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Uddin v. Attorney General United States of America

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 6, 2017

JOSHIM UDDIN, Petitioner

          Argued July 13, 2017

         On Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (Agency No.: A208-059-346) Immigration Judge: Honorable Alan Vomacka

          Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, Esquire (Argued) Law Office of Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran Counsel for Petitioner

          Daniel I. Smulow (Argued) United States Department of Justice Office of Immigration Litigation Counsel for Respondent

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., SHWARTZ, and RENDELL, Circuit Judges.


          RENDELL, Circuit Judge.

         The Board of Immigration Appeals ("Board") found that Joshim Uddin, a citizen and native of Bangladesh, was ineligible for withholding of removal because he was a member of the Bangladesh National Party ("BNP"), a major political party in his homeland. According to the Board, the BNP qualified as a Tier III terrorist organization under the Immigration and Naturalization Act ("INA"), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III). Thus, Uddin's membership in the BNP rendered him ineligible for relief.

         While we will deny the petition for review challenging the Board's ruling dismissing Uddin's Convention Against Torture ("CAT") claim, we will grant the petition in part and remand on his withholding of removal claim. The Board has pointed to terrorist acts by BNP members. But it did not find that BNP leadership authorized any of the terrorist activity committed by party members. Today, we join the reasoning of the Seventh Circuit and the Board in many of its own opinions by holding as follows: unless the agency finds that party leaders authorized terrorist activity committed by its members, an entity such as the BNP cannot be deemed a Tier III terrorist organization.

         I. Statutory Background

         The so-called "terrorism bar" precludes aliens who are members of "terrorist organizations" from seeking several forms of relief, including withholding of removal. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(a)(3)(B)(i), (vi); 1227(a)(4)(B); 1158(b)(2)(A)(v); 1231(b)(3)(B)(iv).

         The INA, in turn, establishes three different kinds of terrorist organizations.

         Tier I terrorist organizations are officially listed groups designated by the Secretary of State. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi)(I) & 1189. Such groups are maintained on an official register, and are thus easily identifiable to immigration authorities.

         Tier II terrorist organizations are groups that have engaged in terrorist activity, and are designated by the Secretary of State in consultation with or upon the request of the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security, for purposes of immigration exclusion. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi)(II). Such groups are maintained on an official register, and are thus also easily identifiable to immigration authorities.

         Tier III terrorist organizations, the groups at issue in this case, are groups "of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engage[] in, or [have] a subgroup which engages in, " terrorist activity. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III). Terrorist activity is defined broadly by the statute as conduct "unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if it had been committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State)" and which involves one of several enumerated actions, including the "highjacking or sabotage of any conveyance, " "an assassination, " use of any "biological agent, chemical agent, or nuclear weapon or device, or [ ] explosive, firearm, or other weapon or dangerous device (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property, " or a "threat, attempt, or conspiracy to" commit such acts. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(iii).

         There is no official register of Tier III organizations; instead, groups are adjudicated as Tier III organizations on a case-by-case basis.

         A. Assessing Tier III Status

         There is relatively little guidance from Courts of Appeals as to how to determine whether an organization is a Tier III terrorist group. But, from a procedural standpoint, departmental regulations set forth a burden-shifting structure for adjudicating such cases. First, the Government must introduce evidence "indicat[ing]" that a group qualifies as a Tier III terrorist organization. Then, the burden shifts to the applicant to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that the bar does not apply. 8 C.F.R. § 1208.16(d)(2).

         If an alien is deemed a member of a Tier III organization, then he can avoid the terrorism bar if he can "demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that [he] did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the organization was a terrorist organization." 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(VI).

         II. Factual Background

         A. Events in Bangladesh

         The BNP, led by Khaleda Zia since 1984, is one of Bangladesh's two major political parties; the other is the Awami League (AL). Both groups have been in and out of power over the past several decades: From 2001 to 2006, the BNP was in power. From approximately 2006-2008, a military-backed government ruled the country to oversee free and fair elections. In late 2008, the AL won a decisive victory to lead the country. In January 2014, the most recent election, the AL maintained its hold on power, despite significant protests and demonstrations by the BNP as to the election's fairness.

         Uddin joined the BNP in February 2008, when the group was no longer in power. Soon after, he was promoted to general secretary for his district. In this position, he distributed posters and recruited college students.

         Uddin claims that on several occasions, members of the AL persecuted him on account of his political beliefs. First, he asserts that on December 1, 2008, ten members of the AL approached him while he was hanging BNP posters with colleagues. When he refused to stop hanging posters, the AL members allegedly beat him, resulting in injuries to his face that a doctor treated with stitches.

         Second, he claims that in March 2009, AL members broke his leg with a hockey stick.[1] Third, Uddin asserted that AL members threatened to kill him in October 2009 if he did not stop working for the BNP, and that AL members threatened him again in November and March 2010.

         Finally, Uddin alleged that on July 15, 2011, between ten and fifteen AL members broke into to his home and burned it down. Uddin had escaped through the back door. In October 2011, Uddin fled Bangladesh.

         B. Events in ...

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