By Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller
Everyone knows that one is responsible for one’s own actions but can you be held responsible for or benefit from the actions of another? These questions were addressed in two very different situations in two Ninth Circuit immigration cases that were issued recently.
In the first case, Singh v. Holder, the court held that lying to the immigration authorities is a sufficient basis for an adverse credibility finding. The court also held that a lie uttered by one spouse may be attributed to the other. Singh entered the United States and applied for asylum at the Asylum Office. His case was referred to Immigration Court. Later, his wife, Kaur, joined him in the United States and applied for asylum on her own. She had erroneously been told by someone that she could not get asylum if she and her husband were living together so she lied on her application and in her interview and said she did not know where he was. Although she was initially granted asylum, her case was reopened when her husband tried to obtain asylum status in court. Her court case was then joined with his. Kaur continued to assert that she had not known where her husband was and that they had only recently reconnected. Singh said nothing. Eventually, Kaur admitted that she had been lying. The Immigration Judge made an adverse credibility finding against both Kaur and Singh, and, on that basis, denied their claims. The Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the judge’s decision and the Ninth Circuit upheld the decision of the Board.
In its analysis, the court held that intentional deception toward the immigration authorities is “culpable conduct” and one of several “indications of dishonesty” that “cast[s] doubt on [the applicant] s entire story”.
In making this finding, the court distinguished between outright lying and a mistaken recollection. The court stated that “an adverse credibility finding must be based on more than an innocent mistake … [t]he concern … in this arena has been to avoid premising an adverse credibility finding on an applicant’s failure to remember non-material, trivial details.” The court concluded that an applicant will naturally be more likely to remember and relate facts that are important to his claim and that, therefore, the judge should not infer from a careless error about peripheral details that he is lying about the facts that do matter.
However, the court stated that the rule is very different when it comes to deliberate deception. An asylum applicant who lies to immigration authorities casts doubt on his credibility and the rest of his story.
The court acknowledged the one exception to this rule. As set forth in the case Akinmade v. INS, a genuine refugee escaping persecution may lie about his citizenship in order to flee his place of persecution or secure entry into the United States. That kind of lie will not count against him if it is directly connected to escaping from immediate danger, including entry into the United States.
However, the court found that Kaur’s lie did not come within that exception. She made a conscious decision to lie about a fact that she believed was crucial to her asylum claim. That was sufficient for her to be found lacking in credibility and for her claim to be denied.
Why was Singh, who said nothing, found to be lacking in credibility based on his wife’s lies? The court said that he tried to piggyback on his wife’s deception. Specifically, the court stated that Singh and Kaur are husband and wife living under the same roof; they had a common interest in the success of Kaur’s asylum application. The court held that “silence gives consent”, and the court determined that it does not matter which spouse told the lie and which one tacitly assented. The Immigration Judge could reasonably conclude that they were executing a common plan to deceive the asylum officer and could hold them both to the lie.
As to the other case that discussed imputing the actions of one alien to another? We’ll discuss that next week.