US Supreme Court hears arguments on credibility in asylum cases
Photo credit: Stephanie Sundier
US Supreme Court hears arguments on credibility in asylum cases

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in the consolidated cases Wilkinson v. Dai and Wilkinson v. Alcaraz-Enriquez on Tuesday. The main issue before the court is”[w]hether a court of appeals may conclusively presume that an asylum applicant’s testimony is credible and true whenever an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals adjudicates an application without making an explicit adverse credibility determination.”

Wilkinson v. Dai arose when Ming Dai sought asylum after being targeted by Chinese authorities for violating its one-child policy. Wilkinson v. Alcaraz-Enriquez arose when Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez attempted to stay in the US for fear of being persecuted if he returned to Mexico.

The government argued that the agency handling asylum cases determined that evidence that did not speak to the credibility of the asylum seekers’ claims undermined their persuasiveness. In doing so, it attempted to draw a distinction between persuasiveness and credibility. Justice Samuel Alito responded by calling that distinction “extraordinarily confusing and invalid,” a response with which Justices Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett apparently agreed.

Administrative law generally was also featured during the arguments. Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned the expanse of federal court review. This question led to the government admitting that the case should be viewed in the asylum seeker’s favor when inquiring “as to whether the board reasonably treated the presumption” of credibility.

The asylum seekers in this case also argued that the determinations by the immigration agency require greater scrutiny than they have been given based on how other agencies are treated. They argued that the agency must provide discernable reasons for its action and the federal court’s review is limited to those reasons. They stated that the agency needs to give a clear enough articulation of credibility determination reasoning to allow for the record to be appropriately reviewed. In the case of Dai and Alcaraz-Enriquez, the reasoning for the agency’s decision on persuasiveness was not clear.