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  • Roger Nayar

Immigration Judges Still Have The Power

As a child I loved watching He-Man, especially the part where he lifts his sword up and shouts "I have the power". This is exactly how I envision the Immigration Judges (IJ) and the Board of Immigration Appeal (BIA) shouting after the Supreme Court passed its decision in Garland v Mai with the addition of "still".

The facts of the case are as follows: Ming Dai, a native and citizen of China, sought asylum in the United States. An immigration judge denied his applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture, although it did not expressly state that Dai’s testimony lacked credibility. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld the immigration judge’s decision. Dai appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which overturned the BIA and the immigration judge's ruling, holding that Dai was entitled to withholding of removal proceedings. The appellate court specifically noted that absent a finding that Dai was not credible, he was entitled to a presumption of credibility.

This case was consolidated with Garland v. Alcaraz-Enriquez, No. 19-1156.

The top to bottom pecking order in the world of Immigration cases related to asylum are as follows: Supreme Court - Appellate Court (Court of Appeals like the Ninth or Tenth Circuit) - Board of Immigration Appeal (BIA) - Immigration Court. So in this case the Immigration judge denied asylum to Mr. Dai and Mr. Alcaraz after they provided their own testimony but did not explicitly state or comment on Mr. Dai's credibility. Mr. Dai and Mr. Alcaraz appeal to the BIA and they side with the IJ. After further appeal to the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals, the Court decided that in the absence of an explicit adverse credibility determination, the non-citizen's testimony should be treated as credible.

The Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit's credibility rule and sided with the federal government. The reasons as cited in the opinion are below:

(a) The Ninth Circuit’s rule has no proper place in a reviewing court’s analysis. The INA provides that a reviewing court must accept “administrative findings” as “conclusive unless any reasonable adjudi- cator would be compelled to conclude to the contrary.” §1252(b)(4)(B). And a reviewing court is “generally not free to impose” additional judge-made procedural requirements on agencies. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 435 U. S. 519, 524. Judicial proceedings in cases like these do not constitute “appeals” in which the “rebuttable presumption of credibility on appeal” applies absent an explicit credibility determination. §§1158(b)(1)(B)(iii), 1231(b)(3)(C), 1229a(c)(4)(C). Here, there is only one appeal—from the IJ to the BIA. See §§1158(d)(5)(iii)–(iv). Subsequent judicial review takes place not by appeal, but by means of a “petition for review,” which the INA describes as “the sole and exclusive means for judicial review of an order of removal.” §1252(a)(5). A presumption of credi- bility may arise in some appeals before the BIA, but no such presump- tion applies in antecedent proceedings before an IJ or in subsequent collateral review before a federal court. This makes sense because re- viewing courts do not make credibility determinations, but instead ask only whether any reasonable adjudicator could have found as the agency did. The Ninth Circuit’s rule gets the standard backwards by giving conclusive weight to any testimony that cuts against the agency’s finding. Pp. 6–9.

(b) Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez and Mr. Dai offer an alternative theory for affirming the Ninth Circuit. Because, they say, they were entitled to a presumption of credibility in their BIA appeals, they are entitled to relief in court because no reasonable adjudicator obliged to presume their credibility could have found against them. Even assuming that there was no explicit adverse credibility determination here, the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning is flawed for at least two reasons. Pp. 10–15. (1) The presumption of credibility on appeal under the INA is “re- buttable.” And the INA contains no parallel requirement of explicit- ness when it comes to rebutting the presumption on appeal. Reviewing courts, bound by traditional administrative law principles, must “up- hold” even “a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency’s path may reasonably be discerned.” Bowman Transp., Inc. v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 419 U. S. 281, 286. In neither case did the NinthCircuit consider the possibility that the BIA implicitly found the pre- sumption of credibility rebutted. The BIA expressly adopted the IJ’s decision in Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez’s case, which, in turn, noted that Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez’s story changed from the time of the probation report to the time of the hearing—a factor the statute specifically identifies as relevant to credibility, see §§1158(b)(1)(B)(iii), 1231(b)(3)(C), 1229a(c)(4)(C). And in Mr. Dai’s case, the BIA also adopted the IJ’s decision, which discussed specific problems with Mr. Dai’s demeanor, candor, and internal inconsistency—an analysis that certainly goes to the presumption of credibility even if the agency didn’t use particular words. See ibid. In each case, the Ninth Circuit should consider whether the BIA in fact found the presumption of credibility overcome. If so, it seems unlikely that the conclusion in either case is one no rea- sonable adjudicator could have reached. Pp. 10–13. (2) The presumption of credibility applies with respect to credibil- ity but the INA expressly requires the noncitizen to satisfy the trier of fact on credibility, persuasiveness, and the burden of proof. §§1158(b)(1)(B)(ii), 1231(b)(3)(C), 1229a(a)(4)

(B). Even if the BIA treats a noncitizen’s testimony as credible, the agency need not find such evidence persuasive or sufficient to meet the burden of proof. Here, the Ninth Circuit erred by treating credibility as dispositive of both persuasiveness and legal sufficiency. Pp 13–15.

So basically, even if the IJ does not explicitly state anything about credibility and it is appealed to the BIA, the BIA can implicitly find the credibility rebutted. It is interesting because the Ninth Circuit has always had a reputation as one of the more liberal federal circuits in the country but did it step out of bounds in these two cases? The BIA did not specifically use the magic words to show that the IJ's presumption of credibility rebutted.

Anyways, in the end there is no wiggle room for appeals based on credibility of testimony in immigration cases. But such is the bizarre world of law that harps on wordsmithery.

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