Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Grace v. Whitaker

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 17, 2018

GRACE, et al., Plaintiffs,
MATTHEW G. WHITAKER,[1] Acting Attorney General of the United States, et al., Defendants.


          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

         When Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, it made its intentions clear: the purpose was to enforce the “historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands.” Refugee Act of 1980, § 101(a), Pub. L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102 (1980). Years later, Congress amended the immigration laws to provide for expedited removal of those seeking admission to the United States. Under the expedited removal process, an alien could be summarily removed after a preliminary inspection by an immigration officer, so long as the alien did not have a credible fear of persecution by his or her country of origin. In creating this framework, Congress struck a balance between an efficient immigration system and ensuring that “there should be no danger that an alien with a genuine asylum claim will be returned to persecution.” H.R. Rep. No. 104-469, pt. 1, at 158 (1996).

         Seeking an opportunity for asylum, plaintiffs, twelve adults and children, alleged accounts of sexual abuse, kidnappings, and beatings in their home countries during interviews with asylum officers.[2] These interviews were designed to evaluate whether plaintiffs had a credible fear of persecution by their respective home countries. A credible fear of persecution is defined as a “significant possibility” that the alien “could establish eligibility for asylum.” 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(v). Although the asylum officers found that plaintiffs' accounts were sincere, the officers denied their claims after applying the standards set forth in a recent precedential immigration decision issued by then-Attorney General, Jefferson B. Sessions, Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018).

         Plaintiffs bring this action against the Attorney General alleging violations of, inter alia, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), arguing that the standards articulated in Matter of A-B-, and a subsequent Policy Memorandum issued by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) (collectively “credible fear policies”), unlawfully and arbitrarily imposed a heightened standard to their credible fear determinations.

         Pending before the Court are: (1) plaintiffs' combined motions for a preliminary injunction and cross-motion for summary judgment; (2) plaintiffs' motion to consider evidence outside the administrative record; (3) the government's motion to strike exhibits supporting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment; and (4) the government's motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the parties' memoranda, the parties' arguments at the motions hearings, the arguments of amici, [3] the administrative record, the applicable law, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that several of the new credible fear policies, as articulated in Matter of A-B- and the Policy Memorandum, violate both the APA and INA. As explained in this Memorandum Opinion, many of these policies are inconsistent with the intent of Congress as articulated in the INA. And because it is the will of Congress-not the whims of the Executive-that determines the standard for expedited removal, the Court finds that those policies are unlawful.

         Part I of this Opinion sets forth background information necessary to resolve plaintiffs' claims. In Part II, the Court considers plaintiffs' motion to consider evidence outside the administrative record and denies the motion in part. In Part III, the Court considers the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. In Part III.A, the Court considers the government's arguments that this case is not justiciable and holds that this Court has jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs' challenges to the credible fear policies. In Part III.B, the Court addresses the legal standards that govern plaintiffs' claims. In Part III.C, the Court turns to the merits of plaintiffs' claims and holds that, with the exception of two policies, the new credible fear policies are arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the immigration laws. In Part III.D, the Court considers the appropriate form of relief and vacates the unlawful credible fear policies. The Court further permanently enjoins the government from continuing to apply those policies and from removing plaintiffs who are currently in the United States without first providing credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws. Finally, the Court orders the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.

         I. Background

         Because the claims in this action center on the expedited removal procedures, the Court discusses those procedures, and the related asylum laws, in detail.

