People For the American Way

Trump Judge Nelson Would Deny Asylum to Man Who Was Not Given an Adequate Interpreter : Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

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Trump Judge Nelson Would Deny Asylum to Man Who Was Not Given an Adequate Interpreter : Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.

Ninth Circuit Trump judge Ryan Nelson wrote a dissent in an asylum case that would have punished a Chinese man for the mistakes of a Justice Department translator and the hostility of an immigration judge. The March case was Chen v. Barr.

MingGuo Chen applied for asylum to escape repression in China. He claimed that the Chinese government held his parents in custody to force his wife to have an abortion. However, an immigration judge (IJ) concluded that Chen lacked credibility, and he denied the application. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld the denial.  Chen appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which cited serious flaws in how the IJ ran Chen’s hearing and remanded the case to the BIA. But Judge Nelson would have allowed the asylum denial despite the unfairness.

The panel majority (which included another Trump judge, Kenneth Lee) pointed out that Chen’s ability to testify at his immigration hearing was “substantially impeded.” For instance, even though Chen is a speaker of a language called Fuqing, the IJ had the proceeding conducted through an interpreter of Mandarin, a wholly different language that Chen could “barely understand.” The interpreter also made several translation errors that affected Chen’s testimony. Moreover, as the majority noted, statements by the IJ showed “open hostility” to the asylum seeker and “mischaracteriz[ed] his testimony.”

The court determined that the IJ’s finding that Chen was not credible “must be reviewed against this backdrop.” In so doing, the panel concluded that the IJ and BIA’s credibility findings were not supported by substantial evidence and, in some cases, were contradicted by the record the IJ was supposed to be relying on.

In dissent, Judge Nelson wrote that “only the most extraordinary circumstances” justify overturning the IJ’s adverse credibility, but this was not such a case.