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Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture [64 FR 8478] [FR 9-99]
FEDERAL REGISTER CITE:
64 FR 8478
DATE OF PUBLICATION:
February 19, 1999
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Immigration and Naturalization Service
8 CFR Parts 3, 103, 208, 235, 238, 240, 241, 253, and 507
[INS No. 1976-99; AG Order No. 2207-99]
Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture
Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Executive Office for Immigration Review, Justice.
Interim rule with request for comments.
This interim rule amends Department of Justice regulations by establishing procedures for raising a claim for protection from torture, as directed by the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. Section 2242 of that Act requires the heads of appropriate agencies to prescribe regulations for implementing United States obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention Against Torture or Convention). Under
Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture (Article 3), the United States has agreed not to "expel, return ('refouler') or extradite" a person to another state where he or she would be tortured. The interim rule establishes procedures for ensuring compliance with Article 3 with respect to removal of aliens from the United States by integrating many Convention Against Torture requests into the present scheme governing asylum and withholding determinations before the Immigration Court. For persons subject
to reinstatement, administrative removal, expedited removal, or
other streamlined proceedings, excluding those relating to aliens inadmissible on security and related grounds, the rule establishes a screening mechanism followed by Immigration Court review that is similar to the screening procedure currently used in determining credible fear under expedited removal. The rule also establishes "deferral of removal," a new, limited form of protection that will be accorded aliens who would be tortured in the country of removal but who are barred from withholding of removal.
Finally, this interim regulation serves as notice to the public that, upon the effective date of this rule, the informal procedure currently in place for considering Convention Against Torture requests will end and those persons who have raised a claim under the informal procedure will be given an opportunity, as prescribed by this rule, to have their cases reviewed under the new procedures.
: This interim rule is effective March 22, 1999.
: written comments must be submitted on or before April 20, 1999.
Please submit written comments in original and three copies to the Director, Policy Directives and Instructions Branch, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 425 I Street, NW, Room 5307, Washington, DC 20536. To ensure proper handling, please reference INS No. 1976-99 on your correspondence. Comments are available for public inspection at the above address by calling (202) 514-3048 to arrange for an appointment.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
For matters relating to the
Immigration and Naturalization Service: Dorothea Lay, 425 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20536, telephone number (202) 514-2895. For matters relating to the Executive Office for Immigration Review: Margaret M. Philbin, General Counsel, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Suite 2400, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Virginia, 22041, telephone number (703) 305-0470.
On October 21, 1998, the President signed into law legislation which requires that "[n]ot later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the heads of the appropriate agencies shall prescribe regulations to implement the obligations of the United States under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, subject to any reservations, understandings, declarations, and provisos contained in the United States Senat
e resolution of ratification of the Convention." Section 2242(b) of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-277, Division G, Oct. 21, 1998).
Obligations under the Convention Against Torture have been in effect for the United States since November 20, 1994. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 39/46, Annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. No. 51, at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984) [hereinafter Convention or Convention Against Torture]. On October 21, 1994, President Clinton deposited the United States instrument of ratification of the Convention with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Con
sistent with its terms, the Convention Against Torture entered into force for the United States 30 days later. Under Article 3, the United States had agreed not to "expel, return ('refouler') or extradite" a person to another state where he or she would be tortured. The Department of State is responsible for carrying out extradition requests and will promulgate regulations to ensure compliance with Article 3 in those cases. In other cases, the Attorney General is charged with expelling or returning aliens
from the United States to other countries. This rule is published pursuant to this mandate to implement United States obligations under Article 3 in the context of the Attorney General's removal of aliens Article 3 provides as follows:
1. No State Party shall expel, return, ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant, or mass violations of human rights.
This Article is similar in some ways to Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (hereinafter Refugee Convention). Article 33 provides that "[n]o Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinion." The United States currently implements Article 33 of the Refugee Convention through the withholding of removal provision in section 241(b)(3) (formerly section 243(h)) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA or the Act). That provision, as interpreted by the courts, requires the Attorney General to withhold an alien's removal to a country where it is more likely than not that the alien's life or freedom would be threatened on account of one of the five grounds mentioned above. See
INS v. Stevic, 467 U.S. 407, 429-30 (1984).
