June 23, 2021

Two Days at the Nogales Border

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog]

Revised edition posted June 24, 2021

By Raquel Aldana

We parked our cars on the U.S. side of the border at an empty parking lot in the desolate, hot Sonoran desert landscape. We were a small team of four: a lawyer, a student legal intern, a community organizer, and I, a law professor from King Hall. I was there to volunteer with a small team of attorneys from Arizona which has been coming to the Nogales border for the past four years to provide legal orientations to asylum-seekers. In recent months, they have shifted the focus of their services to helping process hundreds of asylum seekers stranded in Mexico.

Our uneventful, uninterrupted, and unnoticed crossing by foot across the Mexican border made me conscious immediately of the vastly different experiences of human mobility across borders that we, as U.S. citizens, experience. I confess, however, that I subtly checked for the umpteenth time that my little blue U.S. passport was indeed in my backpack as I looked over the other side to the U.S. border I would be crossing back to later that day. As a Central American immigrant and naturalized citizen of nearly four decades, somehow that fleeing yet lingering feeling of outsider overtook me. I know it had a lot to do with my extremely personal identification with the migrants I would be meeting in the next two days. The chasm between the enormity of the circumstances that forced their displacement and the meager solutions we could offer them overwhelmed me.

The circumstances at the border have been fluid since the Biden administration took office. In theory, the border remains shut for asylum seekers based on so-called health reasons in response to the pandemic under Title 42. But now, a type of slightly less chaotic metering process was in place – one that essentially permitted migrants lucky enough to access non-profits “get in line” to be allowed to present themselves to the border to seek asylum in a process coordinated by different binational and/or international humanitarian organizations along the southern border. That was progress. When I was first trained by the Arizona non-profit’s border attorneys back in March of this year, only migrants with extreme and urgent humanitarian grounds for seeking parole, usually based on grave victimization in Mexico, could hope to enter. That process literally called for a sifting of trauma among a sea of trauma, and it felt hallow. This new process, which seemed mostly to create more filters, now in the hands of non-profits, to ensure that migrants both had a “fear of return” + a negative COVID-19 test or an active MPP case + a negative COVID-19 test before presenting themselves at the border, created some path to an otherwise shut border. Especially for those stuck in Mexico waiting for this moment, some for as long as two years, this provided renewed hope.

Hope is exactly what I encountered with at least nine of the ten migrants I met over the course of two days. Here are their brief profiles:[1] a Mexican mother of five and her husband who had made their living selling fruits and vegetables in the street until the extortionists threatened their lives and livelihood; a young Salvadorean couple and their toddler, fleeing after being forced to testify against a gang for a murder and who feared for their lives; a Honduran woman and her son running away from a gang-ridden after a family member was murdered; two adult siblings each running from different forms of violence: one from a much older, abusive husband to whom she had been married off as a child, forcing her to leave behind her children; the other from an extortionist gang he had been violently forced to join and who now sought to kill him for his desertion; a gay man from who had been nearly killed by three strangers who could not stand his homosexuality; and a Venezuelan refugee family who firmly resettled in Mexico but was now facing extortion from a gang who was threatening his livelihood in his new home. I felt that what I could offer them was so little: a kind ear to listen and validate their suffering, and my attempt to prepare them as much as possible for their journey if and when they made it to the other side. For some, I had to tell them they were ineligible for asylum and could only seek withholding of removal or relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Others I had to prepare for the likely possibility of mandatory detention and tried to paint a picture for them as much as possible of this reality. For all, I had to inform them how hard it is to win asylum and how desperately they would need to secure a lawyer to even have a shot at winning. The only saving grace was that all of them had family in the U.S. I urged them to tell their family to identify a lawyer in anticipation of their arrival. In speaking to each of them, I realized how much hope is altered by our circumstances. Their desperation made them either ignore or accept with resignation my account of the reality that awaited them when they crossed the border. All but one remained resolute to cross the border. I fully understood it. One of them who was barred from asylum due to prior immigration history said to me, as he held his son sleeping soundly in his arms, “maybe a miracle will happen and they will grant me asylum.” His hope eclipsed my legal explanation of his ineligibility. At that, I could only smile as I touched his shoulder and caressed his little boy’s hand and wished him well.

I have spent over two decades of my professional career as a human rights lawyer and scholar trying to address the underlying causes of forced migration. I remember a priest who once described the phenomena of forced migration as the most visible expression of failed democracies, the type we can no longer ignore because their suffering has spilled across borders. I fully grasp the response of many in the U.S. who feel we simply cannot absorb all the world’s problems by accepting all refugees, no matter how awful their stories. It is much easier to say this when you have never had to sit across the table from the migrant who most desperately seeks no more than a fourth of what you have. I do believe there is a lot we can do to help migrants stay home and live dignified lives. If you are interested, I invite you to read two of my most recent reflections on serious and complex solutions that we must take up if we are to reduce forced migration from Central America. You can find these here and here. What we cannot do is pretend that harsh immigration policies that shut down borders, detain migrants, or that make asylum standards nearly unreachable will suffice to quell the desperate hope that fuels forced migration.

