Miami Is Worth a Mass?

In Kazemzadeh v. U.S. Attorney General (11th Cir. Aug. 6), Kazemzadeh — an Iranian citizen — claimed asylum because he had converted to Christianity, and said he faced persecution in Iran. The Board of Immigration Appeals rejected the claim, largely because it concluded that Iranian persecution of converts away from Islam was in fact very rare (though in theory apostasy could carry the death penalty). The panel reversed, on the grounds that “the Board did not consider whether enforcement is rare because apostates practice underground and suffer instead that form of persecution to avoid detection and punishment.” And being forced to practice underground, the panel concluded, is itself a form of persecution.

What is particularly interesting to me, though, isn’t that legal question (on which I think the panel was correct), but the broader policy issue raised by the risk that many people might pretend to convert in order to stay in the U.S. The majority stressed that there was no finding that Kazemzadeh was insincere, but the dissenting judge pointed out that there was a dispute about his sincerity, and that the Board needs to consider it:

In this case, although the Immigration Judge never directly addressed the issue of credibility, she commented throughout her order on the numerous questionable aspects of Kazemzadeh’s religious conversion. First, she stated that his “inability to explain what communion is … seemed inconsistent with any significant involvement with the religion” since communion is a “central aspect of Christianity.” She also noted that he attended weekly Bible classes less than once per month, and opined that he should be making “the effort to attend as many of those classes as possible in order to learn a religion for which he alleges that he’s willing to risk his life.” After noting that Kazemzadeh decided to become a Christian approximately two months after he began attending church, the Immigration Judge stated that “it was[] [not] clear how much he knew in those two months that [led] him to make a life-time commitment that would put him at odds with his family and with his country.” She also pointed out factual inconsistencies between Kazemzadeh’s testimony and that of his pastor, and she expressed suspicion about the authenticity of documents he provided as evidence of his conviction and his expulsion from the university he attended in Iran. Finally, in her conclusion, the Immigration Judge noted that the swiftness of Kazemzadeh’s acceptance of Christianity “does not evidence a lifetime commitment.”

And whether or not Kazemzadeh is sincere, there does seem to me to be a serious risk that the availability of asylum for Iranian converts away from Christianity will lead some people to pretend to become Christians. The right to live and (in several months) work in the United States is a very valuable benefit, even if it means that one can never safely return to one’s home country.

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