Tag Archives: 4th circuit

Another 4th Circuit Social Group Victory! When is mental illness not like hating broccoli?

2 Feb

appeal-granted

Last week, we wrote about the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Martinez v. Holder, in which the 4th Circuit held that “former gang members” can qualify as a particular social group for the purpose of establishing eligibility for asylum.  Martinez is one of the two cases we wrote about in October in the hope that the 4th Circuit would bring some clarity and reason to the jurisprudence on the meaning of “particular social group” as a basis for asylum eligibility.  We now focus on the victory for immigrants in Temu v. Holder, in which the 4th Circuit decided that “people with bipolar disorder who exhibit erratic behavior” satisfies the requirements for designation as a particular social group and can establish eligibility for asylum.

Mr. Temu is a Tanzanian national whose mental illness caused him to enter the traffic on the streets of Dar Es Salaam to direct traffic because he believed that he had the power to prevent accidents with his hands.  This behavior caught the attention of Tanzanian authorities who deposited him in a hospital, where he was subjected to beatings by the nurses.  Tanzanian custom sees mental illness as demonic inhabitation and treatment is in the form of beatings.  During these beatings, Mr. Temu was told “this is how we treat people like you.”  They referred to him by the name of “mwenda wazimu,” a Tanzanian term for those with visible severe mental illness which literally means “demon possessed.”

Mr. Temu eventually made his way to the U.S. and sought asylum arguing that he faced persecution on account of his membership in the social group of individuals with bipolar disorder who exhibit erratic behavior.  The Immigration Judge denied Mr. Temu asylum stating that his proposed social group lacked the required elements of immutability, particularity, and social visibility.   Moreover, the IJ held that Mr. Temu was not persecuted on account of this social group.  However, the IJ did find that Mr. Temu merited relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) because he had been tortured by his nurses and guard because he was mentally ill.  The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the IJ’s ruling.

The 4th circuit rejected the IJ and BIA’s reasoning.  “It is impossible to square the BIA’s conclusions with the undisputed facts of this case.”  Reviewing the fact that Mr. Temu credibly testified that nurses beat him and told4th cir him that they were doing it to him because he was mwenda wazimu, the 4th Circuit stated, “we fail to see how a rational factfinder could simultaneously credit these facts and also conclude that Mr. Temu was not persecuted because of his mental illness and its manifestations.”  The court continued “it is difficult to imagine evidence that is more persuasive and unequivocal than a persecutor directly telling a victim, “this is how we treat people like you.”  The court then exposed the inconsistency by noting that shortly after finding that Mr. Temu was not persecuted because of his mental illness, the IJ granted CAT relief stating that “he was singled out for more frequent beatings because he was mentally ill.”  The court stated that “logical acrobatics” would be required to reconcile the conflicting findings on CAT relief and asylum eligibility.

The court also engaged in an expansive analysis of the BIA’s requirements for classification of a particular social group: (1) immutability; (2) particularity; and (3) social visibility.  Of these requirements, the social visibility standard has been the most problematic.  The court stated unequivocally that “social visibility does not mean ocular visibility.”  In other words, for a group to be socially visible, it is not necessary that all members be identified by sight.  The court quoted a dissent from Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit in which he explained that, for example, in the United States “Vietnam veterans, . . . cancer survivors, blind people, Cajuns, practitioners of Falun Gong, and hippies” would likely be identified as social groups whereas “second-born children and haters of broccoli would not.”  Social visibility relates to whether society views them as a group and not whether they are identifiable on sight.  The court found that since Tanzanian society views the “mwenda wazimu” as a group, that is all that the social visibility test requires.  The court also discussed particularity, a requirement that demands that a proposed social group have identifiable boundaries.  The IJ noted that not all bipolar people engage in erratic behavior and not all those who engage in erratic behavior are bipolar.  The 4th Circuit held that the BIA ad IJs must consider the social group formulation as a whole and not broken into component parts.  When taken as a whole, the social group of “bipolar individuals who exhibit erratic behavior” is sufficient to particularize the group.  Finally, the court found that the BIA and IJ were wrong on whether Mr. Temu’s condition was immutable.  The IJ had concluded that since Mr. Temu’s condition could be controlled with medication, it was not immutable.  However, the IJ also made the factual findings that Mr. Temu had been abandoned by his family in Tanzania and that the medicines he required were not widely available in Tanzania.  The court concluded that “Mr. Temu’s membership in his proposed group is not something he has the power to change.”

One judge on the three judge panel dissented and stated that he would defer to the BIA’s findings.

The case has been sent back to the immigration court and it is likely given this ruling that Mr. Temu will receive asylum.  This will help Mr. Temu get the assistance and medication he needs to remain stable and a chance at a life far removed from the beatings and deprivations he endured in his home country due to his mental illness.

