Deng Arej v. Loretta Lynch


Filed opinion of the court by Judge Posner. The petition for review is therefore granted, the decision of the Board vacated, and the case remanded to the Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Richard A. Posner, Circuit Judge; Diane S. Sykes, Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment; and David F. Hamilton, Circuit Judge. [6829394-1] [6829394] [15-2061]

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Case: 15-2061 Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________  No. 15‐2061  DENG AREJ,  Petitioner,  v.  JEFF SESSIONS, Attorney General of the United States,  Respondent.  ____________________  Petition for Review of an Order of the  Board of Immigration Appeals.  No. A094‐549‐699.  ____________________  ARGUED MARCH 1, 2017 — DECIDED MARCH 28, 2017  ____________________  Before POSNER, SYKES, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.  POSNER, Circuit Judge. The Sudan is a very large region in  northeastern Africa, the site of a number of ancient civiliza‐ tions that flourished along the Nile. It became an independ‐ ent nation in 1956 (before that it had been controlled by Brit‐ ain and Egypt), but since 2011 it has accommodated two na‐ tions—the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South  Sudan.  Until  2011,  when  the  southern  half  of  the  nation  Case: 15-2061 2  Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 No. 15‐2061  broke away to form the Republic of South Sudan, the Sudan  was the largest nation in Africa.  The population of the Republic of the Sudan is almost en‐ tirely Muslim, whereas most of the population of the Repub‐ lic  of  South  Sudan  practices  Christianity  or  African  tradi‐ tional religion. The religious difference between the two na‐ tions is germane to this immigration case, as we’ll see.  The  petitioner,  Deng  Arej,  was  born  in  South  Sudan  be‐ fore it was an independent nation, and was sent as a child to  live in the northern part of Sudan because his parents were  afraid  that  if  he  remained  in  the  south  he’d  be  drafted  into  the  south’s  army  as  a  child  soldier.  When  relocated  to  the  north he concealed both his Christian faith and his southern  ethnicity  to  avoid  being  killed  by  northern  soldiers.  Later,  fearing that he would be drafted into the northern army, he  fled to Egypt. He was admitted to the United States as a ref‐ ugee  in  2005.  Though  a  native  of  South  Sudan,  now  as  we  said  an  independent  nation,  he  remains  a  citizen  of  the  Re‐ public of the Sudan.  Once in the United States, Arej committed a series of as‐ saults  (one  in  a  fight  that  resulted  in  a  death,  although  he  was  not  convicted  of  murder)  and  was  sentenced  to  two  years in prison. In April 2014, after he completed his prison  sentence,  an  immigration  judge  ordered  him  removed  (i.e.,  deported) to the Republic of the Sudan. He might have pre‐ ferred to be removed to South Sudan, now that it’s an inde‐ pendent  nation,  as  he  is  of  South  Sudanese  origin  and  a  Christian—but the record does not say which nation he pre‐ fers:  probably,  as  we’ll  see,  neither.  There  have  been  previ‐ ous removals of Sudanese immigrants, but it is unclear how  many  of  them  were  removed  to  the  northern  republic  and  Case: 15-2061 No. 15‐2061  Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 3  how many to the southern, and how many removed to one  of the two countries moved or tried to move to the other.  In  January  2015,  awaiting  removal  more  than  eight  months after having been ordered removed, Arej sought U.S.  asylum  on  the  ground  that  South  Sudan  (to  which  he  may  have intended to move from the Republic of the Sudan were  he removed to that republic) was “increasingly volatile and  dangerous” and by May 2014 on the brink of civil war. And  as he wasn’t even a citizen of the country, he might be una‐ ble  to  obtain  protection  from  its  government.  He  may  have  thought it obvious that he shouldn’t be removed to the north  either,  in  view  of  his  vulnerability  to  persecution  there,  be‐ ing  Christian;  in  any  event  he  was  opposing,  on  plausible  grounds, removal to either country.  He had missed the 90‐day deadline for filing a motion to  reopen  the  proceedings,  however,  which  would  have  al‐ lowed  him  to  petition  for  asylum.  But  he  sought  an  excep‐ tion  to  the  deadline  on  the  basis  of  changed  circumstances  since the issuance of the removal order. A civil war in South  Sudan  had  broken  out  in  December  2013  and  by  February  2015 a South Sudanese legal scholar was quoted in evidence  that Arej submitted to the Board of Immigration Appeals as  reporting  that  20  percent  of  his  country’s  population  had  been displaced and an “untold number” of them killed. Re‐ moved to the north, Arej would be in danger as a southern‐ er, but if therefore he fled to the south, he would find him‐ self in the midst of a civil war. He was between a rock and a  hard place.  