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Tay-Chan v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

March 13, 2019



          Stanley H. Cooper on brief for petitioner.

          Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, John S. Hogan, Assistant Director, Office of Immigration Litigation, and Andrea N. Gevas, Trial Attorney, Office of Immigration Litigation, U.S. Department of Justice, on brief for respondent.

          Before Lynch, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.


         We find ourselves explaining once again that "[m]otions to reopen -- especially untimely motions to reopen -- are disfavored in immigration cases. Consequently, an alien who seeks to reopen removal proceedings out of time ordinarily faces a steep uphill climb." Pineda v. Whitaker, 908 F.3d 836, 838 (1st Cir. 2018) (quoting Sihotang v. Sessions, 900 F.3d 46, 48 (1st Cir. 2018)). In today's case, that demanding hike is attempted by petitioner Edgar Rolando Tay-Chan ("Tay-Chan"), a Guatemalan native and citizen who first came to the U.S. in 2003.[1] He was later charged with removability, and now, with his immigration proceedings not going the way he had hoped, Tay-Chan challenges the Board of Immigration Appeals's ("BIA") denial of the motion to reopen that he filed nearly seven years late. Because the BIA did not abuse its discretion in so doing, we uphold the BIA's rejection of the motion to reopen and deny Tay-Chan's petition for judicial review.


         Tay-Chan was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala in 1978, where he received a fourth-grade education while living in a violent neighborhood overrun by gangs. In need of a job to help support his impoverished family, an eleven-year-old Tay-Chan left school and began working at a local autobody shop, which, as it turns out, was heavily involved in the neighborhood's criminal activity. When Tay-Chan was fifteen, a member of MS-18 sought to recruit Tay-Chan; in response, Tay-Chan tried to avoid any interactions with members of MS-18. Unfortunately, this approach didn't pan out long-term: Tay-Chan was later shot five times by an MS-18 member. All told, over the years, Tay-Chan and his family had quite a few violent encounters with MS-18, several of which resulted in the deaths of Tay-Chan's family members.[2]

         To escape all this violence, Tay-Chan entered the U.S., without inspection or detention, through the Mexico-Arizona border. A few years later, the Immigration Service of the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against Tay-Chan by issuing a notice to appear on April 25, 2006, alleging he was removable pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i) and (7)(A)(i)(I) (establishing removability for entrance into the U.S. without inspection or parole and for the absence of a valid immigrant visa, respectively). Tay-Chan hired an attorney, and thereafter admitted the truth of the factual allegations and conceded removability, but applied for withholding of removal. In the alternative, Tay-Chan requested voluntary departure.

         At his 2009 withholding of removal hearing before the Immigration Judge ("IJ"), he was represented by a colleague of the attorney he'd hired. Tay-Chan, who does not speak English, had never met this colleague -- he says he was unable to communicate with her due to the language barrier (he did have an interpreter present, we note), and he asserts that he was not informed beforehand that his hearing testimony would be confidential. Before the IJ, Tay-Chan testified as to the crimes committed against him and his family in Guatemala and his fears about returning. Although the IJ found Tay-Chan's testimony credible, he did not find that Tay-Chan had been a victim of past persecution on account of a statutorily protected ground because Tay-Chan was unable to identify why he was a target of the crimes committed. Accordingly, the IJ denied Tay-Chan's application for withholding of removal, but granted his request for voluntary departure.

         Tay-Chan appealed, but the BIA agreed with the IJ: although his testimony was credible, Tay-Chan failed to meet his burden of proof for withholding of removal. The BIA acknowledged that Tay-Chan and his family were victims of gang violence, but even so, Tay-Chan had failed to establish that he was persecuted based on a statutorily enumerated ground (such as membership in a particular social or political group). See 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3)(A). The BIA's final order entered on April 14, 2011.

         On April 3, 2018, nearly seven years after the BIA denied his appeal, Tay-Chan filed a motion to reopen. In support of his motion, Tay-Chan argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel: the language barrier between him and his attorney rendered him ill-equipped for the hearing, and, had he understood his testimony would be confidential, he would have testified more specifically as to his past persecution, which in turn would have led the IJ to a different conclusion about Tay-Chan's case. The BIA denied the motion as time-barred (the motion was filed long after the expiration of the ninety-day deadline, 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i)), and declined Tay-Chan's invitation to equitably toll the deadline based on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, finding no showing of due diligence and no resulting prejudice. Tay-Chan seeks review of that denial.


         We review the BIA's denial of Tay-Chan's motion to reopen under the "highly deferential abuse-of-discretion standard." Pineda, 908 F.3d at 840 (citing Bbale v. Lynch, 840 F.3d 63, 66 (1st Cir. 2016)). In doing so, we bear in mind what we mentioned at the outset: "a motion to reopen removal proceedings is a disfavored tool, given the threat it poses to finality[.]" Mazariegos v. Lynch, 790 F.3d 280, 285 (1st Cir. 2015) (citing Perez v. Holder, 740 F.3d 57, 61 (1st Cir. 2014)). We will uphold the BIA's decision unless Tay-Chan can show that the BIA "committed a material error of law or exercised ...

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