One of the migrants with me during these past few days was a ten-year-old boy. He was beautiful and surprisingly happy and well-adjusted. Unlike his mom, his eyes sparkled as he mischievously hovered over me to marvel at how fast I typed and to ask me questions about living in the U.S. and being a lawyer. I told him I, too, had come to the U.S. at the age of ten. I wished so much, then, that his life could be closer to mine at his age. You see, I came with my entire family in a plane, through a church sponsored visa in 1982. I would learn later that we, too, had received death threats. But my parents, as ministers of a U.S.-based church, had access to church-sponsored visas. I, too, was a precocious, intelligent child, like that beautiful Honduran boy. I remember looking up at the “EXIT” sign as we exited U.S. immigration at the Miami airport. “Look dad,” I exclaimed proudly, “this is a great country, they are wishing us success.” You see, exito means success in Spanish. This is my desperate hope: that rather than exit we can hope for exito for these migrants' lives stuck at the border.   

June 22, 2021


Edited by Kevin R. Johnson

Table of Contents

"Niz-Chavez v. Garland: Pereira Groundhog Day"

Ashley Oldfield, Independent

"Trump’s Policy of Putting Kids in Cages: Six Dead, Thousands Separated From Parents, Making America Great Again?"

David R. Katner, Tulane University - Law School

"Enabling the Best Interests Factors"

Adrian Alvarez, St. John's University - School of Law

"White Supremacy, Police Brutality, and Family Separation: Preventing Crimes Against Humanity Within the United States"

Elena A. Baylis, University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

"Migrant Protection Protocols and the Death of Asylum"

Austin Kocher, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse

"Refugee Entrepreneurship: A Systematic Review of Prior Research and Agenda for Future Research"

Alex Newman, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law
Luke Macaulay, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law
Karen Dunwoodie, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law


"Niz-Chavez v. Garland: Pereira Groundhog Day"  


In Niz-Chavez v. Garland, the Supreme Court of the United States addressed, for the second time, what constitutes a notice to appear under 8 U.S.C. § 1229(a)(1). In doing so, the Court may have also resurrected challenges to an immigration court’s jurisdiction which first arose following the Court’s decision in Pereira v. Sessions.

"Trump’s Policy of Putting Kids in Cages: Six Dead, Thousands Separated From Parents, Making America Great Again?"  
28 Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 87 (2021)
Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 21-2

DAVID R. KATNER, Tulane University - Law School

For the first time in history, the U.S. executive branch enacted an immigration policy designed to inflict such pain and trauma on children and their families so as to dissuade families from Latin America from coming to the U.S. seeking asylum. With six children dead and thousands separated from their families, we continue to learn more about the atrocities inflicted on these migrants seeking a better life. Women were subjected to nonconsensual hysterectomies, families were tortured, and the toxic stress inflicted may require years to resolve. This article seeks accountability for the intentional acts imposed by the U.S. government in the form of possible legal remedies. This policy marks the lowest point in U.S. immigration policy, a country with origins rooted in reliance on migrants from every part of the world to make the nation a better place.

"Enabling the Best Interests Factors"  
St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 21-0007

ADRIAN ALVAREZ, St. John's University - School of Law

In February 2019, the media reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)—an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) charged with the care and custody of unaccompanied immigrant children—was using minors’ admissions of prior gang affiliation during confidential therapy sessions as the sole criteria for “stepping up” children from low-security shelters to more restrictive and punitive detention facilities. ORR was also then sharing the therapy notes with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use them against children in deportation proceedings. The newspaper article that broke the story noted that while the information sharing between HHS and DHS was “technically legal,” it was “a profound violation of patient confidentiality.” This article argues that these practices are not “technically legal” at all. They are illegal because they violate basic best interests principles now enshrined in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Recovery Act of 2008 (TVPRA), and, in some instances, they may violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II), federal anti-discrimination laws designed to protect people with disabilities.

The best interests approach “is a dynamic concept that requires an assessment appropriate to the specific context,” and stepping up a child to a more restrictive setting based solely on prior gang affiliation is inconsistent with the procedural aspects of the best interests standard. Moreover, using gang affiliation revealed in therapy sessions as the sole criteria for sending a child to a more restrictive setting may also violate federal anti-discrimination statutes designed to protect children with disabilities. For instance, Section 504 and Title II’s regulations prohibit recipients of federal funds and public entities, respectively, from using “criteria or methods of administration . . . that have the purpose or effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the recipient’s program or activity with respect to handicapped persons.” Because confidentiality is required for therapy to succeed, this policy may unintentionally have the effect of substantially impairing unaccompanied minors from receiving the intended therapeutic benefits of the therapy session. Although gang affiliation is disability neutral on its face, it has a disparate impact on unaccompanied minors with psychosocial disabilities because there is a correlation between gang affiliation and emotional and behavioral disorders.

