On Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals Agency No. A096-360-113.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pregerson, Circuit Judge
Argued and Submitted December 10, 2008 -- Pasadena, California
Before: Harry Pregerson, Dorothy W. Nelson and David R. Thompson, Circuit Judges.
Opinion by Judge Pregerson
Azra Taslimi ("Taslimi") petitions for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (the "BIA") finding her statutorily ineligible for asylum. We grant the petition for review, reverse and remand to the BIA to determine whether, in an exercise of discretion, Taslimi merits a grant of asylum under 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b).
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1
Taslimi is a native and citizen of Iran. She entered the United States on a visitor visa on or about October 3, 1992, with authorization to remain until October 3, 1993. She has not left the United States since her entry.
Before coming to the United States, Taslimi was Muslim. In the United States, however, Taslimi began attending Christian churches. Beginning in June 2002, Taslimi attended prayer services and Bible study at the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church of God ("New Beginnings"). On September 5, 2002, Taslimi approached New Beginnings' pastor and converted to Christianity. Two members of the church and the pastor witnessed Taslimi's conversion ceremony.
Following her conversion, Taslimi had a conversation with the pastor of New Beginnings, Pastor Ritchie, in which he encouraged her to legalize her status and helped her find an attorney. Before learning of asylum, Taslimi did not know that she might apply for legal status based on her religious conversion. Taslimi discussed her legal status with others, and learned of asylum in March or April of 2003. She applied for asylum on April 2, 2003, a few days short of seven months after her religious conversion.
Taslimi did not apply for asylum immediately after her conversion because she wanted to be sure that it was going to be a life-long decision.*fn2 Pastor Ritchie testified that he viewed Taslimi's period of waiting after her conversion and before applying for asylum to be healthy, because it "demonstrated the genuineness of her commitment."
An asylum officer referred Taslimi's application for asylum to immigration court for adjudication. During the hearing on the merits of her asylum application in immigration court, Taslimi explained that she would fear for her life if she were removed to Iran, but that she is committed to practicing Christianity, even if removed. In addition to Taslimi and Pastor Ritchie, two members of the New Beginnings Church testified at the hearing on Taslimi's behalf.*fn3
Prior to rendering his oral decision, the IJ indicated that he intended to grant Taslimi withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture, but to deny Taslimi's application for asylum because she failed to apply for asylum within a reasonable period following her religious conversion. In light of his intent to grant withholding of removal, the IJ asked Taslimi's counsel whether she wanted to reconsider the request for voluntary departure. After briefly ...