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The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delayed the deportation of a Latvian couple and sent the case back to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to reconsider its denial to grant the couple asylum. In a strongly worded opinion released May 22, the court said the service’s Board of Immigration Appeals had not rebutted the “well-founded” fear of Svetalana Galina that she would be persecuted if she were deported back to Latvia. Galina and her husband, Viatcheslav Galin, now live in the Chicago area. “The elementary principles of administrative law, the rules of logic, and common sense seem to have eluded the Board in this as in other cases,” read the opinion written by Chief Judge Richard Posner. The couple fled Latvia in 1994 where Galina had been a secretary for an official in the “Green” Party and had seen a list of Russians and Jews living in Latvia who were recommended by party officials for deportation from the country and having their property confiscated, the opinion said. Three weeks after seeing the list, the court noted, Galina quit her job at the party office and was subjected to threatening phone calls and threats of violence. Her husband was physically threatened and the couple’s daughter was attacked on her way home from school. “In April (of 1994) Galina was abducted by uniformed men, tied to a tree in a remote area, threatened with a gun, and told to leave Latvia. The threatening phone calls continued,” the opinion continued. Mark S. Davidson, of Davidson & Schiller, said the ruling was significant because it clearly defines for immigration law specialists “what is appropriate in taking administrative notice.” In the opinion, the three-judge panel said the board “misapplied” the doctrine of administrative notice because it relied on information contained in a 1998 U.S. State Department report on Latvia that could have been contested in denying the couple asylum. The administrative notice doctrine authorizes the finder of fact to waive proof of facts that cannot seriously be contested. In denying asylum for the couple, the court wrote, the board relied upon “either summaries of Latvian laws or State Department statements of opinion, the precise meaning and factual basis of which are obscure, such as that Latvia had a ‘free and fair’ parliamentary election in 1996 or that human rights are ‘generally respected.’” The board’s “worst error,” however, according to the court, was concluding that the persecution Galina and her husband experienced was unlikely to recur if they were to return to Latvia. There was nothing in the 1998 State Department report, for instance, to indicate there had been any improvements or any more respect shown toward human rights in Latvia since the couple left. “If conditions relevant to that persecution are unchanged since 1994,” the opinion concluded, “the Board had no basis for concluding that the couple has no well-founded fear of persecution if they are sent back to Latvia.” Samuel Der-Yeghiayan represented the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Loreto S. Geisse represented the U.S. Department of Justice in the case.

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