"White Supremacy, Police Brutality, and Family Separation: Preventing Crimes Against Humanity Within the United States"  
University of Illinois Law Review, 2022 Forthcoming
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-16

ELENA A. BAYLIS, University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Although the United States tends to treat crimes against humanity as a danger that exists only in authoritarian or war-torn states, in fact, there is a real risk of crimes against humanity occurring within the United States, as illustrated by events such as systemic police brutality against Black Americans, the federal government’s family separation policy that took thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the southern border, and the dramatic escalation of White supremacist and extremist violence culminating in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In spite of this risk, the United States does not have a federal law prohibiting crimes against humanity. This Article first applies international law to define crimes against humanity and assess the risk of crimes against humanity occurring within the United States. It then turns to domestic law to evaluate the potential for a federal law or other federal measures to protect against crimes against humanity, including the political obstacles, the likelihood that any future legislation will depart significantly from international law, and the implications for effectiveness.

"Migrant Protection Protocols and the Death of Asylum"  
Journal of Latin American Geography

AUSTIN KOCHER, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse

From January 2019 to January 2021, a Trump-era policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) forced asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border to wait for their hearings in dangerous parts of northern Mexico. MPP had disastrous consequences: very few migrants in MPP had a meaningful chance to request asylum compared to other asylum seekers, and the forced migrants waiting in Mexico faced pervasive violence. President Biden suspended new enrollments in the program on his first day in office and, by late February 2021, migrants who were living in the refugee camp that emerged as a result of MPP in Matamoros, Mexico, began to enter the United States to pursue their asylum claims. As the MPP program—also known as Remain in Mexico—appears to come to a close, this essay examines key aspects of the program through the perspective of ontological, political, and physical death that Alison Mountz theorizes in her recent book The Death of Asylum. Drawing on Mountz’s work, I view MPP as symptomatic of a concerted though spatially uneven assault across the developed world on both the institutions and operations of asylum as a practice as well as on asylum seekers themselves.

"Refugee Entrepreneurship: A Systematic Review of Prior Research and Agenda for Future Research"  

ALEX NEWMAN, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law
LUKE MACAULAY, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law
KAREN DUNWOODIE, Deakin University - Faculty of Business and Law

In recent years, the refugee crisis has emerged as a grand societal challenge with a host of economic, social, and political implications. As of 2020 there were around 26 million people registered with the UNHCR as refugees. While refugees are considered by some to be a burden on their host countries, there is growing evidence that they make significant contributions to the economies of their host countries, with rates of entrepreneurship higher than other migrant groups and host country nationals. To take stock of what we know about refugee entrepreneurship, this article undertakes a systematic review of the literature. The systematic review provides insights on themes regarding facilitators and barriers to refugees’ entry into entrepreneurship, as well as identifying gaps in our extant knowledge. Based on these gaps, a future research agenda is proposed which targets empirical and theoretical advancement of the field of refugee entrepreneurship.

June 18, 2021

The Surprisingly Broad Implications of Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe for Human Rights Litigation and Extraterritoriality

[Cross-posted from Just Security]

By William S. Dodge

In Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of corporate liability for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for the third time. The Court again failed to resolve the question, holding instead that application of the ATS cause of action would be impermissibly extraterritorial in this case because nearly all the defendants’ relevant conduct occurred in Ivory Coast. At first glance, this holding appears narrow, which is no doubt why it attracted the votes of eight Justices. But the decision has potentially broad implications for ATS suits against individuals and for the extraterritorial application of federal statutes in other areas. This article will briefly discuss the questions of corporate liability and limiting the ATS cause of action before exploring the Court’s extraterritoriality holding and its potentially dramatic implications.


The defendants are U.S. companies that buy cocoa from Ivory Coast. The plaintiffs are individuals from Mali who were trafficked to Ivory Coast as child slaves to work on cocoa farms. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants aided and abetted their slavery by providing the farms that held them with technical and financial resources despite knowing or having reason to know that the farms were using children as slaves. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants made all their major operational decisions from the United States.

The ATS is a jurisdictional provision that was part of the First Judiciary Act of 1789. As codified today, it gives federal district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In 1980, the Second Circuit held in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980), that non-U.S. citizen plaintiffs could use the ATS to sue a foreign police inspector who had come to the United States to recover damages for torture that occurred abroad, reasoning that the plaintiffs were “aliens,” that torture is a tort, and that torture violates modern customary international law.

In Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004), the Supreme Court rejected arguments that a statutory cause of action should be required for claims under the ATS and that claims should be limited to the three violations of the law of nations that the First Congress had in mind in 1789 (violations of safe-conducts, infringement of the rights of ambassadors, and piracy). The Court recognized an implied, federal-common-law cause of action for violations of modern international law that are as generally accepted and specifically defined as the three historical paradigms, although the Court found that Alvarez-Machain’s claims of arbitrary detention did not meet that standard.