However, there are some important differences between withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Act and Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture. First, several categories of individuals, including persons who assisted in Nazi persecution or engaged in genocide, persons who have persecuted others, persons who have been convicted of particularly serious crimes, persons who are believed to have committed serious non-political crimes before arriving in the United States, and persons who pose a
danger to the security of the United States, are ineligible for withholding of removal. See INA section 241(b)(3)(B). Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture does not exclude such persons from its scope. Second, section 241(b)(3) applies only to aliens whose life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, and membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Article 3 covers persons who fear torture that may not be motivated by one of those five grounds. Th
ird, the definition of torture does not encompass all types of harm that might qualify as a threat to life or freedom. Thus, the coverage of Article 3 is different from that of section 241(b)(3): broader in some ways and narrower in others.
Until the October 21, 1998 legislation, there was no statutory provision to implement Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture in United States domestic law. When the United States Senate gave advice and consent to ratification of the Convention Against Torture, it made a declaration that Articles 1 through 16 were not self-executing. Recognizing, however, that ratification of the Convention represented a statement by the United States to the international community of its commitment to comply with the
Convention's provisions to the extent permissible under the Constitution and existing federal statutes, the Department of Justice sought to conform its practices to the Convention by ensuring compliance with Article 3 in the case of aliens who are subject to removal from the United States.
In order to conform to the Convention before the enactment of implementing legislation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS or Service) adopted a pre-regulatory administrative process to assess the applicability of Article 3 to individual cases in which an alien is subject to removal. Under this pre-regulatory administrative process, upon completion of deportation, exclusion, or removal proceedings and prior to execution of a final order of removal, the INS has considered whether removing an ali
en to a particular country is consistent with Article 3. If it is determined that the alien could not be removed to the country in question consistent with Article 3, the INS has used its existing discretionary authority to ensure that the alien is not removed to that country for so long as he or she is likely to be tortured there. See INA § 103(a); 8 CFR 2.1.
In formulating its pre-regulatory administrative process to conform to Article 3 in the context of the removal of aliens, the INS has been careful not to expand upon the protections that Article 3 grants. Only execution of an order of removal to a country where an alien is more likely than not to be tortured would violate the Convention. Therefore, the INS has not addressed the question of whether Article 3 prohibits removal in an individual case until there is a final administrative order of removal to a
place where an alien claims that he or she would be tortured, and until all appeals, requests for review, or other administrative or judicial challenges to execution of that order have been resolved. This approach has allowed the INS to address the applicability of Article 3 to a case only when actually necessary to comply with the Convention. It has also allowed an individual alien to exhaust all avenues for pursuing any other more extensive benefit or protection for which he or she may be eligible before
seeking the minimal guarantee provided by Article 3 that he or she will not be returned to a specific country where it is likely that he or she would be tortured. At the same time, this approach has allowed the INS, the agency responsible for executing removal orders, to ensure that no order is executed under circumstances that would violate the Convention.
Goals of Interim Rule
Pursuant to statutory mandate, the Department of Justice now publishes this rule in order to implement the United States' Article 3 obligations in the context of the removal of aliens by the Attorney General. The rule is published as an interim rule, effective 30 days after the date of publication. This rule is intended to create fair and efficient provisions to implement Article 3 within the overall regulatory framework for the issuance of removal orders and decisions about the execution of such orders.
The primary goals of this rule are to establish procedures that ensure that no alien is removed from the United States under circumstances that would violate Article 3 without unduly disrupting the issuance and execution of removal orders consistent with Article 3. To this end, we have designed a system that will allow aliens subject to the various types of removal proceedings currently afforded by the immigration laws to seek, and where eligible, to be accorded protection under Article 3. At the same tim
e, we have created mechanisms to quickly identify and resolve frivolous claims to protection so that the new procedures cannot be used as a delaying tactic by aliens who are not in fact at risk.
In cases subject to streamlined, expedited removal processes under current law, the rule employs screening mechanisms to quickly identify potentially meritorious claims to protection and to resolve frivolous ones with dispatch. For example, the rule allows for the screening of aliens arriving at ports of entry to determine whether they establish a credible fear of torture. This screening will be conducted in conjunction with the existing credible fear of persecution screening process, so that it will not c
omplicate or delay the expedited removal process established by Congress for arriving aliens. If an alien passes this threshold-screening standard, his or her claim for protection under Article 3 will be further examined by an immigration judge in the context of removal proceedings under section 240 of the Act. The screening mechanism also allows for the expeditious review by an immigration judge of a negative screening determination and the quick removal of an alien with no credible claim to protection.
Furthermore, the rule establishes a new screening process to rapidly identify and assess both claims for withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Act and for protection under the Convention by either aliens subject to administrative removal for aggravated felons under section 238(b) of the Act or to reinstatement of a previous order of removal under section 241(a)(5) of the Act. Modeled on the credible fear screening mechanism, this screening process will also allow for the fair and expeditiou
s resolution of such claims without unduly disrupting the streamlined removal processes applicable to these aliens.
