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Senior Practitioner In Residence and 3L Student Win A Decisive Victory in the United States Court of Appeals

February 6, 2023

Senior Practitioner in Residence Stephanie Norton of the Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic at the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice, along with 3L student Michael Antzoulis, recently won a decisive precedential victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of their indigenous Guatemalan client, Selvin Saban-Cach. Mr. Saban-Cach fled his home city in Guatemala due to numerous beatings and death threats from a local MS-13-affiliated gang against him and his family. After living in New Jersey with his wife and children for several years, he was intercepted by ICE and faced removal.

In its powerful and sweeping opinion, the Court vacated the judgment of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), recognizing the importance of due process for asylum seekers and providing a strong reminder about the role of age, harm to family members, and threats in determining persecution. In so doing, the Third Circuit held for the first time that the “BIA should have explicitly considered what effect, if any, [Mr. Saban-Cach’s numerous beatings and threats against him] had on [him] given his youth.”

The Court also chastised the lower courts' failure to give weight to the experiences and culture of indigenous Guatemalans. Judge McKee noted in the opinion that “neither the IJ nor the BIA bothered to consider that, in Saban-Cach’s community, the herbal medicine that his grandmother administered may well have been accepted as the only treatment realistically available even for very serious injuries.” He went on to emphasize that, “[p]etitioners primarily come from countries in the poorest and most dangerous regions of the world. Any presumption that they enjoy the same kinds of resources as their adjudicators are shortsighted and unfair.”

The Court ultimately concluded that Mr. Saban-Cach (1) suffered persecution at the hands of a violent gang while living in Guatemala; (2) belongs to the protected social group of indigenous young men who refused to join a gang; and (3) could not reasonably relocate within Guatemala to avoid persecution. The Court also found that Mr. Saban-Cach likely merits relief under the Convention Against Torture.

This opinion is significant for its comprehensive treatment of numerous legal issues commonly litigated in asylum and withholding of removal cases. And because of its precedential status, it provides immigration advocates with strong language to rely on in future cases.

Further reading: Law360 - 3rd Circ. Chastises 'Ethnocentric' Immigration Judges

NJ Monitor - Deportation for NJ Man Reversed After Appeals Court Ruling

Link to the Opinion: Selvin Heraldo Saban-Cach vs Attorney General of the United States