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SCOTUS Unanimously Rules Against 9th Circuit Rule that Gave Asylum to Previously-Denied Illegal Aliens

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion


The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a rule used by the 9th Circuit Court in California that presumed immigrants seeking asylum were telling the truth unless an immigration judge had made an “explicit” finding that they were not credible.

The justices in a 9-0 decision said this rule “cannot be reconciled” with a law set by Congress that gives immigration judges the authority to weigh often conflicting accounts and to decide whether the applicant is entitled to asylum.

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Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a 9-0 decision that there is “nothing in the [Immigration and Nationality Act]” that “contemplates anything like the embellishment the Ninth Circuit has adopted” when deeming that an illegal alien’s testimony in an immigration case must be considered credible and true if not explicitly stated otherwise by an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“The Ninth Circuit’s deemed-true-or-credible rule cannot be reconciled with the INA’s terms,” Gorsuch writes in the unanimous opinion.

Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez, a previously deported illegal alien from Mexico, and Ming Dai, a Chinese national who first arrived on a B-2 tourist visa, had sought asylum in the U.S.

In Alcaraz-Enriquez’s case, during the course of his hearing before a federal immigration judge, he claimed that he needed asylum in the U.S. because his life would be threatened in Mexico if he was deported.

Evidence in the case revealed that Alcaraz-Enriquez pleaded no contest in California to inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant and was sentenced to two years in prison.

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Alcaraz-Enriquez said he was upset with his 17-year-old girlfriend because he believed she was hitting his daughter, and thus hit her.

A probation report, though, stated that Alcaraz-Enriquez locked his girlfriend in his bedroom, dragged her back to the room when he caught her attempting to escape, threatened to murder her, and forced her to have sex with him.

Later, the probation reported stated, Alcaraz-Enriquez allowed the girlfriend to leave but dragged her out of the residence and kicked her as she rolled down a flight of stairs. Days later, when Alcaraz-Enriquez was arrested, he admitted that he had punched his girlfriend in the face and prevented her from leaving the residence.

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After hearing the case, an immigration judge ruled that Alcaraz-Enriquez was ineligible for asylum.

When Alcaraz-Enriquez appealed the decision to the BIA, the board affirmed the immigration judge’s decision in denying asylum to Alcaraz-Enriquez.

The Ninth Circuit, however, found the Chinese national eligible for asylum after an immigration judge and the BIA had found otherwise because his testimony contradicted later events.

The Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit went out of its way, using its “deemed-true-or-credible rule,” to provide immigration relief to Alcaraz-Enriquez and Dai while ignoring the evidence used by an immigration judge and the BIA to deny them relief.

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“It is long since settled that a reviewing court is ‘generally not free to impose’ additional judge-made procedural requirements on agencies that Congress has not prescribed and the Constitution does not compel,” Gorsuch writes:

The Ninth Circuit erred by treating credibility as dispositive of both persuasiveness and legal sufficiency in these cases. Even setting aside the credibility of Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez or Mr. Dai, perhaps the BIA did not find their evidence persuasive or sufficient to meet their burden on essential questions. In Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez’s case, the probation report may have outweighed his testimony. Similarly, in Mr. Dai’s case, his later admissions about his family’s voluntary return and his decision to stay in this country for economic reasons may have outweighed his initial testimony about his past and feared future persecution. Faced with conflicting evidence, it seems likely that a reasonable adjudicator could find the unfavorable account more persuasive than the favorable version in both cases. [Emphasis added]

Nor can we affirm the Ninth Circuit’s judgments on alternative grounds. The Ninth Circuit failed to consider that the BIA may have implicitly rebutted the presumption of credibility. The Ninth Circuit also erroneously allowed credibility to operate as a trump card, foreclosing the possibility that even credible testimony may be outweighed by other more persuasive evidence or be insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Appeals are vacated, and these cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. [Emphasis added]

The case is Garland v. DaiNo. 19–1155 in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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