Legal Translations for Immigration Appeals

6th Circuit Reopens Mauritania Citizen’s Immigration Case

We’ve blogged before about the significant role of legal translators and interpreters during immigration hearings. In Ba v. Barr, the petitioner sought review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), after the BIA denied the petitioner’s motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The 6th Circuit Court of appeals ultimately held that the case should be reopened.

Legal Translation for Citizen of Mauritania

The petitioner was a native and citizen of Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa. In 1998, the petitioner entered the U.S. through Florida and was never admitted or paroled following inspection by an Immigration Officer.

In 1999, the petitioner filed an application for asylum on the grounds that he feared returning to Mauritania because he had previously been enslaved there as a Black Mauritanian by an Arab master. According to an August 27, 2018 article by the Washington Post’s Editorial Board, Black Mautiranians “are ethnically distinct, and speak a different language from the majority Arab and Berber tribes that form the country’s majority and its slaveholding merchant class. They have suffered brutal discrimination as well as enslavement for decades. More recently, the government stripped them of citizenship, meaning that black Mauritanians living overseas, including in the United States, are stateless.”

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) subsequently issued a notice for the petitioner to appear at removal proceedings. At a hearing on October 23, 2000, the petitioner testified that he was born into slavery and that his entire family was enslaved to an Arab master. According to the petitioner, he and his family lived in a separate home (owned by his master), in the regional city of Kaedi. The petitioner worked as a shepherd who would also wait on clients in his master’s boutique.

The petitioner claimed that he began experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of his master after the death of his father in 1990. The petitioner did not believe he had any ability to resist the abuse on the grounds that, as a slave, he had no rights. The petitioner eventually decided to flee his master’s home in 1998 and traveled to the far-away city of Nouadhibou, where he would not be recognized by one of his master’s friends or relatives.

The petitioner testified that he worked in Nouadhibou on a fishing boat for five months. Eventually, he boarded another boat bound for the United States.

Petitioner’s Language is a Key Issue During Removal Proceedings.

The petitioner testified that he was not able to secure a Mauritanian passport and was not able to explain why his nationality certificate stated that he resided in Nouakchott. The petitioner was only able to state that his father had presented him with the document on his death bed.

The immigration judge (“IJ”) questioned the petitioner about his language abilities and nationality, and the petitioner testified that his “best language,” which was also the national language of Mauritania, was French. The IJ then inquired why the petitioner would speak French as the slave of an Arabic-speaking master, and the petitioner testified that his master’s household spoke Hassaniya, an Arabic dialect, but that he had learned French in school. The petitioner claimed that he wanted to continue speaking French and therefore spoke it as often as possible.

The IJ then inquired if the petitioner was in fact Senegalese, which the petitioner denied. The IJ then stated that it found it “highly unusual that [he] would have been enslaved from infancy in an Arab family and be speaking French…in Court.” The IJ stated that there was an Arabic interpreter at the hearing and asked if the petitioner would be able to speak in Arabic to an Arabic interpreter. The petitioner stated that the Hassaniya he speaks is a derivative of Arabic. The Arabic interpreter asked the plaintiff if he could speak to a Haassaniya interpreter, to which the petitioner stated “a little bit.”

IJ Denies Petitioner’s Application for Relief; BIA Affirms.

The IJ denied the petitioner’s application for relief, finding that the petitioner was not credible. Specifically, the IJ stated that it would be “really unusual” for the petitioner to have been enslaved in a city given the fact that the Country Reports stated that slavery existed in rare cases in the countryside. The IJ also took issue with the petitioner’s high school education which did not correlate with slavery, stating that the petitioner was “quite a different kind of slave given his level of education.”

The IJ further noted that it was “totally implausible” that he and his family were slaves to Arabs given the fact that the petitioner spoke French and not Hassaniya Arabic. The IJ denied the petitioner’s application for relief and ordered that the petitioner be removed to Mauritania.

The BIA affirmed the IJ’s opinion.

Petitioner Files Motion to Reopen Case on Religious/Political Grounds.

In October of 2018, the petitioner filed a motion to reopen his case on the grounds that conditions in Mauritania had worsened for Christian individuals of Afro-Mauritanian descent like him. The petitioner pointed to Mauritania’s recent jailing of political opponents and torturing of activists as reasons why he should be allowed to remain in the United States. The petitioner stated that he would be tortured for his political beliefs and put to death for denouncing Islam if he were removed to Mauritania.

The BIA denied the petitioner’s motion to reopen the proceedings. The BIA stated that the petitioner had failed to address the immigration judge’s credibility findings against him and agreed with the IJ that the petitioner’s claim of being a French-speaking slave was implausible.

6th Circuit Court of Appeals

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the BIA and vacated its decision. The 6th Circuit found that the petitioner’s motion to reopen his immigration hearing was based on circumstances involving his religion and political beliefs and not his nationality or past enslavement. The court held that regardless of the petitioner’s nationality, the country to which the petitioner would be removed, Mauritania, regularly persecutes Christians and opponents of slavery. The court concluded that “[p]ut simply, the IJ’s suspicions that [petitioner] was not Mauritanian and had not been enslaved need not be revisited on an motion to reopen in order to assess whether he will be persecuted if removed to Mauritania” and that “contrary logic would have doomed many of history’s most desperate asylum applicants.”

Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The case is Ismaila Ba v. William Barr, Court No. 19-3859, decided on June 3, 2020 for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

All Language Alliance, Inc. provides legal translation and interpreting services in Arabic, French, Kunama, German, Cantonese, Russian, Amharic, Bengali, Mennonite Low German (Plautdietsch/ Plattdeutsch), Mandarin, Swahili, Punjabi, Somali, Turkish, Oromo, Mongolian, and other exotic and common foreign languages for immigration appeals, dual citizenship applications and petitions, and for various areas of legal practice.

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