Domestic Abuse Victim Seeking Asylum in U.S. Wins Important Ninth Circuit Victory

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August 10, 2020 (San Francisco, CA) – The UC Hastings Appellate Project, led by Hanson Bridgett partner Gary Watt, achieved success before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week. Hilda Kajbaf and Shandyn Pierce, third-year law students at UC Hastings College of the Law, represented Sonos Maudilla Diaz-Reynoso, an undocumented immigrant who sought asylum in the U.S. to avoid domestic violence in her native Guatemala. Watt, who chairs Hanson Bridgett’s Appellate Practice, serves as General Counsel to the Appellate Project.

On Friday, August 7, 2020, the Ninth Circuit remanded the Diaz-Reynoso v. William P. Barr case because it found the Board of Immigration (BIA) failed to perform the detailed case-by-case analysis required by its own precedent.  The Decision can be viewed here.

Diaz-Reynoso twice fled to the United States to escape being physically abused by her common-law husband. In the first instance, she was apprehended, detained and then returned to Guatemala for lacking documentation. After suffering additional physical assaults and threats from her husband, she escaped a second time and went into hiding in Guatemala. When her husband located her, she again sought refuge in the United States. In October 2014, Diaz-Reynoso was apprehended and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. While in detention she filed an application for asylum and, alternatively, for withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

The immigration judge, while finding Diaz-Reynoso to be credible, denied her application, and the BIA subsequently dismissed her appeal on the grounds that prior precedent foreclosed her proposed social group, “Guatemalan indigenous women who are unable to leave their relationship. Exercising its jurisdiction to review final orders of the BIA on removal, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the BIA's reasoning was defective because prior precedent did not foreclose such a group and "because it failed to do the rigorous analysis necessary to analyze a particular social group." The Ninth Circuit granted Diaz-Reynoso’s petition and remanded the matter to the BIA to apply the law properly including considering her application under a “fact-specific inquiry based on the evidence.”

“This appellate ruling is a significant victory with the potential to impact many victims of domestic abuse who seek safety in the U.S.,” said Watt. “More and more, the government is trying to circumvent the proper handling of asylum and withholding applications,” Watt added. “Hilda and Shandyn effectively advocated for Diaz-Reynoso in a high-pressure situation before a prestigious court, and I could not be prouder of them.”

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About UC Hastings Appellate Project

Created in 2009, the Hastings Appellate Project (“HAP”) offers UC Hastings 3L students the opportunity to represent pro bono clients in Ninth Circuit appeals. Since its founding by Antoinette Young, Gary Watt, and Stephen Tollafield, HAP has obtained several published opinions, and has obtained reversal in numerous appeals.

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