         A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

         1. The Refugee Act

         In 1980, Congress passed the Refugee Act, Pub. L. No. 96-212, 94 Stat. 102, which amended the INA, Pub. L. No. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163 (1952)(codified as amended in sections of 8 U.S.C.). The “motivation for the enactment of the Refugee Act” was the “United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees [“Protocol”], ” INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 424 (1987), “to which the United States had been bound since 1968, ” id. at 432-33. Congress was clear that its intent in promulgating the Refugee Act was to bring the United States' domestic laws in line with the Protocol. See Id. at 437 (stating it is “clear from the legislative history of the new definition of ‘refugee,' and indeed the entire 1980 Act . . . that one of Congress' primary purposes was to bring United States refugee law into conformance with the [Protocol].”). The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), has also recognized that Congress' intent in enacting the Refugee Act was to align domestic refugee law with the United States' obligations under the Protocol, to give statutory meaning to “our national commitment to human rights and humanitarian concerns, ” and “to afford a generous standard for protection in cases of doubt.” In Re S-P-, 21 I. & N. Dec. 486, 492 (B.I.A. 1998)(quoting S. Rep. No. 256, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. 1, 4, reprinted in 1980 U.S.C.C.A.N. 141, 144).

         The Refugee Act created a statutory procedure for refugees seeking asylum and established the standards for granting such requests; the INA currently governs that procedure. The INA gives the Attorney General discretion to grant asylum to removable aliens. 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(1)(A). However, that relief can only be granted if the alien is a “refugee.” Id. The term “refugee” is defined as:

[A]ny person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). “Thus, the ‘persecution or well-founded fear of persecution' standard governs the Attorney General's determination [of] whether an alien is eligible for asylum.” Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. at 428. To establish refugee status, the alien must show he or she is someone who: (1) has suffered persecution (or has a well-founded fear of persecution) (2) on account of (3) one of five specific protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). An alien fearing harm by non-governmental actors is eligible for asylum if the other criteria are met, and the government is “unable or unwilling to control” the persecutor. Matter of Acosta, 19 I. & N. Dec. 211, 222 (BIA 1985) overruled on other grounds by Matter of Mogharrabi, 19 I. & N. Dec. 439 (BIA 1987).

         2. Expedited Removal Process

         Before seeking asylum through the procedures outlined above, however, many aliens are subject to a streamlined removal process called “expedited removal.” 8 U.S.C. § 1225. Prior to 1996, every person who sought admission into the United States was entitled to a full hearing before an immigration judge, and had a right to administrative and judicial review. See Am. Immigration Lawyers Ass'n v. Reno, 18 F.Supp.2d 38, 41 (D.D.C. 1998)(describing prior system for removal). The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (“IIRIRA”) amended the INA to provide for a summary removal process for adjudicating the claims of aliens who arrive in the United States without proper documentation. As described in the IIRIRA Conference Report, the purpose of the expedited removal procedure

is to expedite the removal from the United States of aliens who indisputably have no authorization to be admitted . . ., while providing an opportunity for such an alien who claims asylum to have the merits of his or her claim promptly assessed by officers with full professional training in adjudicating asylum claims.

H.R. Rep. No. 104-828, at 209-10 (1996)(“Conf. Rep.”).

         Consistent with that purpose, Congress carved out an exception to the expedited removal process for individuals with a “credible fear of persecution.” See 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(ii). If an alien “indicates either an intention to apply for asylum . . . or a fear of persecution, ” the alien must be referred for an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) asylum officer. Id. § 1225(b)(1)(A)(ii). During this interview, the asylum officer is required to “elicit all relevant and useful information bearing on whether the applicant has a credible fear of persecution or torture[.]” 8 C.F.R. § 208.30(d). The asylum officer must “conduct the interview in a nonadversarial manner.” Id.

         Expediting the removal process, however, risks sending individuals who are potentially eligible for asylum to their respective home countries where they face a real threat, or have a credible fear of persecution. Understanding this risk, Congress intended the credible fear determinations to be governed by a low screening standard. See 142 Cong. Rec. S11491-02 (“The credible fear standard . . . is intended to be a low screening standard for admission into the usual full asylum process”); see also H.R. Rep. No. 104-469, pt. 1, at 158 (1996)(stating “there should be no danger that an alien with a genuine asylum claim will be returned to persecution”). A credible fear is defined as a “significant possibility, taking into account the credibility of the statements made by the alien in support of the alien's claim and such other facts as are known to the officer, that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum.” 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(v).

