Phony Nups Doom Asylum Bid

Jordanian immigrant who says he’s gay denied hearing on merits

A Jordanian citizen who claims to be gay lost his asylum case before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Upholding rulings by an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals that the man had failed to prove he was gay, the court never got around to weighing his evidence about anti-gay persecution in his home country.

The court’s opinion, dated August 9 but not made public until a month later, names the asylum seeker, but out of concern for his safety upon his return to Jordan, only his first name, Saleh, is used in this story.

Saleh came to the U.S. in 1988 on a student visa to attend college in the Midwest. In 1989, he moved to Detroit where he married an American woman in 1992. She promptly applied for an immigrant visa on his behalf and he filed an application to adjust his status to that of an American citizen’s spouse.

For reasons not explained in the court’s ruling, the Immigration Service denied that application in 1996 and within months he and his wife got an uncontested divorce. Saleh then filed an application for asylum and withholding of removal, two separate avenues for preventing deportation, claiming he feared persecution in Jordan because of his homosexuality. He claimed to have known he was gay since he was 13, and said he and his wife lived with an American man with whom he was involved during his marriage, which he said was arranged so he could remain with his partner.

Both Saleh and his alleged partner testified at his asylum hearing, at which their testimony differed on some details. Saleh testified that his partner moved out of his apartment when his parents came to visit from Jordan, and that they expressed concern that his wife wasn’t around very much. He testified that he eventually came out to his parents and introduced his partner, but that this did not go well.

The Immigration Judge refused to believe his story, even though such subterfuge has not been uncommon for gay immigrants especially before the Clinton administration began to recognize gays as a “social group” for purposes of asylum law. When Saleh first arrived in the U.S., gays were not even legally allowed to immigrate. Marriages of convenience of the type Saleh claims to have been in remain common today, especially for immigrants from countries whose tolerance would make a claim for asylum based on fear of persecution unrealistic.

The Immigration Judge decided that since Saleh originally lied about the validity of his marriage, his credibility was doubtful and that he was not in fact gay. His claim of homosexuality was “yet another elaborately constructed scenario to permit him to remain in the United States,” in her view.

The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the Immigration Judge’s decision, citing Saleh’s lack of “credibility.”

Writing for the court of appeals, Circuit Judge Ronald Lee Gilman supported the reasoning of the immigration authorities, who are given great deference in civil appellate venues. Appeals courts will uphold the decision unless it finds an abuse of discretion by immigration officials, which has occurred in several recent cases where important evidence seemed to have been willfully ignored. Most of those cases, however, have been in the more liberal Ninth Circuit on the West Coast.

“We conclude that the various discrepancies [between Saleh and his partner in testimony], coupled with the pall cast on his credibility by his fraudulent marriage, are sufficient to support the adverse credibility finding by both the [Immigration Judge] and the BIA,” Gilman wrote.

Because the Immigration Judge found that Saleh was not “a member of a particular group for asylum purposes”—that is, the gay community—“we need not determine whether the IJ properly considered the evidence submitted by [Saleh] regarding the treatment of gay men in Jordan,” Gilman added.

The court’s review of the asylum hearing transcript found none of the hostility toward Saleh from the Immigration Judge that the Jordanian man claimed. But Saleh in fact argued that it was the judge’s tone, demeanor, and off-the-record comments that he found intimidating.

Saleh’s claims are not at all implausible, and his life may now be in danger if he is forced to return to Jordan.