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Mentally Ill African Granted U.S. Asylum

(CN) - A bipolar man who says he was repeatedly tortured in Tanzania, where mental illness is regarded as demon possession, may qualify for U.S. asylum, the 4th Circuit ruled.

Homeland Security had tried to deport Tumaini Temu back to Tanzania in 2010, four years after his temporary visa expired. In his application for asylum, withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture, Temu claimed that his mental illness put him in a persecuted social group in his home country.

Though an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Temu's application, a divided three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court reversed Thursday.

It is uncontested, according to the ruling, that the young man suffered a mental breakdown and was forced to withdraw during his final year at the University of Dar es Salaam after learning that his mother had been killed in an automobile accident.

"During his manic episodes, Mr. Temu believes he has superhuman powers," Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the majority. "He is visibly erratic and often walks into busy intersections to direct traffic because he thinks he has the ability to prevent car accidents."

Beginning in 2003, Temu bounced between "treatment" at Muhimbili Hospital and extended prison stays, both of which involved abuse, including beatings with clubs that grew so severe that he could not walk.

At his asylum hearing, two expert witnesses for Temu testified that Tanzanians consider mental illness shameful and a manifestation of demonic possession, which they fear is contagious.

Those who visibly suffer from severe mental illness there are referred to as "mwenda wazimu," a phrase that means demon-possessed.

Temu testified that Muhimbili Hospital nurses bound his hands and feet for five to seven hours a day, four days a week. When his condition worsened, they allegedly kept him tied while they beat him with leather straps for hours and days at a time.

"The record is unequivocal about what motivated the nurses' and guard's behavior," Gregory wrote. "Throughout all his hospitalizations, the nurses referred to Mr. Temu as 'mwenda wazimu.' The record also shows that while binding Mr. Temu and bearing him with leather straps, the nurses said on multiple occasions, 'this is how we treat people who are mentally ill like you.'"

Temu came to the United States after his family rejected him and he was hospitalized here after police found him standing in the middle of the street attempting to direct traffic during a manic episode.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Temu learned that he could work and function independently so long as he took medication.

The appellate majority found it especially egregious that immigration officials had agreed that nurses and prison guards in Tanzania tortured Temu because he was mentally ill, but nevertheless found no showing that Temu was persecuted because of his membership in the proposed social group.

"We are compelled to vacate because the BIA's finding on nexus contains two logical contradictions that no rational factfinder could hold," Gregory wrote, abbreviating Board of Immigration Appeals.

Noting that the BIA credited Temu's testimony "in its entirety," Gregory and the other judge said they could not "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 BIA's nexus finding and CAT finding are at logical loggerheads," they added, abbreviating the Convention Against Torture.

Reconciling the board's conflicting findings "would demand logical acrobatics," the opinion states.

Taking up the challenge, Judge G. Steven Agee argued in dissent that Temu's proposed social group lacked that necessary characteristic of particularity as required under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

He said Temu's proposed social group lacked particularity "because the term 'erratic behavior' is too amorphous to 'provide an adequate benchmark for determining group membership.'"

"I conclude that the IJ and board's determinations after conducting that proper legal inquiry are not manifestly contrary to the law or an abuse of discretion," Agee wrote. "No adequate benchmark exists for determining whether an individual is a member of a group defined as 'bipolar individuals in Tanzania who engage in erratic behavior.' Contrary to the majority's claim, there is nothing inherent in this group's description that limits a person's erratic behavior to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or vice versa. More to the point, bipolar disorder covers a wide spectrum of behaviors and tendencies, and 'erratic behavior' is inherently subjective and amorphous. There is no discernible basis for readily identifying an individual as being part of the proposed group or not."

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