         If, after a credible fear interview, the asylum officer finds that the alien does have a “credible fear of persecution” the alien is taken out of the expedited removal process and referred to a standard removal hearing before an immigration judge. See 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(ii), (v). At that hearing, the alien has the opportunity to develop a full record with respect to his or her asylum claim, and may appeal an adverse decision to the BIA, 8 C.F.R. § 208.30(f), and then, if necessary, to a federal court of appeals, see 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)-(b).

         If the asylum officer renders a negative credible fear determination, the alien may request a review of that determination by an immigration judge. 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(iii)(III). The immigration judge's decision is “final and may not be appealed” 8 C.F.R. § 1208.30(g)(2)(iv)(A), except in limited circumstances. See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(e).

         3. Judicial Review

         Section 1252 delineates the scope of judicial review of expedited removal orders and limits judicial review of orders issued pursuant to negative credible fear determinations to a few enumerated circumstances. See 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a). The section provides that “no court shall have jurisdiction to review . . . the application of [section 1225(b)(1)] to individual aliens, including the [credible fear] determination made under section 1225(b)(1)(B).” 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(A)(iii). Moreover, except as provided in section 1252(e), the statute prohibits courts from reviewing: (1) “any individual determination or to entertain any other cause or claim arising from or relating to the implementation or operation of an [expedited removal] order;” (2) “a decision by the Attorney General to invoke” the expedited removal regime; and (3) the “procedures and policies adopted by the Attorney General to implement the provisions of section 1225(b)(1).” Id. § 1252(a)(2)(A)(i), (ii) & (iv).

         Section 1252(e) provides for judicial review of two types of challenges to removal orders pursuant to credible fear determinations. The first is a habeas corpus proceeding limited to reviewing whether the petitioner was erroneously removed because he or she was, among other things, lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or had previously been granted asylum. 8 U.S.C. § 1252(e)(2)(C). As relevant here, the second proceeding available for judicial review is a systemic challenge to the legality of a “written policy directive, written policy guideline, or written procedure issued by or under the authority of the Attorney General to implement” the expedited removal process. Id. § 1252(e)(3)(A)(ii). Jurisdiction to review such a systemic challenge is vested solely in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Id. § 1252(e)(3)(A).

         B. Executive Guidance on Asylum Claims

         1. Precedential Decision

         The Attorney General has the statutory and regulatory authority to make determinations and rulings with respect to immigration law. See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. § 1103(a)(1). This authority includes the ability to certify cases for his or her review and to issue binding decisions. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 1003.1(g)-(h)(1)(ii).

         On June 11, 2018, then-Attorney General Sessions did exactly that when he issued a precedential decision in an asylum case, Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018). In Matter of A-B-, the Attorney General reversed a grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman who allegedly fled several years of domestic violence at the hands of her then-husband. Id. at 321, 346.

         The decision began by overruling another case, Matter of A-R-C-G-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 388 (BIA 2014). Id. at 319. In A-R-C-G-, the BIA recognized “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” as a “particular social group” within the meaning of the asylum statute. 27 I. & N. Dec. at 392. The Attorney General's rationale for overruling A-R-C-G- was that it incorrectly applied BIA precedent, “assumed its conclusion and did not perform the necessary legal and factual analysis” because, among other things, the BIA accepted stipulations by DHS that the alien was a member of a qualifying particular social group. Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. at 319. In so doing, the Attorney General made clear that “[g]enerally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum, ” id. at 320, [4] and “[a]ccordingly, few such claims would satisfy the legal standard to determine whether an alien has a credible fear of persecution.” Id. at 320 n.1 (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(B)(v)).

