Lies Won’t Put Religious Asylum Out of Reach

     (CN) – He invented the story about Islamic extremists burning his father alive, but a Chaldean Christian from Iraq can still seek asylum, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     The Chaldean Church entered into communion with the Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries, but its members in Iraq have faced increasing persecution since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
     Hundreds of thousands have fled their ancestral homeland in former Mesopotamia and only roughly 600,000 Chaldean Christians remain, the vast majority of whom live in northern Iraq.
     Wisam Yousif sought U.S. asylum based on his status as a Chaldean Christian after U.S. Immigration Services deemed his 2001 marriage to his first cousin, a U.S. citizen, had been a sham.
     Yousif also said that his father had been burned alive by Islamic extremists, and that he himself had been threatened by his superior in the Iraqi military to either convert to Islam, or go to prison.
     After reviewing the father’s death certificate, however, an immigration judge found that Yousif had made up the story that his father had been killed by terrorists.
     “There is no credible evidence that [Yousif’s] father’s demise was anything but an accident,” the immigration judge said.
     The judge also found that Yousif’s story about his military service was “made up out of whole cloth,” in the belief it would increase his chance of winning asylum.
     Immigration officials conceded that Yousif’s status as a Chaldean Christian entitled him to mandatory withholding of removal, but the judge labeled Yousif’s application “frivolous” and denied his request for asylum.
     Looking at that decision Friday, the Sixth Circuit acknowledged the contradiction in the immigration judge’s ruling.
     “If Yousif was eligible for asylum on the basis of his Chaldean Christian status alone at the time that he filed his application, then it is difficult to discern how his plainly meritorious application could be considered ‘frivolous’ under the language of the statute, regardless of how many additional lies it contained,” Judge Richard Griffin wrote for a three-judge panel.
     The court said the change in Iraq’s political climate between the filing of his asylum application and the adjudication of his withholding claim might explain the paradox of Yousif’s circumstances.
     As of 2010, Yousif would have immediately qualified for asylum based on his religious status.
     “Yousif’s asylum application indisputably requested relief on the basis of his ethnicity and religion, and his stories of his family’s experiences are entirely beside the point if Yousif would have been eligible for asylum anyway due to his status as a Chaldean Christian,” Griffin said.
     On remand, the immigration judge must determine whether Yousif’s false statements were material to his application at the time it was filed, the panel found.
     “In failing to explain how Yousif’s misrepresentations ‘advance[d] the merits’ of his asylum claim when it appears that he would have been eligible for asylum regardless of his past experiences, the board failed to hew to its own precedent,” Griffin said. “There may be an easy explanation – if, for instance, country conditions changed drastically enough between 2007 and 2011 such that Yousif’s status as a Chaldean Christian took on new import in the interim. But neither the IJ nor the Board pointed to any such evidence nor attempted to do so.”

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