But  the  immigration  judge  denied  Arej’s  motion  to  reo‐ pen  (a  motion  that  if  granted  would  have  made  it  possible  for him to apply for asylum in the United States), remarking  Case: 15-2061 4  Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 No. 15‐2061  that  Arej  “states  no  facts  constituting  changed  circumstanc‐ es.”  He  appealed  to  the  Board  of  Immigration  Appeals,  which however dismissed his appeal perfunctorily, remark‐ ing—inaccurately—that the fact that there was a “‘[civil] war  …  in  progress  [in  South  Sudan]’  …  does  not  amount  to  a  showing  that  circumstances  have  materially  changed  in  Su‐ dan or South Sudan since the time of the entry of the order  of  removal.”  That  remark  ignored  the  growing  violence  in  the south during this period. Further ignoring evidence, the  Board  added  that  Arej  had  failed  to  present  evidence  that  “establishes that, since the time of his ultimate removal hear‐ ing,  conditions  have  materially  changed  in  Sudan  or  South  Sudan.” That was incorrect; he had presented such evidence,  which we summarized above.  Arej  has  conceded  that  he  qualifies  as  a  criminal  alien  under  8  U.S.C.  § 1252(a)(2)(C),  so  our  review  of  the  Board’s  decision is  limited  to  issues  of law. 8 U.S.C.  § 1252(a)(2)(D).  But it was a serious legal error for the Board to have ignored  Arej’s evidence. As we noted in Iglesias v. Mukasey, 540 F.3d  528,  531  (7th  Cir.  2008),  the  Board  cannot  make  a  reasoned  decision to deny a motion to reopen if it ignores the evidence  that a petitioner presents.  Furthermore,  a  competent  immigration  service  would  not ignore world events. The dramatically worsening condi‐ tions  in  South  Sudan  have  been  widely  reported,  with  the  young nation described as “cracking apart” and United Na‐ tions officials raising concerns about genocide. See, e.g., Jef‐ frey Gettleman, “War Consumes South Sudan, a Young Na‐ tion  Cracking  Apart,”  New  York  Times,  March  4,  2017,  “Tens  of  thousands  of  civilians  have  been  killed”;  “every  major  cease‐fire  that  has  been  Case: 15-2061 No. 15‐2061  Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 5  painstakingly  negotiated  by  African  and  Western  officials  has been violated”; and “dangerous fissures are opening up  within  the  South  Sudanese  military.”  Id.  And  time  doesn’t  stand still. The Board’s order dismissing Arej’s appeal from  the immigration judge’s denial of his motion to reopen was  issued  on  May  8,  2015—almost  two  years  ago.  Considering  that  Arej  has  not  yet  been  removed  and  that  the  order  was  perfunctory,  the  Board  should  consider  whether  he  should  be allowed to present evidence concerning current conditions  in the two Sudans. See 8 C.F.R. § 1003.2(a).  The petition for review is therefore granted, the decision  of  the  Board  vacated,  and  the  case  remanded  to  the  Board  for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.    Case: 15-2061 6 Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 No. 15-2061 SYKES, Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment. Deng Arej, a citizen of Sudan, was admitted to this country as a refugee in 2005 and thereafter committed multiple violent crimes in the State of Kentucky. Between December 2010 and May 2013, he was charged and convicted of these crimes in several separate state-court proceedings and was sentenced to serve short concurrent prison terms. The Department of Homeland Security thereafter initiated proceedings to remove him from this country. His serious criminal conduct made him removable on several grounds. See 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii) (making aliens removable for committing a crime of moral turpitude); id. § 1227(a)(2)(E)(i) (making aliens removable for committing a crime of domestic violence); id. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) (making aliens removable for committing an aggravated felony). During the removal proceedings, Arej declined the opportunity to apply for asylum, withholding of removal, or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. On April 23, 2014, an immigration judge ordered him removed to Sudan. Arej waived his right to appeal the removal order to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA” or “the Board”). On January 9, 2015—more than eight months later—Arej moved to reopen the removal proceedings, saying that he now wished to apply for asylum “in the interest of justice and humanitarian concerns.” A motion to reopen must be filed within 90 days of the entry of the order of removal, id. