Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Court: Christian Convert’s Delay in Seeking Asylum ‘Reasonable’
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that a former Muslim from Iran who converted to Christianity did not delay seeking asylum for too long when she waited for seven months after the ceremony to make sure her conversion would take.
A three-judge panel held that Azra Taslimi presented credible evidence that her conversion was an ongoing process that took time to incorporate into her life, allowing an exception to a one-year-from-entry deadline for asylum applications.
Taslimi converted to Christianity in September 2002 at the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church of God in Simi Valley. A native of Iran, she entered the United States in 1992 but overstayed her one-year visitor’s visa.
Almost seven months after her conversion ceremony Taslimi reportedly learned from New Beginnings Pastor Rod Ritchie that she could legalize her status based on the change of religion, and she filed an asylum application within days. Taslimi said she would fear for her life if returned to Iran, but that she was committed to practicing her new faith, even if removed.
According to an Oct. 26 report on religious freedom by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the Iranian government “does not respect the right of Muslim citizens to change or renounce their religious faith” and Christian converts are subject to harassment and arrest.
Taslimi said she did not apply for asylum sooner because she wanted to be sure the conversion was going to be a life-long decision. Ritchie testified that he viewed the delay as healthy because it “demonstrated the genuineness of her commitment” to her new faith.
Eligible for Protection
An immigration judge found that Taslimi was eligible for withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture because she showed that it was more likely than not that her life or freedom would be threatened in Iran on account of her religion, and that she would be tortured if returned.
However, the judge—despite agreeing that the conversion constituted a change in circumstances providing an exception to the one-year deadline—denied the asylum request as time-barred, determining that Taslimi waited an unreasonably long time after conversion to file.
Asylum-seekers may avoid the deadline under 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a) if they demonstrate “changed” or “extraordinary circumstances,” but federal regulations require applicants citing such circumstances to file their requests within a “reasonable period.”
The Board of Immigration Appeals summarily affirmed, but the Ninth Circuit reversed in an opinion by Judge Harry Pregerson, who was joined by Senior Judges Dorothy W. Nelson and David R. Thompson.
Rejecting arguments by the government, Pregerson determined first that the REAL ID Act of 2005 restored previously-stripped jurisdiction over determinations concerning changed or extraordinary circumstances involving constitutional claims or questions of law, and said that language in statutes and regulations provided sufficient guidance allowing “meaningful review.”
The judge then opined that that Taslimi sought asylum within a reasonable time, noting that current regulations “were carefully shaped to take religious conversion into account as a potential changed circumstance, and to highlight the subjective nature of such a change.”
“Taslimi offered substantial credible evidence establishing that her subjective religious conversion was a process that began on the date of her conversion ceremony, but took some time to for her to incorporate into her life….
“Even if there were solid evidence that Taslimi knew about the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications when she converted to Christianity, filing for asylum immediately after her conversion to ensure the timeliness of her application might have cast doubt upon the sincerity of her faith. On the other hand, by waiting—as she credibly testified that she did—to be sure of the sincerity of her faith, she ran the risk that the [immigration judge] would find that the delay was unreasonable, and deny her application for asylum. Taslimi should not have been forced into this untenable position.”
The case is Taslimi v. Holder, 05-71006.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company