Asylum for Converts from Islam to Christianity

Today’s Jabri v. Holder (1st Cir. Mar. 16, 2012) is an interesting illustration of how these cases sometimes go; the immigration judge held against the asylum applicant on the grounds of supposed inconsistencies in his testimony (and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed), but the First Circuit reversed, suggesting that the inconsistencies are more apparent than real. In any case, here’s a summary of the applicant’s allegations:

Jabri’s applications center around his claimed conversion from Islam to Christianity in late 2008. In an affidavit and at a hearing held before an IJ, Jabri explained that although he was born into a Muslim family, he grew up in a predominantly Christian community where he was routinely exposed to Christian teachings and customs. He stated that as he explored his religious identity, first as a boy of high school age and then as a young adult, he felt increasingly drawn to the tenets of Christianity. He testified to attending Bible studies and Christian church services and holiday celebrations intermittently beginning in 2004. Following a year of intensified exploration, and feeling that he “was falling off track” and “needed a permanent faith in his life,” Jabri claims that he officially converted to Christianity on December 2, 2008, when he recited a sinner’s prayer and took communion at a Pentecostal church.

Jabri asserts that he will be persecuted on account of his conversion if returned to Jordan. There was evidence that the Jordanian constitution stipulates that Muslims’ personal status is governed by Islamic law, according to which apostasy may be punished by an inability to own property, find employment, marry, or maintain custody of one’s children. Jabri fears that his paternal grandfather, who Jabri says is a strongly religious and prominent member of the Muslim community with strong ties to the Jordanian government, will wield his influence to ensure that the full panoply of such consequences come to bear. Moreover, he testified that he fears that his grandfather may provoke an honor killing to protect the well known family name. These concerns, Jabri avers, are based on multiple threats that his grandfather made upon learning of his interest in and eventual conversion to Christianity.

In support of his claim, Jabri submitted testimony and an affidavit from his father as well as an affidavit from his mother. Both parents described their son’s religious journey, the grandfather’s threats in response, and the power that the grandfather has to ensure that his threats are carried out. Jabri also provided affidavits from family friends and church leaders attesting to his Christian faith, as well as country conditions evidence illustrating the dangers faced by Christian converts in Jordan.

The IJ denied Jabri’s applications on the grounds that he and his father were not credible witnesses. The IJ found to be problematic differences between the testimony of Jabri and that of his father. The IJ focused on inconsistencies regarding a Bible that Jabri claimed to have kept, and regarding the details of how the grandfather learned of and reacted to Jabri’s alleged conversion. The IJ noted that such inconsistencies “may be considered minor when taken alone, but are significant when considered in the aggregate.” The IJ did not dispute the potential consequences of apostasy but, on the basis of these perceived inconsistencies, disbelieved that Jabri had in fact converted to Christianity. The IJ further found that the supporting affidavits and documentary evidence were insufficient to overcome these discrepancies. The negative credibility finding, in turn, proved fatal to Jabri’s ability to demonstrate that he fell within the statutory definition of “refugee” or, for purposes of his CAT claim, would be in danger of being subjected to torture upon return to Jordan.

For some other cases along these lines, see “Miami Is Worth a Mass?”, plus this follow-up post.