         The Attorney General next reviewed the history of BIA precedent interpreting the “particular social group” standard and again explained, at length, why A-R-C-G- was wrongly decided. In so ruling, the Attorney General articulated legal standards for determining asylum cases based on persecution from non-governmental actors on account of membership in a particular social group, focusing principally on claims by victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. He specifically stated that few claims pertaining to domestic or gang violence by nongovernmental actors could qualify for asylum or satisfy the credible fear standard. See Id. at 320 n.1.

         The Attorney General next focused on the specific elements of an asylum claim beginning with the standard for membership in a “particular social group.” The Attorney General declared that “[s]ocial groups defined by their vulnerability to private criminal activity likely lack the particularity required” under asylum laws since “broad swaths of society may be susceptible to victimization.” Id. at 335.

         The Attorney General next examined the persecution requirement, which he described as having three elements: (1) an intent to target a belief or characteristic; (2) severe harm; and (3) suffering inflicted by the government or by persons the government was unable or unwilling to control. Id. at 337. With respect to the last element, the Attorney General stated that an alien seeking to establish persecution based on the violent conduct of a private actor may not solely rely on the government's difficulty in controlling the violent behavior. Id. Rather, the alien must show “the government condoned the private actions or at least demonstrated a complete helplessness to protect the victims.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Attorney General concluded with a discussion of the requirement that an asylum applicant demonstrate that the persecution he or she suffered was on account of a membership in a “particular social group.” Id. at 338-39. He explained that “[i]f the ill-treatment [claimed by an alien] was motivated by something other than” one of the five statutory grounds for asylum, then the alien “cannot be considered a refugee for purpose of asylum.” Id. at 338 (citations omitted). He continued to explain that when private actors inflict violence based on personal relationships with a victim, the victim's membership in a particular social group “may well not be ‘one central reason' for the abuse.” Id. Using Matter of A-R-C-G- as an example, the Attorney General stated that there was no evidence that the alien was attacked because her husband was aware of, and hostile to, her particular social group: women who were unable to leave their relationship. Id. at 338-39. The Attorney General remanded the matter back to the immigration judge for further proceedings consistent with his decision. Id. at 346.

         2 . Policy Memorandum

         Two days after the Attorney General issued Matter of A-B-, USCIS issued Interim Guidance instructing asylum officers to apply Matter of A-B- to credible fear determinations. Asylum Division Interim Guidance -- Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018) (“Interim Guidance”), ECF No. 100 at 15-18.[5] On July 11, 2018, USCIS issued final guidance to asylum officers for use in assessing asylum claims and credible fear determinations in light of Matter of A-B-. USCIS Policy Mem., Guidance for Processing Reasonable Fear, Credible Fear, Asylum, and Refugee Claims in Accordance with Matter of A-B-, July 11, 2018 (PM-602-0162) (“Policy Memorandum”), ECF No. 100 at 4-13.

         The Policy Memorandum adopts the standards set forth in Matter of A-B- and adds new directives for asylum officers. First, like Matter of A-B-, the Policy Memorandum invokes the expedited removal statute. Id. at 4 (citing section 8 U.S.C. § 1225 as one source of the Policy Memorandum's authority). The Policy Memorandum further acknowledges that “[a]lthough the alien in Matter of A-B- claimed asylum and withholding of removal, the Attorney General's decision and this [Policy Memorandum] apply also to refugee status adjudications and reasonable fear and credible fear determinations.” Id. n.1 (citations omitted).

         The Policy Memorandum also adopts the standard for “persecution” set by Matter of A-B-: In cases of alleged persecution by private actors, aliens must demonstrate the “government is unwilling or unable to control” the harm “such that the government either ‘condoned the behavior or demonstrated a complete helplessness to protect the victim.'” Id. at 5 (citing Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. at 337). After explaining the “condoned or complete helplessness” standard, the Policy Memorandum explains that:

In general, in light of the [standards governing persecution by a non-government actor], claims based on membership in a putative particular social group defined by the members' vulnerability to harm of domestic violence or gang violence committed by nongovernment actors will not establish the basis for asylum, refugee status, or a credible or reasonable fear of persecution.

