Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic Students Win Appeal to Stop the Deportation of Chaldean Christian Client who Fears Torture in Iraq

Students from the James H. Binger Center for New Americans’ Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic (FILC) secured an important victory for their client, Walid Abdulahad, in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In an opinion issued April 11th, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) failed to properly consider evidence that Mr. Abdulahad had presented to show that he would face torture if forced to return to Iraq, his country of origin.

Mr. Abdulahad is a devout Chaldean Christian who has called the United States home for nearly 30 years since arriving as a refugee in 1997. Yet, in 2022, he faced deportation after the BIA rejected his claims that conditions in Iraq had materially worsened to a point that he would likely be tortured if removed to Iraq, in part because of his Christian faith. 

Three clinic students—Jeremy Ruppert ‘24, Coryn Johnson ‘24, and Chloe Chambers ’25—led Mr. Abdulahad’s appeal to the Sixth Circuit, arguing that the BIA decision was rife with legal errors. The FILC students were supervised by Adjunct Clinical Professor Mary Georgevich ’18 and Associate Clinical Professor and FILC Director Nadia Anguiano ’17 and worked with Mr. Abdulahad’s local counsel in Michigan, Russell Abrutyn. Over the course of two academic years, the FILC team fully briefed the case, and, last October, traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to present live oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit. 

In its April 11th opinion, the Sixth Circuit agreed with Mr. Abdulahad that the BIA committed legal errors when it rejected his claim for protection under the Convention Against Torture. The Sixth Circuit panel majority held—over one dissenting judge—that the BIA had not properly evaluated new evidence and arguments Mr. Abdulahad presented to show he will more likely than not be tortured if removed to Iraq now. 

The FILC team was thrilled by the court’s decision. “Our entire team is gratified that the Sixth Circuit has vindicated our client’s right to seek protection in the United States from torture and other forms of violence inflicted on religious grounds,” Anguiano said.

Among other important holdings, the Sixth Circuit vindicated Mr. Abdulahad’s argument that when a noncitizen seeking protection in the United States “invokes more than one independent source of or reason for the risk of torture,” the BIA must consider all of the noncitizen’s asserted risks “in the aggregate.” Mr. Abdulahad had argued to the BIA that he faced torture not only because of his Christian faith but also because of other personal characteristics. The Sixth Circuit agreed with Mr. Abdulahad’s legal team that “there is no basis to conclude that the [BIA] analyzed” those claims, as required. 

The impact of the Sixth Circuit’s precedential decision extends beyond Mr. Abdulahad’s own case and could potentially aid other noncitizens denied meaningful review of their life-or-death claims. “The Sixth Circuit’s decision affirms that the immigration agency must review these important claims of torture using the correct legal standards and issue reasoned decisions that account for all the evidence presented by vulnerable people seeking protection from torture under U.S. and international law. I could not be prouder of the FILC students for their tireless and excellent advocacy for our client,” Anguiano added.

Listen to the audio of the oral argument

Read the Abdulahad v. Garland decision

Read prior Law School coverage of this case

Nadia Anguiano-Wehde, Immigration Advocacy Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor, Clinics

Nadia Anguiano ’17

Associate Clinical Professor of Law

Mary Georgevich ’18

Adjunct: General Curriculum