In 2010, the Second Circuit held in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), that corporations could never be sued under the ATS because corporate liability for human rights violations did not meet the Sosa standard. The Supreme Court granted review on the corporate liability question, but after reargument the Court declined to answer the question. Instead, the Court applied the presumption against extraterritoriality to the ATS cause of action, holding that ATS claims must “touch and concern the territory of the United States . . . with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application” and that “mere corporate presence” in the United States is insufficient. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108, 124-25 (2013). The Court tried again to answer the corporate liability question in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, 138 S. Ct. 1386 (2018). Again, it failed, holding only that the ATS cause of action does not extend to foreign corporations. Id. at 1407.

The Nestlé case presented the Court with a third opportunity to decide the corporate liability question because the defendants were U.S. corporations not protected by Jesner. But once again, the Court disposed of the case on other grounds. Justice Thomas concluded in Part II of his opinion (joined by every member of the Court except Justice Alito) that applying the ATS cause of action would be impermissibly extraterritorial because the plaintiffs had not alleged sufficient relevant conduct in the United States. Justice Thomas went on in Part III to propose that the ATS cause of action should be limited to the three historical paradigms that the First Congress had in mind, but he was joined only by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan), agreed with Justice Thomas about extraterritoriality but disagreed about limiting the ATS cause of action. She also reiterated her view that the ATS cause of action should extend to corporations. Justices Gorsuch and Alito agreed with Justice Sotomayor that there was no basis for limiting the ATS cause of action to natural persons (which, yes, makes five Justices on that point of law). Justice Gorsuch (joined by Justice Kavanaugh), however, would have overruled Sosa, whereas Justice Alito would not have reached the extraterritoriality question before deciding other issues he though should be preliminary.

Corporate Liability

The Court granted review in Nestlé to decide the corporate liability question that it left open in Kiobel and Jesner. In Jesner, the plurality and the dissent fundamentally disagreed on how the question should be framed. Justice Kennedy’s plurality opinion asked whether there was a “norm of corporate liability” under international law, whereas Justice Sotomayor’s dissent read Sosa to require an international consensus about the prohibited “substantive conduct” but not about the “forms of liability.” As I have previously explained at Just Security, Justice Sotomayor’s framing is most consistent with international law, which prohibits certain violations of human rights but leaves it to each nation to decide whether and how to provide remedies for such violations. (Full disclosure: I wrote an amicus brief on this question in Jesner and a similar brief in Nestlé.) The Trump administration reversed the position on corporate liability under the ATS that the United States had taken in Kiobel and Jesner, arguing that the Supreme Court should reject corporate liability—not on international law grounds but because the decision should be left to Congress.

Although the majority opinion in Nestlé did not address the question of corporate liability, five Justices saw no reason to distinguish between corporations and natural persons as defendants. Justice Gorsuch wrote: “The notion that corporations are immune from suit under the ATS cannot be reconciled with the statutory text and original understanding.” Justice Alito added in dissent that “corporate status does not justify special immunity.” And Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan) agreed (n. 4). There was no discussion in any of the Nestlé opinions of the need for a “norm of corporate liability” under international law, and one hopes that this spurious argument has finally been put to rest.

Limiting Sosa

In Part III of his opinion, Justice Thomas (joined by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) would have held “that federal courts should not recognize private rights of action for violations of international law beyond the three historical torts identified in Sosa.” In Justice Thomas’s view, “creating a cause of action to enforce international law beyond [the] three historical torts invariably gives rise to foreign-policy concerns,” warranting deference to Congress. Congress had also shown itself willing and able to address human trafficking by amending the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) to add a private right of action, he explained. With respect to torts beyond the three historical paradigms, Justice Thomas concluded, “there always is a sound reason to defer to Congress.” In Part II of his concurrence, Justice Gorsuch (joined by Justice Kavanaugh) largely echoed Justice Thomas but suggested more explicitly that the Court should overrule Sosa or, as he put it, avoid “adhering to a precedent that seized power we do not possess.”

Justice Sotomayor spent her concurring opinion, in which Justices Breyer and Kagan joined, defending Sosa against Justice Thomas’s attack, which would have overruled that decision “in all but name.” It was the First Congress’s assessment, she noted, “that diplomatic strife is best avoided by providing a federal fo­rum to redress those law-of-nations torts that, if not reme­died, could bring international opprobrium upon the United States.” “Barring some extraordinary collateral consequence that could not have been foreseen by Congress,” she continued, “federal courts should not, under the guise of judicial discretion, second-guess that legislative decision.” Although Congress could have limited the ATS to the three historical paradigms with which it was familiar, it did not do so. Instead, Congress relied on “international law [to] suppl[y] the substantive contours of actionable torts.” Justice Sotomayor concluded that to “suggest that identifying actionable torts risks upsetting the careful balance of interests struck by the lawmakers is ahistorical at best” (quotation marks and alterations omitted).


