Matter of J-C-H-F-: An Interesting Omission

In its decisions involving claims for protection under Article III of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the BIA defines “government acquiescence” to include “willful blindness” by government officials.

In its recent decision in Matter of J-C-H-F-, the BIA addressed the criteria an immigration judge should use in assessing the reliability of a statement taken from a newly-arrived non-citizens at either an airport or the border.  The BIA largely adopted the criteria set out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in its 2004 decision in Ramsameachire v. Ashcroft.  

Ramsameachire set out four reasonable factors for consideration: (1) whether the record of the interview is verbatim or merely summarizes or paraphrases the respondent’s statements; (2) whether the questions asked were designed to elicit the details of the claim, and whether the interviewer asked follow-up questions to aid the respondent in developing the claim; whether the respondent appears to have been reluctant to reveal information because of prior interrogation or other coercive experiences in his or her home country; and (4) whether the responses to the questions suggest that the respondent did not understand the questions in either English or through the interpreter’s translation.

Both the Second Circuit in Ramsameachire and the BIA  in J-C-H-F- applied these criteria to the statement in question in their respective cases; both found the statement reliable, which led to an adverse credibility finding due to discrepancies between the statement and later testimony.  But there is a big difference between the two cases.  Ramsameachire was decided one year before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which is part of the U.S. government, published the first of its two reports (in 2005 and 2016) assessing the expedited removal system in which Bureau of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers encounter arriving asylum seekers.  USCIRF conducted field research over several years before issuing each report.  As I wrote in an earlier blog post summarizing these reports, USCIRF’s first recommendation to EOIR was to “retrain immigration judges that the interview record created by CBP is not a verbatim transcript of the interview and does not document the individual’s entire asylum claim in detail, and should be weighed accordingly.”

As I already noted in my prior post, USCIRF described its findings of the airport interview process as “alarming.”  It found that the reports were neither verbatim nor reliable; that they sometimes contained answers to questions that were never asked, that they indicate that information was conveyed when in fact it was not.  USCIRF found that although the statements indicated that they were read back, they usually were not, and that a CBP officer explained that the respondent’s initials on each page merely indicated that he or she received a copy of each page, and not that the page was read back to the respondent and approved as to accuracy.

The Second Circuit in Ramsameachire would have no way of knowing any of this, and therefore reasonably considered the statement to be a verbatim transcript which had been read back to the respondent, whose initials on each page were deemed to indicate approval of the accuracy of its contents.  But the BIA in 2018 could claim no such ignorance.  USCIRF had specifically discussed its reports at a plenary session of the 2016 Immigration Judge Legal Training Conference in Washington D.C., where the report’s co-author told the audience that the statements were not verbatim transcripts in spite of their appearance to the contrary.  As moderator of the panel, I pointed out the importance of this report in adjudicating asylum claims.  The person in charge of BIA legal training at the time was present for the panel, and in fact, had the same panelists from USCIRF reprise its presentation two months later at the BIA for its Board Members and staff attorneys.  I personally informed both the chair and vice-chair of the BIA of the report and its findings, and recommended that they order a hard copy of the report.  The report was even posted on EOIR’s Virtual Law Library, which at the time was a component of the BIA, under the supervision of the vice-chair (along with training and publication).  I can say this with authority, because I was the Senior Legal Advisor at the BIA in charge of the library, and I reported directly to the BIA vice-chair.

In spite of all of the above, J-C-H-F- simply treats the statement as if it is a verbatim transcript, and noted that the pages of the statement were initialed by the respondent; in summary, the Board panel acted as if the two USCIRF reports did not exist.  Very interestingly, sometime in 2017, the USCIRF report was removed from the EOIR Virtual Law Library.  Based on my experience overseeing the library, I can’t imagine any way this could have happened unless it was at the request of the BIA vice-chair.  But why would he have required the report’s removal?

If any reader has information as to when J-C-H-F- was first considered for possible precedent status by the BIA, please let me know via the contact link below.

Copyright 2018 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

 

 

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