Training of Immigration Judges June 2021

by David L. Cleveland

Immigration Judges were given training in June 2021. In response to a FOIA request by the Louise Trauma Center, 884 pages were released.

 This article will summarize pages 1-302. The pages are available on the FOIA page at, marked as “IJ June 2021 pages 1-302.”

Pages 1-24 of 302 features a Table of Contents and the biographies of presenters.

International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) [begins at page 25]

There is a separate, annual “International Religious Freedom Report.” Countries that have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom are designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs).

The U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), established in 1998, is separate from the State Department and produces an annual report by May 1 of each year.

The USCIRF at times visits ports of entry, asylum offices, and detention facilities to monitor how DHS treats “religious” applicants.

The UNHCR “Handbook” is described at page 58 of 302.

Page 69: “Avoid judging an individual’s sincerity based on his or her manner of religious practice.” Singh v. Holder, 720 F.3d 635, 643-644 (7th Cir. 2013)

22 U.S.C. section 6401 begins the International Religious Freedom Act.

Executive Order No. 13926, June 2, 2020, 85 FR 34951, section 1(a)states: “Religious freedom, America’s first freedom, is a moral and national security imperative. Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the United States…” [page 74 of 302]

22 USC section 6473(b) provides that asylum officers shall be trained on “the nature of religious persecution abroad, including country-specific conditions…” [page 111 of 302]

The U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Annual Report 2021, begins at page 115 of 302.

14 countries are listed as “Countries of Particular Concern” at page 122 of 302.

Comments about China begin at page 136: the Chinese government targeted religions “perceived to have foreign connections, such as Christianity, Islam, and Tibetan Buddhism.”

Comments about Iran begin at page 146: that government escalated “its severe repression of religious minorities…”

Comments about Russia begin at page 158: that government brought 188 criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Comments about Vietnam begin at page 172: Hmong Christians are “effectively stateless;” “Local authorities continued to expropriate or destroy Catholic Church properties.”

Comments about Turkey begin at page 202: that government pursues blasphemy charges against some persons.

Religious Prisoners of Conscience: photos of religious prisoners begin at page 217. One is Mr. Mubarak Bala, a Muslim in NIgeria, accused of blasphemy. Jimmy Lai, an activist in Hong Kong, is now imprisoned for lighting a candle.

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Paragraph 39 of the Handbook, [at page 241 of 302] provides:

“It may be assumed that, unless he seeks adventure or just wishes to see the world, a person would not normally abandon his home and country without some compelling reason….”

Paragraph 43 provides: “What, for example, happened to his friends and relatives and other members of the same racial or social group may well show that his fear that sooner or later he also will become a victim of persecution is well-founded.

Paragraph 48: “Possession of a passport cannot therefore always be considered as evidence of loyalty on the part of the holder, or as an indication of the absence of fear. A passport may even be issued to a person who is undesired in his country of origin, with the sole purpose of securing his departure, and there may also be cases where a passport has been obtained surreptitiously. In conclusion, therefore, the mere possession of a valid national passport is no bar to refugee status.”

Paragraph 66: “... Often the applicant himself may not be aware of the reasons for the persecution feared. It is not, however, his duty to analyze his case to such an extent as to identify the reasons in detail.”

Paragraph 82: Political opinion:

“... There may, however, also be situations in which the applicant has not given any expression to his opinions. Due to the strength of his convictions, however, it may be reasonable to assume that his opinions will sooner or later find expression and that the applicant will, as a result, come into conflict with the authorities.”

Paragraph 96: “sur place:”

“A person may become a refugee "sur place" as a result of his own actions, such as associating with refugees already recognized, or expressing his political views in his country of residence. …Regard should be had in particular to whether such actions may have come to the notice of the authorities of the person's country of origin and how they are likely to be viewed by those authorities.”

Paragraph 196: “... Often, however, an applicant may not be able to support his statements by documentary or other proof, and cases in which an applicant can provide evidence of all his statements will be the exception rather than the rule. …Indeed, in some cases, it may be for the examiner to use all the means at his disposal to produce the necessary evidence in support of the application. Even such independent research may not, however, always be successful and there may also be statements that are not susceptible of proof. In such cases, if the applicant's account appears credible, he should, unless there are good reasons to the contrary, be given the benefit of the doubt.”

 Paragraph 203. “After the applicant has made a genuine effort to substantiate his story there may still be a lack of evidence for some of his statements. As explained above (paragraph 196), it is hardly possible for a refugee to "prove" every part of his case and, indeed, if this were a requirement the majority of refugees would not be recognized. It is therefore frequently necessary to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.”

Comments of the author

A recent Attorney General noted that the U. N. Handbook is not “binding.”

Matter of Negusie, 28 I&N Dec. 120, 140 (A.G. 2020), and implicitly criticized it. [But, see Matter of Negusie,  28 I&N Dec. 399 (A.G. 2021).]

The fact that the IJs were trained extensively about the Handbook shows that it is worth citing.

About The Author

David L. Cleveland was the Chair of the AILA Asylum Committee [2004-05] and has secured asylum or withholding for persons from 48 countries. Based in Washington DC, he is available at <>

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.