388 F.3d 924 (6th Cir. 2004), 03-3077, Sylla v. I.N.S.

Docket Nº:03-3077.
Citation:388 F.3d 924
Party Name:Sekou SYLLA, Petitioner, v. IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, Respondent.
Case Date:November 12, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 924

388 F.3d 924 (6th Cir. 2004)

Sekou SYLLA, Petitioner,

v.

IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, Respondent.

No. 03-3077.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 12, 2004

Submitted: Sept. 23, 2004

Page 925

ON BRIEF:

John S. Richbourg, Memphis, TN, for Petitioner.

David J. Kline, Hugh G. Mullane, United States Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, D.C., for Respondent.

Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.

MERRITT, Circuit Judge.

Sekou Sylla appeals the denial of asylum, arguing that the Immigration Judge ("IJ") and Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") erred in assessing his credibility. The central issue is whether "substantial evidence" supports an adverse credibility determination in relation to Sylla's claims that the Guinean government imprisoned, beat, and tortured him due to his membership in an opposition political party. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we grant the petition for review, vacate the judgment of the BIA, and remand for further consideration.

I. Background

Sekou Sylla, a native of Guinea, entered the United States without authorization in October 2000. On June 5, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") initiated removal proceedings against Sylla. Sylla conceded removability, but sought relief in the form of asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

On September 28, 2001, Immigration Judge Kevin G. Bradley conducted a final administrative hearing, at which Sylla was represented by counsel. Sylla testified that he had been detained and beaten because of his membership and involvement in an opposition political party. In a February 14, 2002, oral decision, Immigration Judge Kevin G. Bradley found that Sylla's testimony was not credible. He entered an order denying the applications for asylum and the withholding of removal, as well as his request for relief under the Convention Against Torture. The Board of Immigration Appeals adopted the immigration judge's adverse credibility finding and dismissed Sylla's administrative appeal on December 17, 2002. Sylla filed a timely petition for judicial review on January 15, 2003.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

The general standards for reviewing asylum cases are well-established. See Yu v. Ashcroft, 364 F.3d 700, 702 (6th Cir. 2004); Koliada v. INS, 259 F.3d 482, 486 (6th Cir. 2001); Mikhailevitch v. INS, 146 F.3d 384, 389 (6th Cir. 1998). This case raises an issue respecting credibility determinations.

Credibility determinations are considered findings of fact, and are reviewed under the substantial evidence standard. Yu v. Ashcroft, 364 F.3d 700, 703 (6th Cir. 2004). This is a deferential standard: A reviewing court should not reverse "simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case differently." Klawitter v. INS, 970 F.2d 149, 151-52 (6th Cir. 1992) (internal citations

Page 926

omitted). While an adverse credibility finding is afforded substantial deference, the finding must be supported by specific reasons. See Daneshvar v. Ashcroft, 355 F.3d 615, 623 n. 7 (6th Cir. 2004); Gao v. Ashcroft, 299 F.3d 266, 276 (3d Cir. 2002) ("The reasons must be substantial and bear a legitimate nexus to the finding."). An adverse credibility finding must be based on issues that go to the heart of the applicant's claim. They "cannot be based on an irrelevant inconsistency." Daneshvar, 355 F.3d at 619 n. 2 (6th Cir. 2004). "If discrepancies 'cannot be viewed as attempts by the applicant to enhance his claims of persecution, they have no bearing on credibility.' " Id. at 623 (quoting Shah v. INS, 220 F.3d 1062, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000)).

B. Petitioner's Claims

Sylla testified that he was persecuted in Guinea because of his active involvement with the youth wing of the Rally for the Guinean People political party, a political party opposed to the Government of Lansana Conte and his Party for Unity and Progress. According to his testimony, Sylla became active in the party at the age of twenty-one in the midst of the 1998 presidential election. After the December 14, 1998, election, the candidate, Alpha Conde, was arrested by the Guinean government. This arrest provoked protests in Conakry, the capital. Sylla maintains that he was arrested during the protest of December 20, 1998. He claims that after the police and the soldiers rushed the crowd using tear gas, he was beaten and chained, thrown into the back of a truck, and transported to Camp Alpha Yaya, where he was imprisoned for twenty...

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