The cases of alien terrorists and other aliens subject to administrative removal under section 235(c) of the Act will be handled through the administrative process in which the INS issues and executes the removal order. Cases handled under section 235(c) are only a few each year, and typically involve highly sensitive issues and adjudication based on classified information under tight controls. Thus, by retaining the ability to assess the applicability of Article 3 through the administrative removal proce
ss, the INS will both maintain a workable process and ensure U.S. compliance with Article 3 in these unusual cases. Similarly, the regulations provide that an alien whose removal has been ordered by the Alien Terrorist Removal Court under the special procedures set forth in Title V of the Act shall not be removed to a particular country if the Attorney General determines, in consultation with the Secretary of State, that removal to that country would violate Article 3.
For aliens subject to removal proceedings under section 240 of the Act, exclusion proceedings, or deportation proceedings, a claim to protection under the Convention Against Torture will be raised and considered, along with any other applications, during removal proceedings before an immigration judge. Both the alien and the INS will have the ability to appeal decisions of the immigration judge to the Board of Immigration Appeals (the Board). This will allow the alien to seek review of this important deci
sion, and will also allow the INS to use the review mechanism to ensure that decisions about the applicability of Article 3 are made consistently and according to the high standards of proof required by Article 3 itself. At the same time, the availability of review will not expand the process already available to aliens in proceedings under section 240, who under current law already have the opportunity to seek Board review of decisions of the immigration judge.
Nor does this rule expand the availability of judicial review for aliens who make claims to protection under the Convention Against Torture. The statute requiring regulatory implementation of obligations under Article 3 explicitly provides that it does not authorize judicial review of these regulations. Section 2242(d) of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. The rule restates at § 208.18(e) the statutory mandate that the only available judicial review for Convention Against Torture c
laims is when such claims are heard as part of the review of a final order of removal pursuant to section 242 of the Act. Such review remains subject to the requirements and limitations of section 242. Where a court has jurisdiction to consider a Convention Against Torture claim, it may not, except as authorized by section 242, consider other claims regarding the alien's
Structure of Rule
Generally, the rule creates two separate provisions for protection under Article 3 for aliens who would be tortured in the country of removal. The first provision establishes a new form of withholding of removal under § 208.16(c). This type of protection is only available to aliens who are not barred from eligibility for withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act. The second provision, under § 208.17(a), concerns aliens who would be tortured in the country of removal but who are subject
to the bars contained in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act. These aliens may only be granted deferral of removal, a less permanent form of protection than withholding of removal and one that is more easily and quickly terminated if it becomes possible to remove the alien consistent with Article 3. Deferral of removal will be granted based on the withholding of removal application to an alien who is likely to be tortured in the country of removal but who is barred from withholding of removal. Section 208.17
(d) sets out a special, streamlined procedure through which the INS may seek to terminate deferral of removal when appropriate.
Withholding of Removal Under the Convention Against Torture
Revised § 208.16(c) creates a new form of withholding of removal, which will be granted to an eligible alien in removal proceedings who establishes that he or she would be tortured in the proposed country of removal. This section references new § 208.18(a), which contains the definition of torture, and provides that this definition will be applied in all determinations about eligibility for this new form of withholding, or for deferral of removal.
An alien granted withholding under new § 208.16(c) would be treated similarly to an alien granted withholding of removal under § 208.16(b), the regulatory provision implementing section 241(b)(3) of the Act. The rule provides at § 208.16(c)(2) that, in order to be eligible for withholding of removal under Article 3, an alien must establish that it is more likely than not that he or she would be tortured in the country in question. Imposition of this burden of proof on the alien gives effect to one of
the Senate understandings upon which ratification was conditioned, which provides that "the United States understands that the phrase, 'where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture,' as used in Article 3 of the Convention, to mean 'if it is more likely than not that he would be tortured.'" The ratification history makes clear that this understanding was intended to ensure that the standard of proof for Article 3 would be the same standard as tha
t for withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Act, then section 243(h) of the Act. See, e.g., Convention Against Torture,
submitted to the Senate
, May 20, 1988, S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20, at 6 (1988) (hereinafter S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20).
Section 208.16(c)(3) also directs that all evidence relevant to the possibility of future torture should be considered when making the determination as to whether the alien is more likely than not to be tortured. It specifically provides that evidence of past torture inflicted on the applicant should be considered, because evidence of past torture may be probative as to whether future torture is likely.
