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Singh v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 23, 2018

JATINDER SINGH, Petitioner
v.
JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS, III, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Respondent

         Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals

          Before SMITH, BARKSDALE, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

          STEPHEN A. HIGGINSON, Circuit Judge:

         Jatinder Singh petitions for review of the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") affirming the decision of the Immigration Judge ("IJ") to deny Singh's application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protections under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). He challenges the IJ's adverse credibility determination, contending that his diagnosis with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should have been taken into consideration when determining whether inconsistencies in his statements rendered his testimony not credible. For the following reasons, we deny the petition for review.

         I.

         Jatinder Singh, a young man from Punjab, India, entered the United States illegally in December 2014 at the age of 18. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") initiated removal proceedings against Singh, charging that he was removable pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(7)(A)(i)(I) because he entered the country without valid entry documentation.

         On December 30, 2014, Singh was interviewed by an Asylum Officer ("AO") to determine whether he had a credible fear of returning to India. Singh waived his right to have his attorney present at the interview. He told the AO that the police in India had arrested him in 2013 due to his father's political affiliation, beat him in January 2014, and "beat him up . . . many times." According to Singh, the police said that they were "going to kill [him] because [his] dad joined the Simrat Mann Jit party, "[1] a Sikh separatist party that advocates for a separate Sikh nation in Punjab called Khalistan. The AO asked if Singh was also a member of that party, and Singh replied, "No. Not me." The AO then noted that Singh had told agents at the border that he was afraid to return to India because he "would be harmed because of the party [he] supported, " and asked him to explain the discrepancy. Singh said, "No, I did not say that. I was not with the party. It was my dad. First they beat my dad very badly too." He further explained that the police had taken his father in January 2011 and "beat[en] him up so much that he died because of the beating." When the AO asked if he ever showed support for the Mann party, Singh said "No, m[a'a]m. Not me. Never." Based on the interview, the AO determined that Singh was "not credible" because his "[t]estimony was internally inconsistent on material issues."

         In March 2015, Singh filed an application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under CAT. In his application, he stated that he was seeking protection based on his religion, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group. He explained that, "[l]ike [his] father, [he] believe[d] in a [S]ikh sovereign nation, " and that the "Indian Police and the Bharatiya Janata Party . . . tried to suppress [his] father's political opinion and affiliation as well as [his own]." He further explained that his father was beaten by the police in 2011 and died as a result of the beatings, and that Singh himself was arrested and beaten by the police "to suppress [his] demand for Khalistan."

         Leading up to Singh's removal proceedings, his attorney notified the IJ that Singh was "manifesting mental incompetency symptoms." In May 2015, Singh filed a motion for a mental competency hearing and, with it, a psychological report from the Center for Survivors of Torture. The report stated that due to his father's death and his own beating, Singh suffered from "moderate/severe psychological symptoms synonymous with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [("PTSD")], " including "difficulty sleeping, " "memories of the beatings he sustained and images of his father's suffering and death, " "nightmares, " and "constant headaches."

         At a May 19, 2015 hearing before the IJ, Singh's attorney raised the motion for a competency hearing. During a colloquy with the IJ, Singh's counsel stated that Singh was able to understand the nature of the proceedings and assist in his representation, and that he was capable of testifying to the court and responding rationally to questions. Based on counsel's representations, the IJ determined that there was no need for a further mental-competency hearing.

         The hearing proceeded to Singh's direct examination. When asked whether he did anything to support the Simrat Mann Jit party, Singh stated that he put up posters advocating for an independent Sikh nation. He further explained that the president of the party made him a member after his father's death. He also testified that had been beaten by the Indian police on two occasions, and that on each the police had accused him of advocating for a Sikh nation or being a Sikh terrorist.

         The hearing was continued until August 3, 2015. In the interim, DHS filed a motion for consideration of mental health records and a DHS mental health review. The review diagnosed Singh with PTSD. When the hearing resumed in August, the IJ brought up the motion and asked Singh's attorney if he thought a mental competency hearing was necessary. Singh's attorney responded: "I don't understand when we've already done it. . . . We went through that. He's able to understand the proceedings . . . ." The IJ determined, based on the fact that Singh was able to "communicate with [his attorney] and rationally relate his testimony, " that there was "no need for any other mental competency evaluation at th[at] point."

         During Singh's cross-examination, he reiterated that he had been a member of the Simrat Mann Jit party since his father's death in 2011. When asked why he had denied being a member of that party during his credible-fear interview, he maintained that "[e]ven then I said I'm a member of the party . . . . Even then I said that; repeatedly I said that I'm a member of the party." Following his cross-examination, Singh's attorney declined to conduct a redirect examination.

         In support of his claim, Singh also submitted his father's death certificate, stating that his father died on January 10, 2011; a hospital report, dated August 4, 2015, stating that Singh had been treated in January 2013 for "blunt injury on whole body;" a statement from the president of the Simrat Mann Jit party stating that Singh was a member of ...


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