The Justices found more room for agreement on the question of extraterritoriality, with eight Justices joining Part II of Justice Thomas’s opinion. Only Justice Alito dissented, reasoning that the extraterritoriality question should not be addressed before other questions that the Court had not considered.

The Court did not apply Kiobel’s “touch and concern” test but rather the two-step framework for the presumption against extraterritoriality subsequently articulated in RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Community, 136 S. Ct. 2090 (2016). Under that framework, as I have explained at length elsewhere, courts determine the geographic scope of a statutory provision by looking for a clear indication of that scope (step one) or by looking to the focus of the provision (step two).

In Kiobel, the Supreme Court found that there was no clear indication of geographic scope with respect to the ATS cause of action and did not address the focus question. In Nestlé, the parties disagreed about the focus of the ATS, but the Court found it unnecessary to resolve the focus question because it was still up to the plaintiffs to “establish that ‘the conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in the United States’” (quoting RJR, 136 S. Ct. at 2101). The Court in Nestlé noted that “nearly all the conduct that [the plaintiffs] say aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms—occurred in Ivory Coast.” Plaintiffs had alleged that the defendants made their major operational decisions in the United States, but the Court concluded that “allegations of general corporate activity—like decisionmaking—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.”

The key language from RJR on which the Nestlé decision turned is worth quoting in full:

If the statute is not extraterritorial, then at the second step we determine whether the case involves a domestic application of the statute, and we do this by looking to the statute’s “focus.” If the conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in the United States, then the case involves a permissible domestic application even if other conduct occurred abroad; but if the conduct relevant to the focus occurred in a foreign country, then the case involves an impermissible extraterritorial application regardless of any other conduct that occurred in U.S. territory.

In RJR, the language about “conduct relevant to the statute’s focus” was dictum (as I have explained in greater detail at pp. 49-50 here). When the Court in RJR came to apply the second step of the analysis to RICO’s private right of action, the Court made no mention of the need for conduct in the United States, holding simply that the provision “requires a civil RICO plaintiff to allege and prove a domestic injury to business or property and does not allow recovery for foreign injuries.” RJR, 136 S. Ct. at 2111. Similarly, in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010), the Supreme Court found the location of the conduct irrelevant in applying the presumption against extraterritorially, adopting a “transactional test” for the geographic scope of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act that turns entirely on the location of the transaction. Id. at 269-70. Based on these decisions, the Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law rejected a separate requirement of conduct in the United States when the focus of the statutory provision is on something other than conduct as it was in RJR and Morrison, providing simply: “If whatever is the focus of the provision occurred in the United States, then application of the provision is considered domestic and is permitted” (§ 404 cmt. c).

Nestlé’s reliance on RJR’s dictum has potentially broad implications both for ATS cases and for the Court’s approach to extraterritoriality more generally. With respect to ATS cases, if plaintiffs must show relevant conduct in the United States, it is hard to see how traditional ATS cases against individual defendants can continue. The Second Circuit’s seminal decision in Filartiga, for example, involved torture by a Paraguayan police inspector in Paraguay. The connection to the United States was the fact that the inspector later came to the United States. That fact might have been sufficient to satisfy Kiobel’s “touch and concern” test. See, e.g., Jane W. v. Thomas, 354 F. Supp. 3d 630, 639 (E.D. Pa. 2018) (finding residence sufficient to satisfy “touch and concern” test). But it seems unlikely to satisfy Nestlé’s requirement of relevant conduct in the United States.

Of course, many cases against individual defendants are now covered by the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which provides an express statutory cause of action against natural persons for torture and extrajudicial killing under color of foreign law. Claims for torture and extrajudicial killing may therefore continue under the TVPA, subject to federal common law rules governing foreign official immunity. But the TVPA does not cover other well-established human rights violations like genocide and war crimes. Genocide and war crimes do sometimes involve torture and killing, but the TVPA’s color-of-foreign-law requirement would nonetheless preclude those suits against non-state actors. The TVPA also does not cover piracy. Almost everyone seems to agree that piracy was within the First Congress’s contemplation when it passed the ATS, but piracy does not involve conduct in the United States and so would not be actionable under Nestlé. It seems odd that Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan would join the majority’s extraterritoriality analysis without some consideration of its implications for ATS claims against individuals.

