Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) has won 4 asylum appeals at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in the last year and a half. These victories encompass a wide variety of cases and legal issues, but all of them involve clients seeking asylum. These clients fled their home countries because they were persecuted on account of their political or religious beliefs, or because of certain personal characteristics. These cases were originally tried in immigration court, with three of them arising in the Dallas Immigration Court, which has low grant rates for asylum.
In July 2014, HRI successfully overturned an adverse credibility finding for an Iranian client suffering from religious persecution. She had converted to Christianity on a trip to the United States, but when she returned home, her husband, a university professor with connections to the upper echelons of the Iranian government, beat her, locked her in their house and threatened to turn her in for apostasy. It is against the law to convert from Islam to Christianity in Iran, and the government punishes converts with lengthy prison sentences, torture and sometimes death. Our client fled to the United States for protection. The judge ruled against her because he found her not credible; that is, he said he did not believe her. HRI argued on appeal that the judge didn’t follow the credibility standards laid out in the law for evaluating whether she was telling the truth. Instead of citing to inconsistencies in the court record, the judge based his decision on speculation as to how her husband and others should have acted and second-guessed certain decisions our client made as she escaped Iran. The BIA reversed the immigration judge, finding his ruling clearly erroneous and ruling that he did not apply the law on credibility properly in this case. Adverse credibility determinations are extremely difficult to overturn. The BIA remanded the case back to the same Immigration Judge, who still has not scheduled a hearing to allow our client to obtain asylum.
HRI’s next victory came in April of 2015 when we successfully overturned a case based on a judge’s improper exclusion of evidence. The immigration judge ruled that 5 documents the client had submitted in support of her case were issued by her home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and had not been properly authenticated under a U.S. regulation. HRI overturned the decision by arguing that not all of the documents were government documents (the documents included medical and university records from private institutions) and that the government-issued documents could be authenticated (proven to be real, actual government records) by other means. The regulation at issue requires that foreign government documents be sent to the U.S. State Department which sends them to embassies for verification. In reality, the State Department lacks the resources to complete this task and never provides an answer on the vast majority of these documents. Immigration courts in other parts of the country, recognizing this problem, allow asylum-seekers to try and prove their documents are real by other methods. HRI argued that the Dallas immigration judge should have allowed our client to prove her documents were real by using expert testimony, her testimony or some other way, and the BIA agreed. This is a significant victory because the Dallas immigration court has interpreted the regulation in its strictest terms, placing an insurmountable burden on many asylum-seekers here and rendering the court out of step with immigration courts around the country. The case was remanded back to the same immigration judge and we are working to prove the documents are real, or not issued by the DRC government, in an upcoming evidentiary hearing.
In May of 2015 HRI won an appeal for a client from Sri Lanka who was persecuted because he was in the Tamil minority and assumed to hold anti-government views. HRI did not represent this client during his trial in immigration court in south Texas. Another non-profit legal services provider referred the appeal to us when the immigration judge granted the client protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) but not asylum. The immigration judge found that the Sri Lankan government had tortured our client, but not because of his ethnicity or political opinion. Because he was granted CAT and not asylum, he is unable to apply to bring his wife to the United States, nor is he eligible to apply for a green card. Government officials had beaten and detained his wife in their search for our client. The BIA agreed with us that the judge was wrong in his evaluation of our client’s asylum claim and sent the case back to the immigration judge instructing him to conduct further analysis. We have submitted further briefing to the immigration judge and are awaiting a decision.
Our most recent win occurred in January 2016 for a domestic violence asylum client from El Salvador. The law in this area is evolving, with courts debating whether victims of domestic violence, whose governments either cannot or will not protect them, can establish a viable asylum claim in the United States. The immigration judge found our client to be truthful and to have suffered severe violence from her partner, but he denied her asylum claim as not allowed under then-existing law. We appealed, and in the interim the BIA issued a precedential case on domestic violence asylum law which provided new guidance on the types of claims that are allowed under the law. In our case, the BIA agreed with HRI that the judge should reconsider his decision in light of the new BIA case. This case has also been remanded.
As shown above, HRI’s success at the BIA encompasses a wide variety of case types – including a client’s credibility, controversial evidentiary issues, the application of asylum law to a set of facts, and evolving areas of asylum law such as domestic violence. We have been successful at the BIA due to the hard work of our staff and volunteer attorneys. HRI currently has two cases pending with the BIA. Unfortunately, delays in the immigration court system mean that most appeals take 1.5 to 2 years.
Written by Christine Cooney Mansour, HRI Legal Director