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i), so his motion was untimely by more than five months. An exception to the time bar exists if the alien can demonstrate that conditions in the country to which he has been ordered removed have materially changed since Case: 15-2061 No. 15-2061 Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 7 the removal order was entered. Id. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(ii). Arej submitted no evidence and otherwise made no effort to fit his case within this exception, so the immigration judge denied the motion as untimely. Arej appealed to the BIA and this time submitted documentary evidence in an effort to show a material change in country conditions in the Sudan and South Sudan. The Board rejected his argument and dismissed the appeal. Its dismissal order refers in general terms to the “numerous documents” Arej submitted on appeal and summarily concludes that this “additional evidence” failed to establish that conditions “materially changed in Sudan or South Sudan” since the removal order was entered. The Board also concluded “upon consideration of the totality of the record” that sua sponte reopening was unwarranted. Arej petitioned for review, but our jurisdiction is severely limited by his status as a criminal alien; we do not have authority to review the BIA’s decision for abuse of discretion. More specifically, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) provides that “no court shall have jurisdiction to review any final order of removal against an alien who is removable by reason of having committed a criminal offense covered in … section 1227.” Id. § 1252(a)(2)(C). Without jurisdiction to review the underlying removal order, we also lack jurisdiction to review the denial of a motion to reopen that order. Cruz-Mayaho v. Holder, 698 F.3d 574, 577 (7th Cir. 2012). But the INA preserves our jurisdiction to review questions of law and constitutional claims. 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(D). Accordingly, we lack jurisdiction to review how the BIA evaluated and weighed Arej’s evidence or to Case: 15-2061 8 Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 No. 15-2061 test its decision for abuse of discretion; we may review its decision only for errors of law and constitutional infirmities. My colleagues address jurisdiction only fleetingly, though they do cite § 1252(a)(2)(D) and Iglesias v. Mukasey, 540 F.3d 528 (7th Cir. 2008). Iglesias holds that when an alien asserts that the BIA “completely ignored the evidence he presented,” he has raised “a good faith claim of legal error” that counts as “a question of law” under § 1252(a)(2)(D). Id. at 531. Relying on Iglegias, my colleagues conclude that the Board ignored Arej’s evidence. Majority Op. at p. 4. That’s incorrect. The dismissal order is admittedly a brief summary disposition, but it’s clear that the Board was aware of the additional evidence Arej submitted on appeal. The Board acknowledged in general terms that Arej submitted “numerous documents” on appeal and ruled that this “additional evidence” is insufficient to show changed country conditions. The order also specifically states that the Board considered the “totality of the record” in declining to reopen sua sponte. That’s more than the BIA said in Iglesias; the order denying reopening in that case contained not a word about the alien’s evidence. 540 F.3d at 531–32. Still, other language in Iglesias suggests that Arej has indeed raised a colorable claim of legal error, though it’s very narrow. Our opinion in Iglesias listed in summary fashion the key items of evidence the petitioner had presented to the BIA in his appeal. Id. at 532. We then say this: “Had the BIA at least mentioned this evidence, we could have some confidence that these materials had been considered. Unfortunately, the brevity of the decision leaves us with the impression that the BIA committed legal error … .” Id. at 532. This Case: 15-2061 No. 15-2061 Document: 67 Filed: 03/28/2017 Pages: 9 9 suggests to me that it’s a legal error under Iglesias for the Board to deny a motion to reopen with a generic assurance that it has considered the “totality of the record,” as it did here. We have limited jurisdiction to correct that legal error, but not to look for factual errors or an abuse of discretion. In Iglesias we ultimately denied the alien’s petition for review, finding the legal error harmless. 540 F.3d at 532–33. The government has not raised harmless error here, so that argument is waived. Accordingly, I agree with the court’s decision to vacate the BIA’s order and remand for further proceedings, but I arrive at that conclusion on narrower grounds. I respectfully concur in the judgment only.

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