The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Lei Li, a Chinese Christian whose request for asylum in the United States was denied by an immigration judge in 2005, should be given another chance.
Lei, who became a Christian in 1999, said he was persecuted in China for practicing his faith. He claims he was arrested and beaten “for hosting an underground Christian church in his home.” After his release from police custody, Lei says he lost his job. In 2001, he came to the United States on a visitor visa—but he violated its terms by working.
In 2003, Li applied for asylum in the United States. He filed a petition for withholding from removal under the Convention Against Torture. In 2005, immigration judge Renee Renner rejected Lei’s petition for asylum because she felt he hadn’t answered “basic” questions about Christianity correctly. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Renner didn’t have evidence to make such a judgment.
“To bolster her finding that Li was evasive, inconsistent and lacked of documentary proof of his Christian beliefs, the immigration judge pointed to the fact that Li thought Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday and that he had scant knowledge about the differences between the Old and New Testaments.”
The appeals court, however, ruled that Lei “is in good company” if he thinks that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday and noted that both Presidents Washington and Lincoln cited God in their Thanksgiving proclamations. The court added, “Millions of native-born American Christians undoubtedly think of Thanksgiving as a Christian holiday.” The court also found that Lei’s answer about the Bible provided “scant evidence” about his lack of Christian faith. In the ruling, Judge Alfred Godwin wrote that an immigration judge’s “perceptions of (an applicant’s) ignorance of religious doctrine is not a proper basis for an adverse credibility finding.”
The appeals court reversed the immigration judge’s denial of asylum and sent the case back for a second look.