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Cornell Asylum Clinic Wins 3 BIA Remands

July 24, 2023 (4 min read)

Prof. Steve Yale-Loehr reports: "Thanks to the excellent work of our law students, our Cornell asylum clinic received three BIA remands this spring.  A short summary of each case follows. ... If anyone wants redacted copies of our briefs, have them contact me directly.  [Links to PDFs of remands highlighted below.]

1: IES is a citizen of Mexico and a former gang member.  The immigration judge (IJ) denied withholding and CAT relief, holding that his conviction in California was a particularly serious crime and that our client did not meet the requirements for CAT relief. For the particularly serious crime argument, our brief argued that the IJ improperly analyzed IES’ offense, ignored credible evidence that the drugs were for personal use, and relied on boilerplate sentencing documents instead. As a result, the IJ failed to analyze IES’s motivation and intent at the time of the offense. We used case law where crimes like sexual contact with a minor (Afridi v. Gonzalez) and strangulation (Flores-Vega v. Barr) were remanded because the facts and circumstances of the offense had not been considered. For our CAT argument, we focused on 6 IJ errors: 1) the IJ did not consider that his prolonged mental pain would cause future torture (we had psychological evaluation reports and decided to use them for this argument). This is an underutilized argument in CAT claims, so there isn’t much case law. We used the interpretation from an OLC opinion on prolonged mental harm to bolster this argument. 2) The IJ did not consider future torture from gangs and cartels despite an expert saying this risk was at 80%. 3) The IJ did not consider country conditions and did not admit 400 pages into evidence. 4) The IJ mischaracterized his attempts to flee cartels 8 times as “relocation.” 5) The IJ did not think there was police acquiescence even though the police, the local Attorney General, and the judicial police ignored IES’ complaints. 6) The IJ did not aggregate IES’ risk of torture. The BIA remanded

2: LRG is a citizen of El Salvador who fled to the US in 1989.  While in the US he joined the MS-13 gang. He is in U.S. prison for a criminal conviction. The IJ denied withholding and CAT relief. Our client’s info was part of the November 2022 ICE data leak, but the IJ did not address that concern. Our brief argued that our client is more likely than not to face torture if removed to El Salvador. We posited several theories under which our client is likely to be tortured: 1) by the Salvadoran government, especially if our client is incarcerated there; 2) by Salvadoran gangs, in or out of prison, with the acquiescence of the Salvadoran government; and/or 3) by Salvadoran anti-gang death squads, with the participation or acquiescence of the Salvadoran government. We argued that our client’s identifying characteristics, including his gang tattoos and criminal history, would subject him to targeting and torture by any of these groups. We also argued that the IJ insufficiently aggregated our client’s risk of torture in El Salvador and that the IJ erred by failing to consider the impact of the ICE data leak on our client.  Finally, we argued that the IJ afforded insufficient weight to the evidence offered by our client. The IJ admitted Dr. Patrick McNamara’s universal expert declaration only as background evidence, rather than for his expert opinions. The BIA remanded

3: REC is a citizen of El Salvador who fled to the US in 2022.  REC was not a gang member, but his brother was, and was killed by the police.  REC’s family filed a lawsuit against the police for murdering REC’s brother, and the police retaliated against REC.  The IJ denied asylum, withholding, and CAT relief.  On asylum and withholding, we argued that the IJ erred by ignoring the Salvadoran government as a persecutor of REC and by failing to assess the proper particular social group that REC had proposed, based on his membership in his family. On CAT, we argued that the IJ effectively ignored part of REC’s claim by failing to analyze whether the MS gang would be more likely than not to torture him. We further argued that the IJ’s analysis about the Salvadoran government as a torturer of REC was flawed because the IJ herself found that Salvadoran officials “misused their power” when they beat him. We argued that the IJ also erred because she did not aggregate all potential sources of torture, including the government and the MS gang. The BIA remanded."

Stephen Yale-Loehr              
Professor of Immigration Law Practice, Cornell Law School
Faculty Director, Immigration Law and Policy Program
Faculty Fellow, Migrations Initiative
Co-director, Asylum Appeals Clinic                   
Co-Author, Immigration Law & Procedure Treatise 
Of Counsel, Miller Mayer

Phone: 607-379-9707
Twitter: @syaleloehr  

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