Section 208.16(c)(3) also requires that, in determining whether the applicant has met his or her burden of proof, the decision-maker may consider any evidence that the alien may be able to relocate to an area of the country of removal where he or she is not likely to be tortured. Consideration of this factor is consistent with long-established precedent in the context of the adjudication of requests for asylum and withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Act, and is relevant to the likelihood
that an alien would be tortured if returned to a specific country. This section also provides that, where applicable, the adjudicator will consider evidence of gross, flagrant, or mass violations of human rights committed within the country in question. This requirement is drawn directly from clause 2 of Article 3. The words "where applicable" indicate that, in each case, the adjudicator will determine whether and to what extent evidence of human rights violations in a given country is in fact a relevant f
actor in the case at hand. Evidence of the gross and flagrant denial of freedom of the press, without more, for example, may not tend to show that an alien would be tortured if returned to that country. See, e.g., S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20, at 20. The rule further directs that any other relevant information about country conditions in the country of removal be considered.
Applicants for withholding under § 208.16(c) will be subject to the mandatory bars to withholding contained in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act. Section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act bars from withholding of removal aliens: who have assisted in Nazi persecution or engaged in genocide; who have ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of others; and who, having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, pose a danger to the community of the United States. The section 241(b)(3)(
B) bar also applies when there are serious reasons to believe that the alien has committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States before arriving in the United States or there are reasonable grounds to believe that the alien is a danger to the security of the United States. The legislation implementing Article 3 provides that "[t]o the maximum extent consistent with the obligations of the United States under the Convention, subject to any reservations, understandings, declarations, and pro
visos contained in the United States Senate resolution of ratification of the Convention, the regulations described in subsection (b) [mandating promulgation of regulations to implement Article 3] shall exclude from the protection of such regulations aliens described in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3)(B))." Section 2242(c) of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. Thus, consistent with the statutory directive, the advantages of a grant of
withholding of removal will not be available to such aliens. Rather, their protection from return to a country where they would be tortured, as required by the Convention, will be effected through a less extensive form of protection, i.e., deferral of removal, established in § 208.17(a).
Deferral of Removal Under the Convention Against Torture
Although aliens who are barred from withholding of removal under § 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act are not eligible for withholding under 208.16(c), the Article 3 implementing statute directs that any exclusion of these aliens from the protection of these regulations must be consistent with United States obligations under the Convention, subject to United States reservations, understandings, declarations, and provisos conditioning ratification. Section 2242(c) of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of
1998. Article 3 prohibits returning any person to a country where he or she would be tortured, and contains no exceptions to this mandate. Nor do any of the United States reservations, understandings, declarations, or provisos contained in the Senate's resolution of ratification provide that the United States may exclude any person from Article 3's prohibition on return because of criminal or other activity or for any other reason. Indeed, the ratification history of the Convention Against Torture clearly
indicates that the Executive Branch presented Article 3 to the Senate with the understanding that it "does not permit any discretion or provide for any exceptions * * *." Convention Against Torture: Hearing Before the Senate Comm. on Foreign Relations, 101st Cong., 18 (1990) (statement of Mark Richard, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, DOJ).
Wherever possible, subsequent acts of Congress must be construed as consistent with treaty obligations. See e.g.,
Cook v. United States
, 288 U.S. 102, 120 (1933) ("[a] treaty will not be deemed to have been abrogated or modified by a later statute, unless such purpose on the part of Congress has been clearly expressed."). Here, Congress has not indicated an intent to modify the obligations imposed by Article 3. In fact, Congress has clearly expressed its intent that any exclusion of aliens described in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act from the protection of these regulations must be consistent with Article 3. The obligation
not to return such an alien to a country where he or she would be tortured remains in effect. Thus, while this rule does not extend the advantages associated with a grant of withholding of removal to aliens barred under section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act, it does ensure that they are not returned to a country where they would be tortured.
To this end, the rule creates a special provision under § 208.17(a) for deferral of removal when an alien described in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act has been ordered removed to a country where it has been determined that he or she would be tortured. The process is as follows: Before determining whether the bars described in section 241(b)(3)(B) of the Act apply to withholding removal of an alien under the Convention Against Torture, the immigration judge is required to find whether the alien is likely to
be tortured in the country of removal. Only after this finding is made does the immigration judge decide, as required by § 208.16(d), whether the statutory bars to withholding of removal apply. If the bars do not apply, the immigration judge will grant withholding of removal to an alien who has been determined to be likely to be tortured in the country of removal. If the immigration judge finds that the bars apply, § 208.17(a) requires the immigration judge to defer removal of an alien to a country where
the alien is likely to be tortured. The alien need not apply separately for deferral because this form of protection will be accorded automatically, based on the withholding application, to an alien who is barred from withholding but is likely to be tortured in the country of removal. While the order of deferral is in effect, the alien will not be returned to the country in question.
