(CN) – Citing a judge’s “troubling lapses” and “totally inappropriate and irrelevant” questions, the 7th Circuit granted a new asylum hearing to a 20-year-old Brazilian man who said government and banking officials in his native country were conspiring to kill him. They allegedly murdered his father 12 years ago for threatening to expose an illegal banking scheme used to fund the campaigns of two corrupt politicians.
A three-judge panel concluded that the petitioner didn’t receive a fair hearing before a neutral immigration judge.
Immigration Judge O. John Brahos “repeatedly interrupted the testimony to ask irrelevant and sometimes inflammatory questions, refused to consider important evidence, and decided the case without seriously engaging with the evidence in the record,” Judge Sykes wrote.
“Indeed, so troubling are some of these lapses that we are left with the impression that the [immigration judge] ‘cared little about the evidence and instead applied whatever rationale he could muster to justify a predetermined outcome,'” Sykes added, quoting a previous opinion from the Chicago-based federal appeals court.
Petitioner Jonathan Castilho de Oliveira, 20, claimed that government and banking officials in Brazil wanted him dead based on his family ties. After his father’s murder, his mother allegedly launched a campaign for justice, turning over incriminating documents and audiotapes to a local prosecutor.
Castilho de Oliveira said officials targeted his family as retaliation for his mother’s cooperation, forcing the family into hiding.
His mother decided to take her children to the United States, but could only obtain tourist visas for herself and her daughter. She left Manuel in his aunt’s care.
About two years after his mother and sister left, Castilho de Oliveira said he received death threats from a man involved in his father’s assassination. He tried to flee to the United States via Mexico, but was detained at the border.
The immigration judge rejected his testimony as not credible, and held that even if it were true, it didn’t meet the requirements for asylum.
The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.
The appeals court found “a number of problem’s” with Judge Brahos’ credibility determination, saying his “skepticism was based on speculation rather than anything in the record.”
The court similarly rejected the judge’s alternate finding that the petitioner was ineligible for asylum, saying it misconstrued the record.
Sykes also chided Brahos for his irrelevant and inflammatory questions.
“For example,” Sykes wrote, “[Brahos] demanded to know the witnesses’ religious beliefs – and pursued this line of questioning at some length with each witness – even though Castilho de Oliveira’s claims were not based on religious persecution.
“The [judge] questioned Castilho de Oliveira about whether his half-sister was ‘born out of wedlock,’ an utterly irrelevant inquiry. [Brahos] derailed the expert’s testimony to discuss the totally inappropriate and irrelevant topic of whether Castilho de Oliveira might be infertile – or, as the judge indelicately put it, whether Castilho de Oliveira might ‘shoot blanks.'”
Sykes concluded: “Comments and questions of this nature are wholly inappropriate, if not enough alone to warrant a new hearing.”