Beyond the human rights context, adding a requirement of relevant conduct in the United States is likely to disturb the law concerning extraterritoriality in other areas—and in ways that might concern other members of the majority too. For example, Morrison rejected the Second Circuit’s conduct and effects tests for securities fraud claims, finding those tests to be “unpredictable and inconsistent,” in favor of a more easily administrable test that turns on the location of the transaction. Lower courts have expressly held that Morrison’s transactional test does not require conduct in the United States. See Absolute Activist Value Master Fund Ltd. v. Ficeto, 677 F.3d 60, 69 (2d Cir. 2012). Nestlé upsets that understanding by suggesting that conduct relevant to the transaction must also occur in the United States. Lower courts will now have to consider not only whether a separate conduct requirement applies to securities fraud claims but also what kind of conduct is relevant to the transaction and how much conduct is required, making the application of Section 10(b) in transnational cases unpredictable and inconsistent once again. Nestlé will not unsettle every established test for geographic scope, because some tests are based on clear indications of congressional intent (e.g. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) and others were fixed before the presumption against extraterritoriality was reborn in 1991 (e.g. the effects test for antitrust law). But Nestlé is likely to make life more complicated for the lower courts considering questions of extraterritoriality than the Justices anticipated. Indeed, if the Justices had anticipated these downstream effects, they would have presumably provided some guidance to avoid them.


Nestlé certainly does not mean the end of human rights litigation in U.S. courts. Cases against individual defendants may continue under the TVPA, the TVPRA, and similar statutes granting express causes of action. But Nestlé does seem to mark the end of the Filartiga line of ATS cases against individual defendants whose relevant conduct occurs outside the United States. It also appears to limit the ATS cause of action to claims against U.S. corporations based on conduct in the United States that goes beyond making decisions about how to conduct operations abroad. There may be cases that fit that description, but they are likely to be few and far between.

June 14, 2021

Officials Should Force San Diego to Follow California Housing Law. Inaction Has Consequences.


[Cross-posted from the San Diego Union-Tribune]

By Christopher Elmendorf, Ricardo Flores and Jon Wizard

Last month, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) notified San Diego that the city will be out of compliance with the state’s “housing element” law as of June 16 unless it commits to serious corrective actions before then. This is a make-or-break moment for San Diego and for the future of housing in the state.

Every eight years, California cities must adopt a state-approved plan, called a housing element, which shows how the city will accommodate its share of regionally needed housing. This law has been on the books for decades but was toothless until recently. Starting in 2017, the Legislature bulked up regional housing targets, added new sanctions, required cities to loosen zoning restrictions enough to achieve their share of the regional target, and insisted that housing plans undo historical patterns of segregation and exclusion.

What HCD decides in San Diego’s case will establish a landmark precedent for cities throughout the state — San Diego County is the first region to go through this process. It will also have immediate ramifications for San Diegans. Under state law, a city that lacks a compliant housing plan forfeits authority to deny or downsize affordable housing projects on the basis of the city’s zoning code and general plan. Thus, if San Diego falls out of compliance, it would have no choice but to approve large apartment and condo buildings even in neighborhoods zoned just for single-family homes.

Perhaps to shelter the city from this serious sanction, HCD has thus far treated San Diego with kid gloves. San Diego’s housing plan was due last September, but the plan the city adopted and sent to HCD had grave shortcomings. UCLA professor Paavo Monkkonen and his students found that 65 percent of the sites San Diego identified for low-income and multifamily housing are located in the poorest third of the city’s neighborhoods. San Diego has an unusually large percentage of its land area reserved exclusively for single-family homes, yet the city’s plan did not open any of these neighborhoods to multifamily housing. This flaunts the Legislature’s mandate to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

San Diego’s housing plan also presumed that every single parcel of land identified as having redevelopment potential will definitely be developed for new housing during the eight-year planning period. This parlor trick allowed the city to “show” that it can accommodate its share of regionally needed housing (108,000 new homes) without relaxing any land-use restrictions. Yet during any given eight-year period, many sites that have redevelopment potential will be tied up by long-term leases, held back by owners who don’t want to sell or stay unchanged for other reasons. San Diego’s “every parcel will be developed” assumption is like a university that needs a freshman class of 1,000 students deciding to admit only 1,000 applicants, even though the university knows (or could easily learn) from past experience that only about 1 in 3 admitted students will enroll. Just as the university would need to admit 3,000 applicants in order to enroll a class of 1,000, cities need to zone for several times their housing target in order to reach it. San Diego did not.

But instead of finding San Diego to be out of compliance last September, HCD deemed the city’s status quo plan “conditionally compliant” and gave the city six months to adopt amendments about fair housing and housing sites’ likelihood of development (the college admissions analogy). Disappointingly, the city has adopted no such amendments. Instead, in February, it quietly floated some inconsequential draft revisions that leave the status quo intact.

One of us leads a coalition of nonprofits that will soon launch a first-time home-buyer grant program for lower-income people of color. Our goal is to build modest for-sale homes — accessible to households earning no more than 80 percent of San Diego’s area median income — in high-wealth, low-crime neighborhoods. We’ve received several million dollars in charitable commitments, but the single greatest barrier we face is restrictive single-family zoning that makes it impossible to construct smaller, more affordable homes in most of the city.

It is a moral and economic imperative that San Diego open up exclusionary neighborhoods and revise its zoning code to allow a lot more multifamily housing. It’s also the law. HCD and Gov. Gavin Newsom must stand tall and enforce it. If they don’t, cities across the state will infer that compliance with the state’s “strengthened” housing law just requires embellishing the status quo with cheap talk about good intentions.