This case was brought by some outstanding lawyers, Katie Bukrinsky and Thomas Tynan at McDermott Will & Emery, working pro bono.  It is a case that was identified by the fierce and lovely lawyers from the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition and Stephen Dekovich of CAIR submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the organization, which has labored for years to advance the rights of the mentally ill in immigration proceedings.  Finally, I had the honor to participate in moot court events to prepare these talented advocates for oral argument.  BR sends our heartiest congratulations to all those involved and to Mr. Temu for having the courage and resourcefulness to take this to the circuit after being shut out by the Judge and the BIA.

More on Asylum Litigation and the Meaning of Particular Social Group

7 Nov

SCOTUS

Last week, we told you about two cases that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard oral arguments on.  As we discussed, these cases will go a long way towards setting the law on what constitutes a particular social group for purposes of asylum.

One of these cases, Martinez, dealt with the issue of whether a former gang member can be granted protection in the U.S. because of a clear likelihood of persecution because of his status as a former gang member.  In Martinez, there is no doubt among the government or the courts that he will be harmed if he returns to El Salvador.  The question is whether he falls within a group meriting protection under U.S. asylum law.  The Board of Immigration Appeals said that Congress did not intend for someone to gain protection in the U.S. because they were once part of a criminal enterprise, which the Mara Salvatrucha certainly is.  The BIA reasoned that a person should not be able to get a benefit like protection for removal because of involvement in a gang and that gang membership is not what Congress had in mind when it allowed for protection for members of particular social groups.  Mr. Martinez’s lawyers, a very talented group led by FOBR Maureen Sweeney of the University of Maryland Law School Immigration Clinic, argued that Congress established a number of bars to asylum and withholding of removal and that previous gang membership was not among them.  Had Congress wished to exclude such individuals, it could have easily specified in the statute.  Martinez argued that the BIA created a bar to asylum and that was, in fact, Congress’ job, and not the Board’s.

Those arguments, made in briefs to the 4th Circuit, framed the argument held last Thursday.  Maureen Sweeney argued for Mr. Martinez and FOBR Ben Casper argued for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which filed a brief supporting Mr. Martinez’s claim to protection.  After the hearing, Maureen emailed the following report:

We had oral argument this morning, and I’m not one to draw overly optimistic conclusions from such things, but I will say that two of our 3 judges seemed to really get what the case was about. Our panel was Judges Wynn, Neimeyer and Flanagan (sitting by designation). Judge Neimeyer pretty much spent 40 minutes arguing our case for us – completely got the analytical distinction between current and past gang members, and spoke admiringly of how our client was trying to do the right thing and be a person of conscience, and how they’d just kill him for it if he had to go back. Judge Wynn seemed concerned about being asked to actually find all the elements of particular social group, but he didn’t seem to object to the idea of finding immutability and remanding the case for the BIA to do the rest of its job. Judge Flanagan was the hardest to read. Ben Casper from AILA did a great job pointing out how the Bd decision just adds to the chaos that is PSG jurisprudence right now. Judges seemed uninterested in whether initial membership in the gang was voluntary or not – they seemed to get that once the person left, that became the defining characteristic. And they didn’t seem particularly worried about letting in a bunch of bad guys. As Judge Neimeyer said, “That’s what you have all those bars in the statute for.” We will, of course, see what their decision says when they get around to writing it.

Thanks to all of you for all your help and support with this case and this new adventure in appellate work for me and our clinic. It made a big difference to me to feel like we had the support of such a great community behind us.

And the interesting trivia fact of the day is that we believe we were arguing in the courtroom where Jefferson Davis was tried after the Civil War. So if anybody ever asks you what Julio Martinez and Jeff Davis have in common, now you know!

A very encouraging report, to say the least.

A bit of bad news is that, on the day the case was argued in Richmond, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sitting in Boston issued a terrible decision on the same issue. In Cantarero v. Holder, the First Circuit held, “The BIA reasonably concluded that, in light of the manifest humanitarian purpose of the INA, Congress did not mean to grant asylum to those whose association with a criminal syndicate has caused them to run into danger.  Such recognition would reward membership in an organization that undoubtedly wreaks social harm in the streets of our country.”  It then added, preposterously, that recognition of such a social group “would, moreover, offer an incentive for aliens to join gangs here as a path to legal status.”  In rejecting protection, the 1st Circuit set up a circuit split between itself and the 7th Circuit and the 6th Circuit which had already concluded that former gang membership was a legitimate particular social group for asylum purposes.

Whatever the 4th Circuit does in Mr. Martinez’s case, it appears that this issue is teeing up for a showdown at the Supreme Court.