Thursday, August 14, 2014

Nguyen v. Holder (9th Cir. - Aug. 14, 2014)

The Ninth Circuit harbors terrorists.

I know you're more likely to read that headline on Fox News than here.  But it's true.  Today, the Ninth Circuit harbored a terrorist.  It held that even though the guy plotted to blow up buildings and engaged in criminal conduct involving moral turpitude, he's entitled to stay illegally in the United States.  And on that basis reversed the findings of the IJ and BIA below.

Expect a whirlwind of protest from the usual suspects.

Or maybe not.  Because the thing is, the kind of people who tend to hate the Ninth Circuit and others who are "soft on terrorism" are also the kind of people who often sort of like these kind of terrorists.

Because the terrorist here is Vinh Tan Nguyen.  A prominent member of the "Government of Free Vietnam".  Who fled that country in 1983 and who's been fighting against that communist nation ever since.  And, yes, he planned to blow up an embassy in Manila.  But it was the embassy of Vietnam.  A country that lots of people who hate terrorists also happen to hate.

Plus, the reason the Ninth Circuit lets Mr. Nguyen stay is because it finds that he's likely to be tortured by the government of Vietnam if he's deported to that country.  There's a dispute about whether the government of Vietnam really tortures people nowadays; the IJ and BIA based their decision on the views of a retired Harvard Law School research fellow who said that Vietnam wouldn't torture a guy like this because it would harm their international reputation, but the Ninth Circuit didn't find that testimony credible in light of the contrary evidence.

Hence Mr. Nguyen's eligible for relief from deportation under the Convention Against Torture.

Judge Tallman dissents from the CAT holding.  I read his dissent as basically admitting that he thinks that Mr. Nguyen is likely to be tortured.  But the standard is not whether the BIA's finding is correct, but instead whether there's "substantial evidence" to support that view.  Judge Tallman thinks the guy from Harvard's testimony is "substantial" enough.  Even if its weak.

The majority disagrees.

As for the politics of the whole thing, personally, I don't like sending people back to be tortured.  Regardless of whether I like them.  Or their cause.  So my reaction to this case focuses purely on the evidence.  With a thumb on the scale -- and I'll forthrightly admit this -- towards not sending back a guy to be tortured.

But for some others, what matters is the "talking point".  The cause.  Who one likes and who one hates.

But in this one, that gets confusing.  Some hate the Ninth Circuit.  But they love freedom fighters.  But they hate terrorists.

For that reason, this one may get less play in the places that typically come to mind when one thinks of reactions to Ninth Circuit opinions that grant relief from deportation.