Id. at 9 (emphasis in original).

         Furthermore, the Policy Memorandum made clear that because Matter of A-B- “explained the standards for eligibility for asylum . . . based on a particular social group . . . if an applicant claims asylum based on membership in a particular social group, then officers must factor [the standards explained in Matter of A-B-] into their determination of whether an applicant has a credible fear . . . of persecution.” Id. at 12 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Policy Memorandum includes two additional directives not found in Matter of A-B-. First, it instructs asylum officers to apply the “case law of the relevant federal circuit court, to the extent that those cases are not inconsistent with Matter of A-B-.” Id. at 11. Second, although acknowledging that the “relevant federal circuit court is the circuit where the removal proceedings will take place if the officer makes a positive credible fear or reasonable fear determination, ” the Policy Memorandum instructs asylum officers to “apply precedents of the Board, and, if necessary, the circuit where the alien is physically located during the credible fear interview.” Id. at 11-12. (emphasis added).

         The Policy Memorandum concludes with the directive that “[asylum officers] should be alert that under the standards clarified in Matter of A-B-, few gang-based or domestic-violence claims involving particular social groups defined by the members' vulnerability to harm may . . . pass the ‘significant probability' test in credible-fear screenings.” Id. at 13.

         C. Factual and Procedural Background

         Each of the plaintiffs, twelve adults and children, came to the United States fleeing violence from Central America and seeking refuge through asylum. Plaintiff Grace fled Guatemala after having been raped, beaten, and threatened for over twenty years by her partner who disparaged her because of her indigenous heritage. Grace Decl., ECF No. 12-1 ¶ 2.[6] Her persecutor also beat, sexually assaulted, and threatened to kill several of her children. Id. Grace sought help from the local authorities who, with the help of her persecutor, evicted her from her home. Id.

         Plaintiff Carmen escaped from her country with her young daughter, J.A.C.F., fleeing several years of sexual abuse by her husband, who sexually assaulted, stalked, and threatened her, even after they no longer resided together. Carmen Decl., ECF No. 12-2 ¶ 2. In addition to Carmen's husband's abuse, Carmen and her daughter were targeted by a local gang because they knew she lived alone and did not have the protection of a family. Id. ¶ 24. She fled her country of origin out of fear the gang would kill her. Id. ¶ 28.

         Plaintiff Mina escaped from her country after a gang murdered her father-in-law for helping a family friend escape from the gang. Mina Decl., ECF No. 12-3 ¶ 2. Her husband went to the police, but they did nothing. Id. at ¶ 10. While her husband was away in a neighboring town to seek assistance from another police force, members of the gang broke down her door and beat Mina until she could no longer walk. Id. ¶ 15. She sought asylum in this country after finding out she was on a “hit list” compiled by the gang. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

         The remaining plaintiffs have similar accounts of abuse either by domestic partners or gang members. Plaintiff Gina fled violence from a politically-connected family who killed her brother, maimed her son, and threatened her with death. Gina Decl., ECF No. 12-4 ¶ 2. Mona fled her country after a gang brutally murdered her long-term partner-a member of a special military force dedicated to combating gangs-and threatened to kill her next. Mona Decl., ECF No. 12-5 ¶ 2. Gio escaped from two rival gangs, one of which broke his arm and threatened to kill him, and the other threatened to murder him after he refused to deal drugs because of his religious convictions. Gio Decl., ECF No. 12-6 ¶ 2. Maria, an orphaned teenage girl, escaped a forced sexual relationship with a gang member who targeted her after her Christian faith led her to stand up to the gang. Maria Decl., ECF No. 12-7 ¶ 2. Nora, a single mother, together with her son, A.B.A., fled an abusive partner and members of his gang who threatened to rape her and kill her and her son if she did not submit to the gang's sexual advances. Nora Decl., ECF No. 12-8 ¶ 2. Cindy, together with her young child, A.P.A., fled rapes, beatings, and shootings XXXXX. Cindy Decl., ECF No. 12-9 ¶ 2.[7]Each plaintiff was given a credible fear determination pursuant to the expedited removal process. Despite finding that the accounts they provided were credible, the asylum officers determined that, in light of Matter of A-B-, their claims lacked merit, resulting in a negative credible fear determination. Plaintiffs sought review of the negative credible fear determinations by an immigration judge, but the judge affirmed the asylum officers' findings. Plaintiffs are now subject to final orders of removal or were removed pursuant to such orders prior to commencing this suit.[8]