June 10, 2021

New York Court Denies Enforcement of Chinese Judgment on Systemic Due Process Grounds

[Cross-posted from]

By William S. Dodge (Professor, University of California, Davis School of Law) &

Wenliang Zhang (Associate Professor, Renmin University of China Law School)

In Shanghai Yongrun Investment Management Co. v. Kashi Galaxy Venture Capital Co., the Supreme Court of New York (New York’s court of first instance) denied enforcement of a Chinese court judgment on the ground that the judgment “was rendered under a system which does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law.” The decision disagrees with every other U.S. and foreign court to have considered the adequacy of the Chinese judicial system in the context of judgments recognition. In recent years, there has been a growing trend in favor of the recognition of Chinese judgments in the United States and U.S. judgments in China. See William S. Dodge & Wenliang Zhang, Reciprocity in China-U.S. Judgments Recognition, 53 Vand. J. Transnat’l L. 1541 (2020). Unless this recent decision is overturned on appeal, it threatens to reverse the trend, to the detriment of judgment creditors in both countries.

In 2016 Shanghai Yongrun purchased an interest in Kashi Galaxy. In 2017, Kashi Galaxy agreed to repurchase that interest for RMB 200 million, an agreement that Kashi Galaxy allegedly breached by paying only part of the repurchase price. The agreement was governed by Chinese law and provided that suits could be resolved by courts in Beijing. In 2018, Shanghai Yongrun sued Kashi Galaxy, Maodong Xu, and Xu’s wife in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court. After a trial in which defendants were represented by counsel, the court granted judgment in favor of Shanghai Yongrun. The Beijing Higher People’s Court affirmed the judgment on appeal, but it could not be enforced in China because no assets were available within the court’s jurisdiction.

In 2020, Shanghai Yongrun brought an action against Kashi Galaxy and Xu in New York state court, seeking to have the Chinese judgment recognized and enforced. Article 53 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) has adopted the 1962 Uniform Foreign Money-Judgments Recognition Act (1962 Uniform Act), which provides that final money judgments rendered by foreign courts are enforceable in New York unless one of the grounds for non-recognition set forth in CPLR 5304 is established. These grounds include that the foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction, that the foreign court did not have subject matter jurisdiction, that the defendant did not receive notice of the foreign proceeding, that the judgment was obtained by fraud, that the judgment is repugnant to the public policy of the state, that the judgment conflicts with another final judgment, that the judgment is contrary to a forum selection clause, that personal jurisdiction was based only on service, and that the judgment is for defamation and provided less protection for speech than would be available in New York. The defendants raised none of these grounds for non-recognition. Instead, they raised the broadest and least frequently accepted ground: that “the judgment was rendered under a system which does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law.” CPLR 5304(a)(1).

To find a systemic lack of due process in the Chinese judicial system, the New York court relied entirely on the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 and 2019. In particular, the court quoted the observations that Chinese “[j]udges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the [Chinese Communist Party], particularly in politically sensitive cases” and that “[c]orruption often influenced court decisions.” The court held that these country reports “conclusively establish as a matter of law that the PRC judgment was rendered under a system that does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law in the United States.”

The implications of this ruling are broad. If the Chinese judicial system suffers from a systemic lack of due process, then no Chinese court judgments may ever be recognized and enforced under New York law. What is more, ten other states have adopted the 1962 Uniform Act, and an additional twenty-six states have adopted the updated 2005 Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act (2005 Uniform Act), which contains the same systemic due process ground for non-recognition. If followed in other jurisdictions, the New York court’s reasoning would make Chinese judgments unenforceable throughout much of the United States.

But it seems unlikely that other jurisdictions will follow suit or that the New York court’s decision will be upheld on appeal. U.S. decisions denying recognition on systemic due process grounds are rare. The leading cases have involved extreme and unusual circumstances: a Liberian judgment rendered during that country’s civil war when the judicial system had “collapsed,” Bridgeway Corp. v. Citibank, 201 F.3d 134, 138 (2d Cir. 2000), and an Iranian judgment against the sister of the former Shah, Bank Melli Iran v. Pahlavi, 58 F.3d 1406 (9th Cir. 1995). Although other courts have considered State Department country reports to be relevant in considering claims of systemic due process, none has found them to be dispositive. For example, the Fifth Circuit rejected a claim that Moroccan courts suffered from systemic lack of due process notwithstanding a statement in the 2009 country report that “in practice the judiciary . . . was not fully independent and was subject to influence, particularly in sensitive cases.” DeJoria v. Maghreb Petroleum Exploration, S.A., 804 F.3d 373, 381 (5th Cir. 2015). This language about Moroccan courts is quite similar to the country report statements about China that the New York court found conclusive.

