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Singh v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 2, 2018

KARMJOT SINGH, Petitioner
v.
JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS, III, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Respondent.

          Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals

          Before DAVIS, HAYNES, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.

          W. EUGENE DAVIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Petitioner Karmjot Singh ("Singh"), a 21 year old native of India and a practicing Sikh belonging to the Mann Party, seeks review of the order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (the "BIA") affirming the decision of an Immigration Judge ("IJ") denying his application for asylum and withholding of removal under both the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") and the Convention Against Torture ("CAT") and ordering him removed to India.[1] The BIA affirmed the IJ's denial of asylum because it agreed with the IJ that the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") carried its burden of establishing both that Singh was safely able to relocate within India to avoid further persecution and that it was reasonable for him to do so. Because we find that the DHS did not produce substantial evidence to make this showing and consequently did not meet its burden, we GRANT the petition for review and REMAND to the agency to exercise its discretion with regards to Singh's asylum claim.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In June 2013, Singh, a resident of the Punjab state of India, graduated from the twelfth grade and became a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar Mann Party (the "Mann Party")-one of several Sikh-dominated political parties in India. As a new member of the Mann Party, Singh performed a variety of duties, including helping with rally preparations, and recruiting non-members to join the party. After learning that Singh joined the Mann Party, two local members of the Congress Party, [2] Ajay and Ravi, began threatening to beat and kill Singh if he did not join the Congress Party.

         In September 2013, Ajay, Ravi, and an unidentified individual approached Singh while he was hanging a flyer for an upcoming Mann Party rally in his hometown of Dasuya. The three individuals threatened to kill Singh if he did not quit associating with the Mann Party and then beat him, forcing Singh to spend one night in a local hospital. Upon his release from the hospital, Singh and his father visited a nearby police station to report the incident. After learning that Singh was a Mann Party member, the attending officer told Singh and his father to leave or he would put them in jail.

         In November 2013, Singh attended a Mann Party rally in Dehradun, which is about twenty minutes away from Dasuya. Singh and others were returning to Dasuya when a vehicle bearing the Congress Party logo forced Singh's vehicle to stop. Seven to eight individuals, including Ajay and Ravi, emerged from the Congress Party vehicle and beat Singh and his companions with hockey sticks, baseball bats, and chains while threatening to kill them for affiliating with the Mann Party. During this encounter, one of the Congress Party members told Singh that he was going to be killed because he did not join the Congress Party. The beating ended when another Mann Party vehicle arrived at the scene. Singh spent two nights in the hospital for back and shoulder injuries, and another Mann Party member in the car with Singh suffered a severe injury to his head. The beating was reported in the local newspaper.

         Shortly thereafter, while Singh nursed his injuries at home, Ajay, Ravi, and other Congress Party members visited Singh's home. They asked to speak with Singh about Congress Party business, but Singh's father refused to let them see Singh. Singh then went to live with his uncle for two weeks in Jalandhar, which is approximately an hour away from Singh's hometown. While in Jalandhar, Singh remained inside his uncle's house the entire time. To his knowledge, no one from the Congress Party knew where he was, so no one came looking for him. During this time, however, Congress Party members visited Singh's home and told Singh's father they were looking for Singh to kill him.

         After two weeks in Jalandhar, Singh traveled to Delhi, where he spent two days. While in Delhi, Singh remained inside and undetected by the Congress Party. From Delhi, Singh fled to Cuba, then Mexico, and ultimately the United States. Shortly after Singh's departure, his family spread the word that he had left India, and Congress Party members stopped visiting his home.

         Immigration authorities detained Singh after he crossed into the United States from Mexico, and the government initiated removal proceedings shortly thereafter. At the removal hearing, the IJ found that Singh was credible and that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion. The IJ also concluded, however, that the DHS rebutted the presumption that Singh possessed a well-founded fear of future persecution because Singh could safely and reasonably relocate within India. In so finding, the IJ stated that the evidence "demonstrate[d] that [Singh] [wa]s well-accustomed to relocation and that he was previously able to do so without facing harm." In support, the IJ observed that Singh did not suffer harm or see any Congress Party members looking for him while he stayed with his uncle in Jalandhar. The IJ also relied on the fact that Singh, as a child, moved with his family on several occasions due to his father's position in the military. In a brief opinion, the BIA affirmed the IJ's decision for similar reasons. The BIA emphasized that relocation was possible because there was no evidence that members of the Congress Party had a continuing interest in persecuting Singh upon his return to India. Singh timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We generally review only the decision of the BIA.[3] However, when, as in this case, the BIA's decision is affected by the IJ's ruling, we also review the IJ's ruling.[4] We review the BIA's and IJ's legal conclusions de novo and their factual findings for substantial evidence.[5] Under this standard, we can reverse a lower court's factual finding only if "the evidence compels a contrary conclusion."[6]

         III. DISCUSSION

         Because Singh does not challenge the denial of CAT relief and withholding of removal, he has abandoned those issues, [7] and we review only his claim for asylum.

         Given the findings by the IJ that Singh was credible and had suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion, Singh's eligibility for asylum turns on a single issue: whether the DHS carried the burden of rebutting the regulatory presumption that Singh possessed a well-founded fear of future prosecution based on its finding that Singh could safely and reasonably relocate within India.[8] The principal case relied on by the IJ and the BIA, Matter of M-Z-M-R, [9] has an excellent discussion of the DHS's burden to rebut the regulatory presumption. The BIA explained in that case that the DHS must show that there is "a specific area of the country" where the petitioner does not have a well-founded fear of persecution.[10] In the words of the Third Circuit, this requires a showing that relocation to a particular part of the country "would abate the risk of persecution."[11] This is consistent with one of the leading treatises in this area, which states that "[w]here the ...


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