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Posts from the ‘The Vault: FOIA & More’ Category

FOIA results: evidence of Immigration Judge V. Stuart Couch’s shocking prejudgment of all domestic violence asylum claims

At the bottom, readers will find the all of the decisions of Immigration Judge V. Stuart Couch that resulted in BIA remands for the Fiscal Year of 2017.

Time and time again, IJ Couch’s decisions denying victims of domestic violence asylum contain carbon copy language.

Thus, it is clear that IJ Couch’s has been prejudging all claims that have a history of domestic violence, and quite literally copying and pasting language he used to deny other domestic violence victims asylum. The following is one of his favorite passages to copy and paste.

The respondent’s evidence reflects that [the] physical and verbal abuse of her was related to his violent and jealous nature…The evidence in this case is more consistent with acts of general violence and therefore does not constitute evidence of persecution based on a statutorily protected ground.

Immediately below, I have excerpted key parts of the BIA & IJ Couch decisions. A clear pattern has emerged: IJ Couch does not grant asylum to women who are victims of domestic violence, despite clear instructions to the contrary from the BIA.

 

Pages 31-48: 

Immigration Judge’s decision:

“As noted in the particularity analysis supra, Guatemala has significant and troubling

issues related to domestic violence and crimes against women. However, unlike the married

alien in Matter of A-R-C-G-, the respondent lacks an identifiable trait like marriage or

inability to seek assistance from authority that distinguishes her from other women in

Guatemalan society. Similar to the particularity analysis supra, the Court finds the

respondent is an unfortunate victim of violence against women like far too many women in

Guatemala, and thereby renders her past harm indistinct by comparison.”

 

BIA’s holding:

The respondent’s testimony reflects that people in the community knew them as a couple and

made comments reflecting their notions that the respondent could not escape the relationship (Tr. 232 at 66).

The respondent also testified that her parents did not help her leave the

relationship because of ingrained views that women are the property of men (Tr. at 33-35).

Under these circumstances, we conclude under the same reasoning as Matter of A-R-C-G-,

supra, that the proffered social group here is “immutable,” “particular” and “socially distinct.”

To the extent that the Immigration Judge determined that the respondent is not a member of this

particular social group, that determination is clearly erroneous. See Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra,

at 3 91 (the question whether a person is a member of a particular social group is a finding of fact

that we review for clear error).”

Pages 65-80:

Immigration Judge’s decision:

“As noted in the particularity analysis supra, El Salvador has significant and troubling

issues related to domestic violence and crimes against women. However, unlike the married

alien in Matter of A-R-C-G-, the respondent lacks an identifiable trait like marriage or

inability to seek assistance from authority that distinguishes her from other women in

Salvadoran society. Similar to the particularity analysis supra, the Court finds the

respondent is an unfortunate victim of violence against women like far too many women in

El Salvador, and thereby renders her past harm indistinct by comparison.”

BIA decision:

Finally, the record does not support the Immigration Judge’s determination that the past harm

the respondent suffered is “consistent with acts of general violence” which undermines her claim

for asylum (l.J. at 10). Further, even assuming her former partner’s “criminal tendencies and

substance abuse” played a role in his conduct (/d.), the appropriate inquiry is whether the

asserted protected ground was or would be “at least one central reason” for the claimed or feared

harm. See section 208(b)(l)(B)(i) of the Act; Matter of C-T-L-, 25 I&N Dec. 341, 349 (BIA

2010)

Pages 81-96: 

Immigration Judge Decision:

The respondent testified that when was drunk, he would physically and

verbally abuse her. She further testified “he was fine” when he was not under the influence

of alcohol. Thus, ‘s abuse appears related to his own criminal tendencies and

substance abuse, rather than conclusive evidence he targeted the respondent on account of

her proposed particular social group. The evidence in this case is more consistent with acts of

general violence and therefore does not constitute evidence of persecution based on a

statutorily protected ground.

BIA decision:

Upon review of the record, we conclude that a remand is necessary for the Immigration

Judge to further assess whether the respondent established that she is a member of a cognizable

particular social group. The Immigration Judge found that the respondent’s case is factually

distinguishable from Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), because she was not in

a marital relationship with her former partner and did not seek assistance from authorities

(I.J. at 7-9). While relevant, the distinguishing factors identified do not preclude the respondent

from establishing that her proposed particular social group is cognizable under the Act, and we

find that further fact-finding regarding the respondent’s experiences in El Salvador is necessary

to determine whether she satisfied the elements required to establish a valid particular social

group. See Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra, at 393 (stating that “adjudicators must consider a

respondent’s own experiences, as well as more objective evidence, such as background country

information”).

Pages 102-120: 

BIA decision:

We find clear error in the Immigration Judge’s determination that the respondent was not

abused by her former partner on account of her particular social group. See l.J. at 12; 8 C.F.R.

