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CA10 on Clear Error: Caballero-Vega v. Garland

March 14, 2023 (2 min read)

Caballero-Vega v. Garland (unpub., 2-1)

"Gerardo Caballero-Vega, a Mexican citizen, entered the United States in 1993 without admission or parole by an immigration officer when he was eight years old. He was removed to Mexico in 2019. Shortly after his removal, Caballero-Vega returned to the United States and applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Later that year, the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) granted his application for asylum, which the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“the BIA”). In 2020, the BIA vacated the IJ’s decision for clear error and ordered Caballero-Vega’s removal to Mexico. The following year, Caballero-Vega filed a petition for review in this court. We reverse the BIA’s vacation of the IJ’s decision and remand the case for further review. ... Caballero-Vega became a criminal informant for the San Mateo County District Attorney in 2012. He reported to law enforcement on the drug, firearm, and human trafficking conducted by Nuestra Familia, a California prison gang, as well as the Norteño Gang, Nuestra Familia’s “foot soldiers” in the streets. R. Vol. I at 143. Following his informant work, he testified against Nuestra Familia members in criminal court. Caballero-Vega was placed in a witness protection program during and after his testimony. ... On November 13, 2019, the IJ granted Caballero-Vega’s application for asylum, finding that he had established a well-founded fear of future persecution based on his membership in the group of “informants who have testified in court against gangs.” ... DHS appealed the decision to the BIA. On December 15, 2020, the BIA sustained DHS’s appeal, vacated the IJ’s grant of Caballero-Vega’s asylum, and ordered Caballero-Vega’s removal to Mexico. Specifically, the BIA found that there was “clear error in the [IJ]’s finding that there’s a reasonable possibility that [Caballero-Vega’s] 2012 status as an informant and his 2013 or 2014 United States testimony against United States gang members will be a central reason for possible future harm to [him] upon removal to Mexico.” ... We find insufficient the BIA’s explanation for its finding that the IJ’s decision is clearly erroneous. The fact that Caballero-Vega was not persecuted in Mexico is of little-to-no probative value here because he escaped before he could be identified by cartel members. Likewise, the fact that he was not threatened or harmed in the United States following his time as an informant is unhelpful because he was in witness protection for that entire period. Finally, the expert testimony cited by the IJ demonstrates that Mexican cartel members and United States gang members cooperate extensively, so the fact that Caballero-Vega testified against individuals based in the United States, not Mexico, is not dispositive. Thus, none of the reasons the BIA offers for vacating the IJ’s decision justifies the BIA’s finding of clear error. We remand Caballero-Vega’s case to the BIA to accept the IJ’s decision or to provide further justification for its finding that the IJ’s decision is clearly erroneous."

[Hats off to Tiago Guevara!]