         Facing imminent deportation, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, ECF No. 10, and an emergency motion for stay of removal, ECF No. 11, on August 7, 2018. In their motion for stay of removal, plaintiffs sought emergency relief because two of the plaintiffs, Carmen and her daughter J.A.C.F., were “subject to imminent removal.” ECF No. 11 at 1.

         The Court granted the motion for emergency relief as to the plaintiffs not yet deported. The parties have since filed cross- motions for summary judgment related to the Attorney General's precedential decision and the Policy Memorandum issued by DHS. Further, plaintiffs have filed an opposed motion to consider evidence outside the administrative record.

         II. Motion to Consider Extra Record Evidence

         Plaintiffs attach several exhibits to their combined application for a preliminary injunction and cross-motion for summary judgment, see ECF Nos. 10-2 to 10-7, 12-1 to 12-9, 64-3 to 64-8, which were not before the agency at the time it made its decision. These exhibits include: (1) declarations from plaintiffs; (2) declarations from experts pertaining to whether the credible fear policies are new; (3) government training manuals, memoranda, and a government brief; (4) third-party country reports or declarations; (5) various newspaper articles; and (6) public statements from government officials. Pls.' Evid. Mot., ECF No. 66-1 at 7-16. The government moves to strike these exhibits, arguing that judicial review under the APA is limited to the administrative record, which consists of the “materials that were before the agency at the time its decision was made.” Defs.' Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 88-1 at 20.

         A. Legal Standard

         “[I]t is black-letter administrative law that in an APA case, a reviewing court ‘should have before it neither more nor less information than did the agency when it made its decision.'” Hill Dermaceuticals, Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 709 F.3d 44, 47 (D.C. Cir. 2013)(quoting Walter O. Boswell Mem'l Hosp. v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 788, 792 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). This is because, under the APA, the court is confined to reviewing “the whole record or those parts of it cited by a party, ” 5 U.S.C. § 706, and the administrative record only includes the “materials ‘compiled' by the agency that were ‘before the agency at the time the decision was made, '” James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1095 (D.C. Cir. 1996)(citations omitted).

         Accordingly, when, as here, plaintiffs seek to place before the court additional materials that the agency did not review in making its decision, a court must exclude such material unless plaintiffs “can demonstrate unusual circumstances justifying departure from th[e] general rule.” Am. Wildlands v. Kempthorne, 530 F.3d 991, 1002 (D.C. Cir. 2008)(citation omitted). Aa court may appropriately consider extra-record materials: (1) if the agency “deliberately or negligently excluded documents that may have been adverse to its decision, ” (2) if background information is needed to “determine whether the agency considered all of the relevant factors, ” or (3) if the agency “failed to explain [the] administrative action so as to frustrate judicial review.” Id.

         Plaintiffs make three arguments as to why the Court should consider their proffered extra-record materials: (1) to evaluate whether the government's challenged policies are an impermissible departure from prior policies; (2) to consider plaintiffs' due process cause of action[9]; and (3) to evaluate plaintiffs' request for permanent injunctive relief. Pls.' Evid. Mot., ECF No. 66-1 at 2-12. The Court considers each argument in turn.