§ 1003.l (d)(3)(i); Matter of N-M-, 25 l&N Dec. 526, 532 (BIA 2011) (a persecutor’s actual

motive is a matter of fact to be determined by the Immigration Judge and reviewed by this Board

for clear error). The respondent testified that her former partner told her that a woman is not

more intelligent than he is and that the respondent has no value, comments which indicate that he

harmed her because of her perceived lesser status in the relationship (Tr. at 46).

 

Immigration Judge Decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that [the] physical and verbal abuse of her

was related to his violent and jealous nature, sometimes accompanied by his use of alcohol.

Thus, ‘s abuse appears related to his own criminal tendencies or substance abuse,

rather than conclusive evidence he targeted the respondent on account of her proposed

particular social group. The evidence in this case is more consistent with acts of general

violence and therefore does not co nstitute evidence of persecution based on a statutorily

protected ground. Huaman-Cornelio v. BIA, 979 F.2d 9 at l 000; Ruiz v. US. Att’y Gen., 440

F.3d 1247, 1258 (11th Cir. 2006).

Pages 137-155

BIA decision:

We disagree with the Immigration Judge that the respondent’s proposed social group, consisting of Honduran women

who are viewed as property and whose domestic partners refuse to allow them to leave their

relationship lacks the requisite immutability, particularity, and social distinction (l.J. at 7-10).

See Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 l&N Dec. 227, 236-43 (BIA 2014) (outlining factors to be

considered when discerning whether a social group is cognizable under the Act); Matter of

W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 213-18 (BIA 2014) (same).

Immigration Judge Decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that ‘s physical and verbal abuse of her

was related to his violent and jealous nature, heavy use of drugs and alcohol, and association

with drug traffickers. Exhibit 3, tab C at 17-19. Thus, ‘s abuse appears related to his

own criminal tendencies or substance abuse, rather than conclusive evidence he targeted the

respondent on account of her proposed particular social group. The evidence in this case is

more consistent with acts of general violence and therefore does not constitute evidence of

persecution based on a statutorily protected ground. Huaman-Cornelio v. BIA, 979 F.2d at

1000; Quinteros-Mendoza v. Holder, 556 F.3d 159, 164-65 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court finds

that the respondent has not established targeted her due to her particular social group,

which is required to prove the requisite nexus for asylum relief. INA§ 208(b)(l)(B)(i).

Pages 157-173

 

Immigration Judge decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that Mr. ‘ physical, verbal, and sexual abuse

of her was related to his violent and jealous nature. The respondent testified Mr. ‘

motivation to harm her was anger when she would ask him for money so she could buy food

for her family. She recalled the final argument that led to their separation occurred when the

respondent confronted Mr. regarding his affair with her sister-in-law. Thus, Mr. ‘

abuse of the respondent appears related to his own violent and criminal tendencies, rather than

conclusive evidence he targeted her on account of her membership in a particular social group.

The evidence in this case is more consistent with acts of general violence and therefore does

not constitute evidence of persecution based on a statutorily protected ground.

 

Consistent with its immutability and particularity analysis supra, the Court finds the

respondent is an unfortunate victim of violence against women like far too many women in

Guatemala, and thereby renders her past harm indistinct by comparison. For these reasons, the

Court finds the respondent has not met her burden to show the requisite social distinction

necessary for membership in a particular social group.

 

BIA decision:

The Immigration Judge further concluded that the respondent did not meet the immutability,

particularity and social distinction requirements for a cognizable particular social group (I.J. at 9-

12). We have held that depending on the facts and evidence in an individual case, victims of

domestic violence can establish membership in a cognizable particular social group that forms the

basis of a claim for asylum or withholding of removal. Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N

Dec. 388 (BIA 2014).

Pages 228-243

Immigration Judge decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that Mr. ‘s physical, verbal, and sexual

abuse of her was related to his violent and jealous nature. The respondent testified Mr.

‘s motivation to harm her was anger after she reported his abuse to government

authorities. Thus, Mr. ‘s abuse of the respondent appears related to his own

violent and criminal tendencies, rather than conclusive evidence he targeted her on account of

her membership in a particular social group. The evidence in this case is more consistent with

acts of general violence and therefore does not constitute evidence of persecution based on a

statutorily protected ground. Huaman-Cornelio v. BIA, 979 F.2d at 1000; Quinteros-Mendoza

v. Holder, 556 F.3d 159, 164-65 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court finds that the respondent has not

established Mr. targeted her due to her membership in a particular social group,

which is required to prove the requisite nexus for asylum relief. INA§ 208(b)(l)(B)(i).

BIA decision:

There appears to be no dispute that the verbal, physical and sexual abuse suffered by the

respondent at the hands of her stepfather, which occurred several times per week over a period of

years, rises to the level of past persecution. See, e.g., Barahon v. Holder, 588 F.3d 228, 232,

(4th Cir. 2009) (observing that “[a] key difference between persecution and less-severe

mistreatment is that the former is ‘systematic’ while the latter consists of isolated incidents”).

