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Barajas-Romero v. Lynch - 846 F.3d 351 (9th Cir. 2017)


Congress's decision to adopt the one central reason standard for asylum but not withholding of removal claims appears to have been the product of a deliberate choice, rather than a mere drafting oversight. When Congress amended the withholding of removal statute to clarify the applicable burden of proof, it cross-referenced clauses (ii) and (iii) of the asylum statute's burden-of-proof provision, but not clause (i). 8 U.S.C.S. § 1231(b)(3)(C). Clause (i) is the provision that imposed the one central reason standard for asylum claims. Congress's express incorporation of two of the three asylum burden-of-proof provisions into the withholding of removal statute, but not the provision including the one central reason language, indicates that Congress did not intend for the one central reason standard to apply to withholding of removal claims. 


Barajas-Romero came to the United States legally from Mexico as a little boy. He grew up in San Pedro, California but never became naturalized and he remained a citizen of Mexico. Barajas-Romero was deported in 1998 because of convictions for felony methamphetamine possession and receiving stolen property. Barajas-Romero got a house in Santa Clara, a village in the State of Michoacan, where a powerful drug cartel has its presence. During his time there, he was threatened and attacked in his home. At one point, 4 police officers tortured him in his house for 3 days. The torture resulted in 2 weeks in the hospital and scars all over his body. Approximately a month after his release from the hospital, Barajas-Romero fled Mexico for the United States because he felt that he could not trust the police anywhere in Mexico. He reentered the United States with a false passport and was eventually caught in 2010. Barajas-Romero was charged, convicted, and imprisoned for illegal reentry, and then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"). ICE commenced proceedings to reinstate his prior deportation order. Barajas-Romero was found statutorily eligible for withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture relief. At his hearing before the Immigration Judge, Barajas-Romero provided medical evidence to support his claims. However, the Immigration Judge denied his claim. On appeal, Barajas-Romero argued that the BIA applied an erroneous standard to his withholding claim. He also argued that the BIA failed to consider the Mexican government's lack of success in its war on gangs, and corruption and the nationwide danger facing him if he returned to Mexico.


Did the Board of Immigration Appeals apply the correct nexus standard to petitioner’s application for withholding of removal?




The court remanded for the Board to reconsider the withholding claim applying the correct nexus standard, and to reconsider the CAT claim under the no-burden-shifting relocation standard. The court held that while the government argued that one central reason for asylum and a reason for withholding of removal mean the same thing, the alien was correct that the different words used in each statute meant different things. The phrase "a reason" includes weaker motives than "one central reason". The BIA's analysis started with a false premise that Congress was silent, but it was not. It explicitly said at least one central reason for asylum, and a reason, an expressly different standard, for withholding. The BIA accepted the government's view under the wrong standard. Moreover, with regard to CAT relief, the BIA's rogue official rationale was inconsistent with United States Ninth Circuit law. Lastly, the BIA did not evaluate relocation under the no-burden-shifting standard, and it applied the incorrect standard in assessing the alien's withholding claim.

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