         B. Analysis

         1. Evidence of Prior Policies

         Plaintiffs first argue that the Court should consider evidence of the government's prior policies as relevant to determining whether the policies in Matter of A-B- and the subsequent guidance deviated from prior policies without explanation. Id. at 8-11. The extra-record materials at issue include government training manuals, memoranda, and a government brief, see Decl. of Sarah Mujahid (“Mujahid Decl.”), ECF No. 10-3 Exs. E-J; Second Decl. of Sarah Mujahid (“Second Mujahid Decl.”), ECF No. 64-4, Exs. 1-3, and declarations from third parties explaining the policies are new, Decl. of Rebecca Jamil and Ethan Nasr, ECF No. 65-5.

         The Court will consider the government training manuals, memoranda, and government brief, but not the declarations explaining them. Plaintiffs argue that the credible fear policies are departures from prior government policies, which the government changed without explanation. Pls.' Evid. Mot., ECF No. 66-1 at 7-11. The government's response is the credible fear policies are not a departure because they do not articulate any new rules. See Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 57-1 at 17. Whether the credible fear policies are new is clearly an “unresolved factual issue” that the “administrative record, on its own, . . . is not sufficient to resolve.” See United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Devos, 237 F.Supp.3d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2017). The Court cannot analyze this argument without reviewing the prior policies, which are not included in the administrative record. Under these circumstances, it is “appropriate to resort to extra-record information to enable judicial review to become effective.” Id. at 3 (citing Esch v. Yeutter, 876 F.2d 976, 991 (D.C. Cir. 1989)).

         The government agrees that “any claim that A-B- or the [Policy Memorandum] breaks with past policies . . . is readily ascertainable by simply reviewing the very ‘past policies.'” Defs.' Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 88-1 at 24. However, the government disagrees with the types of documents that are considered past policies. Id. According to the government, the only “past policies” at issue are legal decisions issued by the Attorney General, BIA, or courts of appeals. Id. The Court is not persuaded by such a narrow interpretation of the evidence that can be considered as past policies. See Leadership Conference on Civil Rights v. Gonzales, 404 F.Supp.2d 246, 255 (D.D.C. 2005)(finding training manual distributed as informal guidance “at a minimum” reflected the policy of the “Elections Crimes Branch if not the Department of Justice”).

         Admitting third party-declarations from a retired immigration officer and former immigration judge, on the other hand, are not necessary for the Court in its review. Declarations submitted by third-parties regarding putative policy changes would stretch the limited extra-record exception too far. Accordingly, the Court will not consider these declarations when determining whether the credible fear policies constitute an unexplained change of position.

         2. Evidence Supporting Injunctive Relief

         The second category of information plaintiffs ask the Court to consider is extra-record evidence in support of their claim that injunctive relief is appropriate. Pls.' Evid. Mot., ECF No. 66-1 at 13-16. The evidence plaintiffs present includes plaintiffs' declarations, ECF Nos. 12-1 to 12-9 (filed under seal); several reports describing the conditions of plaintiffs' native countries, Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 10-3, Exs. K-T; and four United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) reports, Second Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 64-4 Exs. 10-13. The materials also include three declarations regarding humanitarian conditions in the three home countries. Joint Decl. of Shannon Drysdale Walsh, Cecilia Menjívar, and Harry Vanden (“Honduras Decl.”), ECF No. 64-6; Joint Decl. of Cecilia Menjívar, Gabriela Torres, and Harry Vanden (“Guatemala Decl.”), ECF No. 64-7; Joint Decl. of Cecilia Menjívar and Harry Vanden (“El Salvador Decl.”), ECF No. 64-8.

