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Justices unanimously rule against asylum seekers on question of credibility

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with the federal government in a dispute over when federal courts can treat asylum seekers’ testimony as credible. In a unanimous opinion in the consolidated cases of Garland v. Dai and Garland v. Alcaraz-Enriquez, the court rejected the approach of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which had previously taken asylum seekers’ testimony as credible when reviewing cases where immigration courts were silent on applicants’ credibility. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the court.

In argument and briefing, the government contended that the 9th Circuit approach violated standards of federal court review. Under the “substantial evidence” standard, federal courts accept the immigration courts’ factual determinations unless the record compels a contrary conclusion. The government argued that the 9th Circuit’s rule allowed federal courts to reject agency decisions even when not compelled to do so.

The asylum seekers, meanwhile, argued that administrative law principles supported the lower court’s approach. In particular, they argued that the rule flows from the Chenery doctrine, which requires federal courts to review an agency’s reasons and findings as given. The asylum seekers asserted that the government’s approach would allow federal courts to affirm on the basis of adverse credibility findings that the agency never made.

In siding with the government, the Supreme Court concluded that the 9th Circuit’s rule “cannot be reconciled” with the terms of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which mandates a “highly deferential” standard of review when federal courts review decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“Nothing in the INA contemplates anything like the embellishment the Ninth Circuit has adopted,” Gorsuch wrote. “And it is long since settled that a reviewing court is ‘generally not free to impose’ additional judge-made procedural requirements on agencies that Congress has not prescribed and the Constitution does not compel.”

The cases involved the claims of Ming Dai, who sought asylum from China after authorities targeted him and his wife for violating its one-child policy; and Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez, who sought permission to remain in the United States based on a fear of persecution in his home country of Mexico. In both cases, an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals failed to make a finding on credibility, and the 9th Circuit treated the asylum seekers’ testimony as credible in its own review. The 9th Circuit ruled Dai was eligible for asylum and ordered the immigration court to reconsider Alcaraz-Enriquez’s case.

The Supreme Court vacated the lower-court decisions in both cases and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.

Recommended Citation: Eunice Lee, Justices unanimously rule against asylum seekers on question of credibility, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 1, 2021, 11:09 AM),