With respect to China specifically, no U.S. court had previously denied recognition based on a systemic lack of due process. To the contrary, a prior New York state court decision held that “the Chinese legal system comports with the due process requirements,” Huizhi Liu v. Guoqing Guan, Index No. 713741/2019 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Jan. 7, 2020),  and a federal court in California concluded that “the Chinese court was an impartial tribunal.” Qinrong Qiu v. Hongying Zhang, 2017 WL 10574227, at *3 (C.D. Cal. 2017). Other U.S. decisions have specifically noted that the party resisting enforcement had not alleged systemic lack of due process as a ground for non-recognition. See Global Material Technologies, Inc. v. Dazheng Metal Fibre Co., 2015 WL 1977527, at *7 (N.D. Ill. 2015); Hubei Gezhouba Sanlian Industrial Co. v. Robinson Helicopter Co., 2009 WL 2190187, at *6 (C.D. Cal. 2009).

China has been promoting the rule of law, and its legal system is modernizing to follow internationally accepted standards. The independence of China’s judiciary is guaranteed by its Constitution and other laws. To promote international trade and investment, China has emphasized the independence and impartiality of its courts. Other countries have repeatedly recognized and enforced Chinese judgments, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. When parties have questioned the integrity of the Chinese judicial system as a whole, courts have rejected those arguments. Recently, in Hebei Huaneng Industrial Development Co. v. Deming Shi, [2020] NZHC 2992, the High Court of New Zealand found that the Chinese court rendering the judgment “was part of the judicial branch of the government of the People’s Republic China and was separate and distinct from legislative and administrative organs. It exercised a judicial function. Its procedures and decision were recognisably judicial.” When claims of improper interference are raised in the context of judgments recognition, the New Zealand court suggested, “the better approach is to see whether justice was done in the particular case.”

The New York court’s decision in Shanghai Yongrun is not only contrary to past decisions involving the enforcement of Chinese judgments in the United States and other countries. It also threatens to undermine the enforceability of U.S. judgments in China. Under Article 282 of the Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, foreign judgments are recognized and enforced “in accordance with the principle of reciprocity.” For U.S. judgments, Chinese courts in cases like Liu v. Tao (Reported on by Ron Brand) and Nalco Co. v. Chen have found China’s reciprocity requirement to be satisfied by U.S. decisions that recognized and enforced Chinese judgments. If U.S. courts change course and begin to hold that China’s judiciary can never produce enforceable judgments, Chinese courts will certainly change course too and deny recognition to U.S. judgments for lack of reciprocity.

Maintaining reciprocity with China does not require U.S. courts to enforce every Chinese judgment. U.S. courts have denied recognition and enforcement of Chinese judgments when the Chinese court lacked personal jurisdiction, Folex Golf Indus., Inc. v. O-Ta Precision Industries Co., 603 F. App’x 576 (9th Cir. 2015), or when the Chinese judgment conflicted with another final judgment, UM Corp. v. Tsuburaya Prod. Co., 2016 WL 10644497 (C.D. Cal. 2016). But so far, U.S. courts have treated Chinese judgments the same as judgments from other countries, applying the case-specific grounds for non-recognition in an evenhanded way. The systemic due process ground on which the New York court relied in Shanghai Yongrun is fundamentally different because it holds Chinese judgments to be categorically incapable of recognition and enforcement.

New York may be on the verge of expanding the case-specific ground for non-recognition by adopting the 2005 Uniform Act to replace the 1962 version that is currently in place. A bill to adopt the 2005 Act has passed both the Assembly and the Senate in New York. The 2005 Act adds two grounds for non-recognition not found in the 1962 Act: (1) that “the judgment was rendered in circumstances that raise substantial doubt about the integrity of the rendering court with respect to the judgment”; and (2) that “the specific proceeding in the foreign court leading to the judgment was not compatible with the requirements of due process of law.” These grounds, already found in the laws of twenty-six other states that have adopted the 2005 Uniform Act, would allow New York courts to review foreign judgments for corruption and for lack of due process in the specific case without having to condemn the entire foreign judiciary as incapable of producing recognizable judgments. It is worth noting that the defendants in Shanghai Yongrun did not claim that there was any defect in the Chinese proceedings that led to the judgment against them.

Many court systems around the world are imperfect. The case-specific grounds for non-recognition found in the 1962 and 2005 Uniform Acts allow U.S. courts to refuse enforcement to foreign judgments on a range of case-specific grounds from lack of jurisdiction or notice, to public policy, to corruption or lack of due process. These case-specific grounds largely eliminate the need for U.S. courts to declare that an entire judicial system is incapable of producing valid judgments.

June 2, 2021

Episode 53: 'Hate Crimes'

[Cross-posted from What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law]

By Elizabeth Joh

On May 20, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. This bill made special mention of hate crimes against Asian Americans. This was in stark contrast to his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who used racist and xenophobic terms in relation to COVID-19. What exactly are hate crimes, and what does the Constitution say about them? Listen to episode 53 of the What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law podcast.