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Is Bipolar Disorder Grounds for Asylum? The Fourth Circuit Court Thinks So

In an opinion written on January 16, 2014, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, reversed the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The Court found that an asylum applicant from Tanzania who suffers from biopolar disorder belongs to a particular social group.

The asylum applicant, Tumaini Temu, suffers from biopolar disorder. Mr. Temu argued that in his native country of Tanzania, he was persecuted on account of his particular social group as a person with biopolar disorder. He was labelled “"mwenda wazimu," which means demon-possessed in Swahili. He asserted that hospital nurses and prison guards treated him with abuse and violence.

The Immigration Judge denied Mr. Temu’s claim for asylum, finding that the abuse Mr. Temu suffered was not on account of a particular social group because the group that Mr. Temu belonged to (people with bipolar disorder in Tanzania) lacked the elements of immutability, particularity and social visibility necessary to qualify as a particular social group under the law.[1] Mr. Temu appealed the Immigration Judge’s decision to the BIA, which dismissed the appeal. Mr. Temu than filed an appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit agreed with Temu and reversed the decision, rebuking the BIA that its conclusion is “the very essence of irrationality” and “collapses under the weight of its logical defects.”

You can listen to the oral argument here and read the court’s full opinion here.

[1] The BIA has formulated a three-part test for what constitutes a "particular social group." First, individuals in the group must "share a common, immutable characteristic . . . that members of the group either cannot change, or should not be required to change." In addition, the group must have social visibility, which means "the group should generally be recognizable by others in the community." Finally, the group must be defined with particularity, which means the group must have concrete, identifiable boundaries that allow an observer to distinguish members of a group from non-members. (See In re S-E-G-, 24 I & N Dec. 579 (BIA July 30, 2008)).

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