“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.
With Trump judge Danielle Hunsaker as the deciding vote, a divided Ninth Circuit panel ruled against Sonia Narvaez-Garzon, an asylum seeker from Colombia. Immigration officials had rejected her request for additional time to collect and translate records supporting her case, even though the delay was not her fault. The June 2020 case denying her appeal was Narvaez-Garzon v. Barr.
The majority stated that because Narvaez-Garzon “already had almost four months to compile this evidence,” which included the task of translating documents into English, the immigration judge refused to postpone the proceedings. But as Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw—the first Hispanic American woman to become a federal circuit judge—noted in dissent, Narvaez-Garzon did not have an attorney. Judge Wardlaw cited precedent reminding both immigration officials and the courts to presume that a party without counsel “lacks the legal knowledge to navigate her way successfully through the morass of immigration law.” So, for instance, Narvaez-Garzon could not have been expected to know that she would have to have her documents translated until immigration officials actually told her that.
The dissent also set forth the continuous but unsuccessful efforts Narvaez-Garzon had made to meet her responsibilities as soon as she learned about them. Her evidence would have corroborated her testimony and helped establish that she was being persecuted and was therefore eligible for asylum. She had never before asked the immigration judge for a continuance, and the IJ had given no indication that granting it would have inconvenienced the agency processing her case. Therefore, Judge Wardlaw explained, the IJ deprived her of her legal right to reasonably present her case.
The majority countered that even if this is so, Narvaez-Garzon had failed to show that the outcome of the proceeding “may have” been affected. For instance, they faulted her for not specifically stating how each of the particular documents would have supported her case. But as the dissent explained, a petitioner without an attorney can’t be expected to know the level of detail expected by officials at such an early stage. In addition, showing that denial of her request “may have” affected the outcome is a very low bar, which the petitioner cleared. The dissent concluded:
Given Narvaez-Garzon testified that she was raped, her daughter abducted, and her family targeted for death in her country of origin, the IJ’s disregard for the petitioner’s right to due process may result in grievous consequences here.