However, the Immigration Judge rejected as invalid the respondent’s proposed particular social

group of”Mexican children who are perceived as property and lack effective familial protection,”

finding that it lacked the requisite immutability, particularity, and social distinction (I.J. at 7-9).

The question whether a group is a “particular social group” within the meaning of the Act is a

question of law that we review de novo. Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra, at 390. On review, we find

that the particular social group posited by the respondent, under the circumstances of this case, is

valid under the reasoning of our recent decisions clarifying the approach to particular social

groups. See Matter of M-E-V-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014); Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N

Dec. 208 (BIA 2014).

Pages 264-283

Immigration Judge decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that her former spouse’s physical, sexual, verbal,

and psychological abuse of her was related to his violent and jealous nature, and frequent

intoxication from alcohol. The respondent testified that is an alcoholic whose

motivation to harm her stemmed from his anger, dislike for her, jealous nature, and infidelity

with other women. Exhibit 2, tab C at 12-13. Based upon the respondent’s testimony, it

appears the threats, assault and rape she suffered at the hands of was intended to

intimidate and threaten her to comply his own selfish and criminal demands for sex.

 

Thus, the abuse suffered by the respondent appears related to the violent and criminal

tendencies of her abusive former spouse, rather than conclusive evidence she was targeted on

account of her membership in a particular social group. The evidence in this case is more

consistent with acts of general violence and therefore does not constitute evidence of

persecution based on a statutorily protected ground. Huaman-Cornelio v. BIA, 979 F.2d at

1000; Quinteros-Mendoza v. Holder, 556 F.3d 159, 164-65 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court fmds

that the respondent has not established her former spouse targeted her due to her membership

in a particular social group, which is required to prove the requisite nexus for asylum relief.

INA§ 208(b)( l)(B)(i).

BIA decision:

We additionally conclude that the Immigration Judge’s finding that the respondent was able

to leave her ex-husband is clearly erroneous (l.J. at 10-11).

However, the record reflects that the respondent’s ex-husband continued to threaten and physically abuse the respondent after -their separation,

despite her move to a town over 2 hours away from him, and that he raped her in…2014, after their divorce.

Pages 315-334

Immigration Judge decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that Mr. ‘ physical, verbal, and sexual abuse

of her was related to his violent and jealous nature, often fueled by his use of alcohol and

drugs. Exhibit 2, tab H at 1-2. Mr. ‘ motivation to harm her appears to be based upon his

own criminal tendencies and substance abuse, rather than conclusive evidence he targeted

her on account of her membership in a particular social group.

BIA decision:

We also note that even if the evidence and testimony support a finding that the

respondent’s husband has a “violent and jealous nature” (I.J. at 12), this is not clearly separate

from a motive to persecute his wife based on feelings of domination and control, the hallmarks

of domestic violence.

Pages 373-393

Immigration Judge decision:

The respondent’s evidence reflects that her husband’s physical, verbal, and

psychological abuse of her was related to his violent and jealous nature, at times affected by his

use of alcohol. The respondent testimony suggests her husband’s motivation to harm her was

his dislike for her and suspicion she was being unfaithful to him. His motivation also appears

related to the respondent’s desire to leave him because of his infidelity, and his demands for

custody of their son. Based upon the respondent’s testimony, it appears the threats, assaults

and psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband was intended to intimidate

her to obtain some unclear result.

BIA decision:

We conclude, based on the particular facts presented on this record that the respondent

established that she was a member of the particular social group she articulated. We further

conclude that the Immigration Judge erred in concluding that this case is distinguishable from

Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra, based principally on the fact that the respondent was able to separate

and live apart from her husband after he moved out of their home in 2013 (l.J. at I 0-l l ).

The respondent’s ability to live apart from her husband in Honduras is not a distinguishing factor

from the social group rationale articulated in Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra, where the respondent

credibly testified that her husband refused to consent to a divorce and showed up unannounced

and uninvited at her home on several occasions, once touching her in a sexual manner and telling

her that he has a “right” to her as his wife. Additionally, the respondent testified that she was

unable to leave the relationship in Honduras for numerous cultural reasons, including her fear that

would take their son away from her and her belief that she was unable to obtain a divorce

because of ‘s ties to local government officials (l.J. at 3-4; Tr. at 51, 56, 64-73, 99, 105).

See Matter of A-R-C-G-, supra, at 393 (recognizing that “a married woman’s inability to leave the

relationship may be informed by societal expectations about gender and subordination, as well as

legal constraints regarding divorce and separation.”). Further, that domestic violence is prevalent

in Honduras does not mean that the respondent’s proposed particular social group lacks discrete

boundaries, as the Immigration Judge determined (l.J. at 11).

Combined BIA Remands January 2016 to March 2016


Combined BIA Remands October 2015 to December 2015