Via Law360 

By: Kaitlyn Burton

A Guatemalan woman has another shot at asylum after the First Circuit said Friday that the Board of Immigration Appeals must asses her evidence that the Latin American country has become more dangerous for members of a Mayan activist organization she is a part of.

A three-judge panel ruled that the BIA erred in denying Marta Perez-Tino’s bid to reopen her immigration case, saying that her evidence of new dangers for the members of Organizacion Maya K’iche’, or OMK, in Guatemala could excuse her tardy filing, which came more than seven years after the board denied her previous asylum bid.

“It appears that, as Perez-Tino contends, the BIA mistakenly ‘assumed that, because Ms. Perez-Tino voluntarily associated herself with OMK, that condition was a personal circumstance and could not support her motion to reopen,’” the panel said.

An immigration judge denied Perez-Tino’s asylum application in April 2009, and in October 2010, the BIA rejected her appeal of that decision. She then filed a bid in February 2018 to reopen her immigration case, but the BIA denied her request last August, saying that it was too late since she had not proved that circumstances in her country had changed.

However, the First Circuit also said that the BIA was wrong to have rejected another argument from Perez-Tino that the expected deportation of former paramilitary commander Juan Samayoa, whom she alleges tortured and murdered her relatives, from the U.S. to Guatemala would put her in added danger.

The BIA had found that Perez-Tino failed to adequately explain why she did not mention Samayoa’s attacks during her earlier immigration hearing in 2009. But the circuit court said that Perez-Tino had clearly explained that she did not mention him because he had not been arrested until 2017, eight years after her hearing.

“We fail to see why this explanation does not ‘adequately explain’ Perez-Tino’s decision to refer to Samayoa for the first time in her 2018 motion to reopen,” the panel said, noting that Perez-Tino had also provided the BIA with multiple affidavits from friends and family attesting to her claims.

However, the panel did not disagree with the BIA rejecting Perez-Tino’s argument that the shifting political landscape in Guatemala amounted to changed country conditions.

“Perez-Tino develops no argument that the BIA’s determination that there had not been a ‘material change in circumstances’ with respect to this aspect of her attempted showing to the contrary was unsupported by substantial evidence,” the panel said.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment. A representative for Perez-Tino did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perez-Tino is represented by Nancy J. Kelly, John Willshire Carrera and Maggie Morgan of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services.

The government is represented by Jacob A. Bashyrov of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

The case is Perez-Tino v. Barr, case number 18-1860, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.