The Eleventh Circuit recently denied a petition for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, effectively ending a Sri Lanka citizen’s asylum case. In Senthooran Murugan vs. U.S. Attorney General, No. 19-13715 (August 24, 2021), a Sri Lankan citizen, Senthooran Murugan, fled Sri Lanka and entered the United States with the intent to seek asylum. He was issued a notice to appear in removal proceedings and his case was heard before an immigration judge.
During the removal hearing, Mr. Murugan applied for asylum, withholding of removal and CAT (Convention against Torture) relief. Mr. Murugan testified that he had been persecuted based on his membership in a particular social group (Tamils) and based on imputed political opinion. Mr. Murugan testified that he had been arrested on three occasions in Sri Lanka and on one occasion he was held for four hours and slapped and kicked by soldiers. Mr. Murugan testified that he thought he was going to die.
The immigration judge denied Mr. Murugan’s asylum, withholding and CAT claims and ordered him removed. Mr. Murugan appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, who affirmed the immigration judge’s decision. Mr. Murugan then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In their decision dismissing the petition in part and denying the petition in part, the Eleventh Circuit noted that to establish an asylum claim, a person must be unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The Eleventh Circuit held that Mr. Murugan failed to establish past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution. The Court found that a four day detention where Mr. Murugan was tied to a chair, slapped and kicked was not sufficient to establish persecution. It is interesting to note that the Court also discussed mental persecution. The Court found that Mr. Murugan did not provide enough evidence that he suffered sufficient mental harm, as he was not diagnosed with any condition associated with the persecution.
The Court also determined that Mr. Murugan failed to establish a subjectively genuine and objectively reasonable fear of future persecution. The Court stated that Mr. Murugan failed to establish that he would be singled out if he returned to Sri Lanka. He also failed to establish that Tamils were treated in a sufficient enough extreme and pervasive manner to establish a pattern or practice of persecution.
In rendering this decision, the Eleventh Circuit has again provided more ammunition for government attorneys to argue for denial of asylum claims. This decision could have been different if more evidence were presented at the trial level. The moral of this decision for asylum seekers and immigration attorneys alike should be that evidence is king in asylum cases. It is imperative that asylum seekers are consistent in their testimony throughout their interactions with immigration officials through testimony before an immigration judge. It is imperative to submit updated, extensive documentation establishing country conditions, evidence related to the particular social group or political party, and other substantial evidence to corroborate the asylum seekers claim. If a claim of mental harm is made, it is critical the asylum seeker obtain a mental health evaluation and ongoing mental health counseling, which would then be submitted as evidence to the immigration judge.