People For the American Way

Trump Judges Newsom and Grant Overlook Threat of Torture in Ruling Against Asylum Seeker: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

News and Analysis

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties.

Immigrants and asylum seekers face extreme hostility from the Trump administration, but they should be able to rely on the courts to vindicate their rights. But two Trump judges in the Eleventh Circuit—Kevin Newsom and Britt Grant—issued an order in November that overlooked volumes of evidence that a petitioner would be tortured if forced to return to his home country. The case is Madjitov v. United States Attorney General, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 35293.

In 2013 and 2014, Bakhodir Sabitovich Madjitov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, unsuccessfully sought asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. He sought to reopen his case in 2018, but his motion was denied by a three-judge panel, with Judges Newsom and Grant in the majority. In dissent, Judge Robin Rosenbaum explained how significant changes since 2014 warranted a temporary stay of removal.

Madjitov presented evidence that political oppression in Uzbekistan has gotten significantly worse since the rise of armed insurgent groups in 2013 and 2014. The government targets family members of suspected terrorists, using the “terrorist” label to justify torture and false confessions. Both U.S. government documents and findings of Amnesty International show the increased risk of torture.

Judge Rosenbaum also noted that Madjitov had good reason to believe he would be targeted, because the Department of Justice in 2017 had announced the arrest of Madjitov’s brother-in-law for hiding his own brother’s ties to ISIS. The Uzbek government now knows that Madjitov has two family members associated with a terrorist group, making him a prime target for torture should he return to Uzbekistan.

Under Eleventh Circuit precedent, such dramatic changes in circumstances both in the home country and in the petitioner’s personal circumstances warranted reopening the proceeding so he could make his case, especially since there was no indication that Madjitov was dangerous. As Judge Rosenbaum noted:

[T]he public interest does not favor sending a man to likely torture—particularly when he has a substantial merits case still pending.  … [I]n light of our denial of Madjitov’s motion for stay, even if Madjitov ultimately would win on the merits, he may well be tortured and perhaps even die instead.