Section 208.17(a) is subject to the same standard of proof and definitional provisions as § 208.16(c). This will ensure that compliance with Article 3 is complete and consistent in the cases of aliens who are barred from withholding as well as in the cases of aliens who are not barred from withholding. However, an order of deferral provides a much more limited form of protection than does a grant of withholding of removal. An order of deferral would not confer upon the alien any lawful or permanent immigr
ation status in the United States and would be subject to streamlined and expeditious review and termination if it is determined that it is no longer likely that the alien would be tortured in the country to which he or she has been ordered removed. Further, like withholding, deferral of removal is effective only with respect to the particular country in question and does not alter the government's ability to remove the alien to another country where he or she would not be tortured. The rule requires the
immigration judge to inform the alien of the limited nature of the deferral order at the time such order is entered.
In addition, an order deferring removal to a particular country will not alter INS authority to detain an alien who is otherwise subject to detention. Section 241(a)(6) of the Act provides a variety of grounds for INS in its discretion to detain beyond the removal period an alien under a final order who cannot be removed. These include, most importantly, the discretion to detain an alien granted deferral of removal under Article 3 who is removable based on security grounds, based on certain criminal offen
ses, or who has been determined to pose a risk to the community. This is consistent with the Article 3 implementing statute, which provides that "[n]othing in this section shall be construed as limiting the authority of the Attorney General to detain any person under any provision of law, including, but not limited to, any provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act." Section 2242(e) of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. Section 208.17(c) of the interim rule provides that deci
sions about the detention of detainable aliens who have been granted deferral of removal will be made according to standard procedures under 8 CFR part 241.
Termination of Deferral of Removal
The most important distinction between withholding of removal and deferral of removal is the mode of termination. Section 208.17(d) will provide for a streamlined termination process for deferral of removal when it is no longer likely that an alien would be tortured in the country of removal. Under existing regulations, withholding can only be terminated when the government moves to reopen the case, meets the standards for reopening, and meets its burden of proof to establish by a preponderance of the evi
dence that the alien is not eligible for withholding. The termination process for deferral of removal is designed to be much more accessible, so that deferral can be terminated quickly and efficiently when appropriate.
At any time while the order of deferral is in effect, the INS District Counsel for the district with jurisdiction over an alien granted deferral of removal may move the immigration court to schedule a hearing to determine whether the deferral order can be terminated. The INS motion will not be subject to the normal motion to reopen requirement that the moving party seek to offer evidence that was previously unavailable (i.e., could not have been discovered and presented at the previous hearing) and that es
tablishes a prima facie case for termination. Rather, the Service's motion will be granted and a termination hearing will be scheduled on an expedited basis if the Service meets a lower threshold, which requires only that the evidence was not considered at the previous hearing and is relevant to the possibility that the alien would be tortured in the country of removal. This will allow the Service to monitor cases in which an order of deferral is in effect, and to bring such cases for termination hearings
when it appears that the alien may no longer face likely torture in the country in question.
The Immigration Court will provide the alien with notice of the time, place, and date of the termination hearing, and will have the opportunity to submit evidence to supplement his or her initial application for withholding, which was the basis for the deferral order. As is the case with initial asylum and withholding applications, the original application, along with any supplemental information submitted by the alien, will be forwarded to the Department of State, which may comment on the case at its opti
on. At the termination hearing, it will be the alien's burden to establish that it is more likely than not that he or she would be tortured in the country of removal. The immigration judge will make a de novo determination about the alien's likelihood of torture in the country in question. If the immigration judge determines that the alien is more likely than not to be tortured in the country to which removal has been deferred, the order of deferral shall remain in place. If the alien fails to meet the bu
rden of proof, the deferral order will be terminated. If the alien establishes that he or she still requires protection under the Convention Against Torture, the deferral order will remain in effect. Appeal of the immigration judge's decision shall lie to the Board.
Deferral of removal may also be terminated at the alien's written request under § 208.17(e). For termination on this basis, the rule requires that the immigration judge determine whether the alien's request is knowing and voluntary. If necessary, the immigration judge may conduct a hearing to make this determination. If it is determined that the alien's request for termination is not knowing and voluntary, deferral will not be terminated on this basis.