(CN) - Ethiopia's denationalization of about 75,000 ethnic Eritreans in 1998 amounted to persecution, the 7th Circuit ruled, finding it "hard to believe" that the Board of Immigration Appeals determined otherwise.
The federal appeals court in Chicago told the board to reconsider the asylum case of Temesgen Woldu Haile, an ethnic Eritrean who was stripped of his Ethiopian citizenship after Ethiopia and the recently independent Eritrea went to war in 1998. Ethiopia rounded up and expelled some 75,000 citizens of Eritrean origin, but Haile fled before he could be expelled.
An immigration judge denied Haile asylum, explaining that a country has a right to determine who is a citizen and who isn't. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed, but a 7th Circuit panel reversed, calling the immigration judge's reasoning "problematic."
On remand, the board again denied Haile asylum. It found that while denationalization can be "a harbinger of persecution," an immigration judge must approach each petition on a case-by-case basis to see if the circumstances warrant asylum.
The board took the position that even if a person loses citizenship on a protected ground, such as religion or ethnicity, the loss of citizenship in itself does not amount to persecution.
Judge Richard Posner found this stance "hard to believe."
"We asked the Board's lawyer at argument whether this meant that had the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks stripped all Muslim citizens in the United States of their U.S. citizenship, but allowed them to remain in the United States, this would not have been persecution - they would have to show additional harm. She said yes," Posner wrote.
"By the same token, the mere fact that Nazi Germany's having denationalized its Jewish citizens in 1941 would not have been persecution, though their subsequent further mistreatment would have been.
"We find it hard to believe that that is actually the Board's position," Posner wrote.
He granted Haile's request for review and once again sent the case back to the board.
"Indeed, if to be made stateless is persecution, as we believe ... then to be deported to the country that made you stateless and continues to consider you stateless is to be subjected to persecution, even if the country will allow you to remain and will not bother you as long as you behave yourself," Posner concluded.