Brooklyn immigrant given second chance at asylum
A federal court of appeals has reversed the denial of an immigrant’s asylum claim. Initially denied because of his inability to pass a Bible test, the lower court’s ruling was overturned and the case sent back to for error correction.
Chang Qiang Zhu, a resident of Sunset Park, applied for American asylum on the grounds that he was persecuted, or feared persecution, in China by Chinese authorities because of his Christian faith. At some point during detention, Qiang Zhu is alleged to have told the Biblical story of Paul. In determining whether or not Qiang Zhu possessed credibility in his assertion of a Christian faith, the reviewing immigration judge, Barbara Nelson, quizzed Qiang Zhu on the story of Paul as he told it during detention. According to court documents, Qiang Zhu appeared “hesitant” and “evasive” during testimony.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that Nelson’s quiz “contravened” case precedent. Qiang Zhu was able to recount the basic story of Paul — a disciple of Jesus who persecuted Christians before converting to the religion. However, Nelson required Qiang Zhu to “provide highly detailed information regarding the story of Paul” such as what year Paul converted to the Christian faith and the ways in which Paul harassed Christians prior to his own conversion.
A religious asylum applicant’s credibility should not be based on his lack of doctrinal knowledge, the panel of judges reminded. Nelson’s expectation that Qiang Zhu provide this extensive detail came at odds with this case precedent and general standard of asylum review. While Nelson cited Qiang Zhu’s “evasive” response to religious questions as the basis for the denial of Qian Zhu’s application, such evasion and hesitation in testimony is not reflected in the trial record.
Qiang Zhu “was responsive,” the panel determined. The Chinese immigrant, whose native tongue is Chinese, simply struggled to understand Nelson’s question, the panel concluded. Further, the lower court failed on its own to identify the exact portions of Qiang Zhu’s testimony that were deemed inconsistent with the story of Paul.
Looking at the totality of circumstances, the appeals panel vacated the application denial order and sent Qiang Zhu’s application back to the lower court with instruction: “If upon remand Zhu is found credible as to his practice of Christianity … the [immigration agency] should either address his claim that there is a `pattern or practice’ of persecution of Christians in China or explain why it was not sufficiently presented…”
Manhattan immigration attorney Wendy Tso represented Qiang Zhu. Talking to the New York Daily News, Tso commended the appeals court ruling. The panel made it clear that “[y]ou don’t have to know every fact to be a devout Christian,” Tso said. “You can be very devout and not know everything. And the Bible doesn’t mandate that you have to know everything.”
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