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Immigration Law

CA11 on Credibility, Substantial Evidence, Cuba: Serra v. Atty. Gen.

Serra v. Atty. Gen.

"For decades, the authoritarian regime in Cuba has utilized its police force to intimidate and physically assault political dissidents and peaceful demonstrators throughout the island. Ignacio Balaez Serra, a Cuban immigrant seeking asylum in the United States, maintains he experienced this abuse first-hand after multiple arrests, imprisonments, and beatings by the Cuban police. Serra seeks review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (“BIA”) final order affirming the Immigration Judge’s (“IJ”) denial of Serra’s application for asylum, withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”) (together, “Application”). The IJ denied Serra’s Application, finding Serra’s testimony “not credible.” In reaching this adverse credibility determination, the IJ cited two inconsistencies between Serra’s hearing testimony and Application. The first purported inconsistency dealt with the timing of Serra’s passage of a kidney stone; specifically, whether he passed it on the day he was beaten by Cuban police or several days thereafter. The second pertained to the number of countries Serra passed through en route to the United States; he listed ten countries in his written Application but later testified that he traveled through “about 11 or 12.” The IJ also reached his adverse credibility determination based on Serra’s perceived non-responsiveness to certain questions. On appeal, the BIA rejected the IJ’s finding that Serra was non-responsive but affirmed the IJ’s adverse credibility determination based on the two inconsistencies alone. After careful review and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude the record lacks substantial evidence that would allow us to affirm the adverse credibility determination. We therefore reverse and remand. ... [T]he IJ perceived two instances of non-responsiveness and two discrepancies in the record, resulting in an adverse credibility determination. The BIA rejected the IJ’s findings of non-responsiveness. Thus, the IJ’s adverse credibility determination hinged only on two purported inconsistencies in the record. But upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances, it is clear these inconsistences are unsupported by reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence—and thus cannot form the basis for an adverse credibility determination. Therefore, we grant Serra’s petition. We further vacate the BIA’s decision and the IJ’s opinion and remand this case to the IJ to rule on Serra’s applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under CAT in accordance with this opinion. In doing so, the IJ must ensure that all relevant factors are considered—and the totality of the circumstances ascertained—before reaching a conclusion as to credibility. PETITION GRANTED, VACATED and REMANDED."

[Hats off to Marty High and Joshua Carpenter and Jonathan Morton for amici American Immigration Council and Immigration Justice Campaign!]