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Qiu v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

September 11, 2017

LIYING QIU, Petitioner,
JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS III, United States Attorney General, Respondent.

         Submitted on the briefs: [*]


          Armin A. Skalmowski, Alhambra, California, for Petitioner.

          Chad A. Readler, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division; Russell J.E. Verby, Senior Litigation Counsel; and Nancy K. Canter, Trial Attorney, Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

          Before PHILLIPS, McKAY, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

          McKAY, Circuit Judge.

          Petitioner Liying Qiu, a native and citizen of the People's Republic of China, sought asylum and withholding of removal based on her status as a Christian who does not agree with China's state-sanctioned version of Christianity and as a woman who has violated China's one-child policy by having three children. Her application was denied by the immigration court in 2011, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed that decision in March 2013. In December 2015, Petitioner filed a motion to reopen based on the significantly increased persecution of Christians in China in 2014 and 2015. The BIA denied her motion to reopen as untimely. Petitioner now seeks review of that decision.

         We review the BIA's denial of Petitioner's motion to reopen for an abuse of discretion. See Maatougui v. Holder, 738 F.3d 1230, 1239 (10th Cir. 2013). "The BIA abuses its discretion when its decision provides no rational explanation, inexplicably departs from established policies, is devoid of any reasoning, or contains only summary or conclusory statements." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "[c]ommitting a legal error or making a factual finding that is not supported by substantial record evidence is necessarily an abuse of discretion." Elzour v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 1143, 1150 n.9 (10th Cir. 2004).

         In general, a petitioner may only file a motion to reopen "within 90 days of the date of entry of a final administrative order of removal." 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i). However, "[t]here is no time limit on the filing of a motion to reopen" an asylum case if the motion to reopen is "based on changed country conditions arising in the country of nationality or the country to which removal has been ordered, if such evidence is material and was not available and would not have been discovered or presented at the previous proceeding." Id. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(ii).

         To support her motion to reopen, Petitioner submitted numerous articles reporting a significant increase in the persecution of Christians in China in 2014 and 2015. One human rights organization reported in 2015 that there had been "a 300 percent increase in abuse and persecution against Chinese Christians since 2013." (R. at 52.) The report explained that the increase in the number of Christians in China had "triggered a unique sense of crisis" within the Chinese Communist Party, leading to a significantly increased level of persecution by the government. (R. at 52-53.) Another report detailed how the number of people sentenced for activity related to their faith had drastically expanded in 2014 compared to the previous year. (R. at 60.) And an organization that tracks the persecution of Christians worldwide bumped China up its rank of worst-offender lists from 37th in 2014 to 29th in 2015. (R. at 57.)

         Even more persuasively, Petitioner also submitted a portion of the 2015 annual report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom-an independent, bipartisan U.S. government entity that monitors religious freedom violations globally and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. In this report, the U.S. Commission explained that in 2014 the Chinese government engaged in "unprecedented violations against" the religious freedoms of Protestant Christians, among others. (R. at 65.) The U.S. Commission explained that "although Christianity is state-sanctioned, the government continues to engage in severe violations of religious freedom against both registered and unregistered Catholics and Protestants." (Id.) The U.S. Commission then described an "alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses" against Christians by the Chinese government. (Id.) Indeed, the U.S. Commission noted that "[s]ome have characterized the new wave of persecution against Christians that swept through China in 2014 as the most egregious and persistent since the Cultural Revolution." (Id.) Among other things, in what the U.S. Commission characterized as "a striking development, " "at least 400 [Christian] churches were torn down or had crosses forcibly removed and/or demolished in 2014, a notable increase over previous years." (Id. at 66-67.) The report further noted that the Chinese government specifically targeted "house churches"-unregistered congregations of Christians, like Petitioner and her family, who operate independently from the state-sanctioned Protestant church. Indeed, as part of its "anti-cult" effort, "China's government issued a directive to 'eradicate' unregistered churches over the course of the next decade, resulting in unregistered church members facing an increased number of arrests, fines, and church closures in 2014." (Id. at 68.) And in 2014, the U.S. State Department reported that the Chinese government has been "suspend[ing] or revok[ing] the licenses of lawyers or their firms to stop them from taking sensitive cases, such as defending . . . house-church activists." (R. at 83.)

         In addition to all of these reports, Petitioner also submitted evidence that her own mother has been a victim of the Chinese government's increased persecution of Christians and that the government was now intent on punishing Petitioner for her beliefs as well. According to a signed, sworn statement submitted by Petitioner's mother, local government authorities began cracking down on unregistered churches in 2013. After her church was closed, her house became a meeting place, and her house church used Christian materials that were sent to them by Petitioner and her husband. On May 3, 2015, while they were having a gathering at her house, a group of police officers raided her home, took all of the Bibles and other Christian materials, and detained her for ten days, severely beating her on multiple occasions during her detention. The police "told [her] to confess how American reactionary religious organizations instigated [her] daughter and son in law to spread the cult to China." (R. at 34.) The police also told her to tell her daughter and son-in-law to return to China to be sanctioned for this crime. Petitioner's mother was ultimately released from detention on medical parole, after her husband posted a bond and signed a pledge to make sure she did not engage in more illegal religious activities.

         Along with her mother's statement, Petitioner submitted her mother's medical record from May 13, 2015, in which medical professionals reported that they saw and treated multiple bruises on Petitioner's mother's chest, waist, back, and head on that date.

         The BIA held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show a change in country conditions, and thus that her motion to reopen was untimely under 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C). The BIA first held that Petitioner had not submitted sufficient evidence to show that the treatment of Christians in China has worsened since her 2011 immigration hearing. This factual finding is not supported by substantial-or, indeed, any-evidence in the record. The agency provided no rational explanation as to how numerous accounts of a 300 percent increase in the persecution of Christians, "unprecedented violations" of religious freedoms beginning in 2014, and possibly "the most egregious and persistent" wave of persecution against Christians since the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was insufficient to show that the treatment of Christians in China had worsened since 2011. Nor is there anything in the record that would contradict Petitioner's extensive evidence of a substantial increase in the government's mistreatment of Christians since 2011. The BIA pointed to the fact that some portions of the State Department's 2014 report include substantially similar language to the 2008 and 2009 reports. However, the State Department's habit of cutting and pasting portions of its old reports into newer reports does nothing to refute all of the other evidence that the level and intensity of persecution against Christians has increased significantly since 2011. Nor does anything in the State Department report ...

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