to interpret accurately in a legal setting! In one ear, out the other, I guess. The BIA gives no explanation of how and why a Border Patrol Agent would be qualified to interpret accurately.
- Yeah, but the BIA says it’s all OK because the respondent “understands English.” I probably “understand” German. If you said something slowly and clearly to me in German I probably could “get the gist” and say “Ja,” “Nein,” or “Nicht Verstehen.” But, would that mean I really understood what was going on? Highly unlikely!
- There is a body of evidence out there that asylum applicants are often traumatized as well as afraid of figures of authority such as “border police.” That can have something do with border statements. Indeed this respondent made such a claim. But, the panel simply blew it off, saying that the respondent was offered an opportunity to speak “confidentially with an officer.” How would that address trauma and fear of authorities? The BIA never tells us.
- The BIA reassures us that the statement is reliable because it “contains a detailed recitation of the questions and answers relating to the applicant’s claim, including the purpose of his visit, the length of his stay, and the issue whether he feared any harm if returned to Mexico.” Yet these are the very aspects of the I-867 that the USCIRF has said are often inaccurate, manipulated, or outright falsified.
- The BIA could have selected as a precedent a case that illustrated the inherent shortcomings of the Form I-867 and why they should be viewed critically by Immigration Judges with at least a degree of skepticism, if not an outright presumption of unreliability. The BIA could further have used such a decision as a forum to demand that the DHS show what steps it has taken to address the problems discovered by the USCIRF and to improve the process for insuring accuracy of border statements if they want them treated with a “presumption of reliability” in Immigration Court.
- Instead, the BIA once again “stuck its collective head in the sand” and ignored the real due process, fairness, and integrity problems plaguing our asylum adjudication system at all levels!
- We can only hope that some independent Court of Appeals will take a more critical and objective look at the “border statement issue” than the BIA has chosen to do in J-C-H-F.
- I also hope that in the future, respondents’ counsel make better use of readily available public materials to challenge over-reliance on border statements than apparently was done in this case.