Gorsuch Holds 9th Circuit Went Too Far in Accepting Immigrant Testimony

June 1, 2021 by Dan McCue
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch at the National Archive. (Screen grab by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court tossed a pair of decisions from the 9th U.S. Circuit, holding the appellate court went too far in assuming that an immigrant’s testimony was credible unless an immigrant judge said otherwise.

Tuesday’s ruling involved a pair of consolidated cases in which immigrants avoided deportation thanks to that presumption.

In the first case, Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez had been convicted for domestic violence and his probation report was rife with accounts of violent assaults. But Alcaraz-Enriquez said there were mitigating circumstances — namely that he was trying to protect his daughter.

Because an immigration judge made no credibility determination during the trial, the Ninth Circuit held Alcaraz-Enriquez’s testimony must be accepted.

In the second case, Ming Dai, a Chinese citizen, overstayed a tourist visa and sought asylum, but gave conflicting testimony about the persecution he would face were he returned to China. 

Dai lost the first round but the Ninth Circuit, relying on “the absence of an explicit adverse credibility finding,” ruled that Dai was eligible for asylum.

Writing for he and his fellow Justices, Gorsuh noted the Ninth Circuit has long applied “a special rule” in immigration disputes, but held that the Circuit’s rule has no proper place in a reviewing court’s analysis under the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A.

“When it comes to questions of fact — such as the circumstances surrounding Mr. Alcaraz-Enriquez’s prior conviction or Mr. Dai’s alleged persecution — the I.N.A. provides that a reviewing court must accept ‘administrative findings’ as ‘conclusive unless any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude to the contrary.’”

“Nothing in the I.N.A., contemplates anything like the embellishment the Ninth Circuit has adopted,” he added.

The cases are Garland v. Dai, No. 19-1155 and Garland v. Alcaraz-Enriquez, No. 19-1156.

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