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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a Dominican woman who fled to the United States to escape an abusive partner was wrongly denied protection because the immigration judge and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) placed too much weight on the notes a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officer took during the woman’s initial asylum screening interview.
 
The ruling offers hope to thousands of asylum seekers who have faced obstacles to protection based on their “credible fear” interviews.
 
“The credible fear process is intended to serve as a preliminary screening for the government to identify individuals who may qualify for asylum, but too often it becomes a hurdle traumatized victims of persecution must overcome—without legal counsel—in order to gain protection,” said Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). “It is unfair to treat DHS officers’ notes from these interviews as transcripts to later be held against individuals with viable claims.”
 
Ana Veronica Jimenez Ferreira fled to the United States to escape the abuse of her domestic partner, who followed her as she moved to various cities in the Dominican Republic in search of safety. At her asylum hearing, Ms. Jimenez presented more than 400 pages of evidence with her asylum application, including police and medical reports documenting the abuse she experienced. The immigration judge and BIA ignored this evidence and denied Ms. Jimenez asylum protection based on minor inconsistencies between her court testimony and the DHS officer’s summary of her credible fear interview, which took place via video teleconference while she was detained after entering the United States.
 
The Seventh Circuit found that the government “erred by (1) failing to address Jimenez’s argument that the notes from the credible‐fear interview are unreliable and therefore an improper basis for an adverse credibility finding and (2) ignoring material documentary evidence that corroborates Jimenez’s testimony.”
 
Ms. Jimenez was represented by pro bono counsel Piotr Korzynski together with NIJC.