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Tian v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 30, 2019

Jinfeng Tian Petitioner
William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States Respondent

          Submitted: May 7, 2019

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

          Before ERICKSON, BOWMAN, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.


         Chinese citizen Jinfeng Tian petitions for review of a final order issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"). The BIA dismissed Tian's appeal of an immigration judge's ("IJ's") order that denied her asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). We grant the petition, vacate the order of removal, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Tian is a native of China and was thirty-three years old at the time of her removal proceeding. She came to the United States in 2011 and stated she did so because she was being persecuted for her Christian faith. She applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under CAT.

         While in China, Tian attended what is commonly referred to as a house church. She described her worship services as "family gatherings" where individuals would meet, sing gospel songs, and read Bible verses. The church leader would then teach, with a discussion following. The services were under the leadership of someone Tian referred to as "Priest Chen." Tian was baptized in a home setting in China and later at a church in the United States. During her hearing before the IJ, Tian described her baptism, her acceptance of Christ as her savior, and what the baptism symbolized.

         Tian testified that before she fled China she was arrested by the Chinese police for participating in these "family gatherings." She described how the police slapped, hit, and repeatedly kicked her during an interrogation. After her release, Tian stated she was placed under surveillance, required to report to Chinese government authorities each week on Sunday (her day of worship), and not allowed to associate with other house church members. Tian also claimed the police threatened to jail her for life if she failed to report. Tian further asserted her parents are still being questioned by the Chinese police as to her whereabouts.

         During Tian's appearance before the IJ, she was asked oddly focused questions about her Christian faith. The government asked Tian questions about what the Baptist denomination means, how the Baptist church was founded, and why the Baptist church was created, to which she responded she did not know. The government next asked Tian about the organization of the Bible, to which she responded "there are two part[s] in the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament." Tian then gave brief descriptions about the Old and New Testaments and quoted her favorite passage from the New Testament book of Mark. The government also asked about her understanding of religious holidays, to which she gave complete answers.

         The government also extensively questioned who baptized Tian in the United States. Tian stated that pastor Yang Qing Jian baptized her. The government countered that the certificate of baptism indicated the pastor was Jerry Jean, to which Tian replied once again that it was pastor Jian. The government then asked why another person was listed as baptizing her. She maintained that it was pastor Jian and that he was listed on the certificate. After she was able to see the certificate, Tian identified that the certificate stated Yang Qing Jian's name, as well as his English name, Jerry Jean.

         The IJ questioned Tian about her passport and how she obtained her visitor's visa to enter the United States. Tian responded that she had her passport prior to her arrest by Chinese authorities, the police did not take it, and she traveled to Beijing to obtain the visa. The IJ asked if Tian lied to government officials about the reason for getting the visa, to which she responded yes.

         The IJ then questioned Tian about whether there were churches in China that are authorized by the government and if they were Christian churches. Tian stated that there were authorized churches, but she did not know if any were Christian because she had never been to one.

         The IJ next asked Tian if she went to a doctor after her beating by Chinese police. Tian testified that she saw someone she described as a family doctor. After questioning, Tian further explained that a local doctor came to her home and she did not go to the hospital. The IJ then proceeded to ask a string of questions about doctors in Beijing and whether she could have gotten care there. When the IJ asked if the doctors she did see would have provided information related to her beating by the police and Tian did not respond, the IJ stated: "For the record the respondent is not answering." Tian then explained the family doctors ...

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