         The government argues that the Court need not concern itself with the preliminary injunction analysis because the Court's decision to consolidate the preliminary injunction and summary judgment motions under Rule 65 renders the preliminary injunction moot. Defs.' Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 88-1 at 12 n.1. The Court concurs, but nevertheless must determine if plaintiffs are entitled to a permanent injunction, assuming they prevail on their APA and INA claims. Because plaintiffs request specific injunctive relief with respect to their expedited removal orders and credible fear proceedings, the Court must determine whether plaintiffs are entitled to the injunctive relief sought. See Eco Tour Adventures, Inc. v. Zinke, 249 F.Supp.3d 360, 370, n.7 (D.D.C. 2017)(“it will often be necessary for a court to take new evidence to fully evaluate” claims “of irreparable harm . . . and [claims] that the issuance of the injunction is in the public interest.”)(citation omitted). Thus, the Court will consider plaintiffs' declarations, the UNHCR reports, and the country reports only to the extent they are relevant to plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief.[10]

         In sum, the Court will consider extra-record evidence only to the extent it is relevant to plaintiffs' contentions that the government deviated from prior policies without explanation or to their request for injunctive relief. The Court will not consider any evidence related to plaintiffs' due process claim. Accordingly, the Court will not consider the following documents: (1) evidence related to the opinions of immigration judges and attorneys, Second Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 64-4, Exs. 8-9, 14-17 and ECF No. 64-5; (2) statements of various public officials, Second Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 64-4, Exs. 4-7; and (3) various newspaper articles, Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 10-3, Exs. R-T, and Second Mujahid Decl., ECF No. 64-4, Exs. 14-17.

         III. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Justiciability

         The Court next turns to the government's jurisdictional arguments that: (1) the Court lacks jurisdiction to review plaintiffs' challenge to Matter of A-B-; and (2) because the Court lacks jurisdiction to review Matter of A-B-, the government action purportedly causing plaintiffs' alleged harm, the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Policy Memorandum. Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A court must therefore resolve any challenge to its jurisdiction before it may proceed to the merits of a claim. See Galvan v. Fed. Prison Indus., 199 F.3d 461, 463 (D.C. Cir. 1999). The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         1. The Court has Jurisdiction under Section 1252(e)(3)

         a. Matter of A-B-

         The government contends that section 1252 forecloses judicial review of plaintiffs' claims with respect to Matter of A-B-. Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 57-1 at 30-34. Plaintiffs argue that the statute plainly provides jurisdiction for this Court to review their claims. Pls.' Mot., ECF No. 64-1 at 26-30. The parties agree that to the extent jurisdiction exists to review a challenge to a policy implementing the expedited removal system, it exists pursuant to subsection (e) of the statute.

         Under section 1252(a)(2)(A), no court shall have jurisdiction over “procedures and policies adopted by the Attorney General to implement the provisions of section 1225(b)(1)” except “as provided in subsection [1252](e).” Section 1252(e)(3) vests exclusive jurisdiction in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to review “[c]hallenges [to the] validity of the [expedited removal] system.” Id. § 1252(e)(3)(A). Such systemic challenges include challenges to the constitutionality of any provision of the expedited removal statute or to its implementing regulations. See Id. § 1252(e)(3)(A)(i). They also include challenges claiming that a given regulation or written policy directive, guideline, or procedure is inconsistent with law. Id. § 1252(e)(3)(A)(ii). Systemic challenges must be brought within sixty days of the challenged statute or regulation's implementation. Id. § 1252(e)(3)(B); see also Am. Immigration Lawyers Ass'n, 18 F.Supp.2d at 47 (holding that “the 60-day requirement is jurisdictional rather than a traditional limitations period”).

         Both parties agree that the plain language of section 1252(e)(3) is dispositive. It reads as follows:

(3) Challenges on validity of the system
(A) In general
Judicial review of determinations under section 1225(b) of this title and its implementation is available in an action instituted in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, but shall be limited to determinations of--
(i) whether such section, or any regulation issued to implement such section, is constitutional; or
(ii) whether such a regulation, or a written policy directive, written policy guideline, or written procedure issued by or under the authority of the Attorney General to implement such section, is not consistent with applicable ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.