Urbina-Dore v. Holder, No. 13-1679 (7th Cir. 2013)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Petitioners applied for asylum in the U.S., claiming that they had been persecuted as members of the “social group” of timberlands owners and would face risks if returned to Honduras. Organized squatters, “La Via Campesina,” invade agricultural lands and take over production; if they raise the national flag and assert that owners are not using the land, police and judges are unwilling to evict them. Timber lands remain out of production for years while trees mature, making them targets for campesinos, who cut and sell the timber. Petitioners assert that campesinos occupied their land in 2008 and that they fear for their lives should they return to assert ownership rights. An immigration judge denied asylum, finding (under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A)) that the past and feared future harm do not amount to persecution; that the squatters’ acts did not occur because of petitioners’ membership in any particular group but were for profit, with indifference to who was injured; and that the squatters’ acts could not be imputed to the government. The BIA concluded that the campesinos are thieves whose own interests, rather than antipathy toward petitioners, led to the invasion and that Honduras is willing and able to control the campesinos; after petitioners obtained a court order, officers did remove the squatters. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________   No.  13-­ 1679   REYNA  LIZZETTE  URBINA-­ DORE,  et  al.,   Petitioners,   v.   ERIC  H.  HOLDER,  JR.,  Attorney  General  of  the  United  States,   Respondent.   ____________________   Petition  for  Review  of  an  Order  of  the   Board  of  Immigration  Appeals   ____________________   ARGUED  OCTOBER  8,  2013    DECIDED  NOVEMBER  18,  2013   ____________________   Before  BAUER,  POSNER,  and  EASTERBROOK,  Circuit  Judges.   EASTERBROOK,   Circuit   Judge.   Petitioners   are   citizens   of   Honduras.   They   applied   for   asylum   in   the   United   States,   contending  that  they  had  been  persecuted  as  members  of  the   social   group   of   persons   owning   timberlands   and   would   face   more   risks   if   returned   to   their   native   land.   Organized   squatters   known   internationally   as   La   Via   Campesina   sup-­ ply  the  basis  of  their  claim.  Petitioners  testified  that  Hondu-­ ran  campesinos  (who  may  or  may  not  be  affiliated  with  the   No.  13-­ 1679   2   international   movement)   invade   agricultural   lands   in   force   and  take  over  production;  if  they  raise  the  national  flag  and   assert  that  owners  are  not  using  the  land,  police  and  judges   are   unwilling   to   evict   them.   Timber-­ bearing   lands   may   re-­ main   out   of   production   for   many   years   while   trees   mature.   This   makes   them   targets   for   campesinos,   who   cut   and   sell   the  timber.  Petitioners  assert  that  campesinos  occupied  their   land  in  2008  and  that  they  fear  for  their  lives  should  they  re-­ turn  to  assert  their  rights  as  the  lawful  owners.   An  immigration  judge  denied  the  request  for  asylum  on   three   grounds:   (1)   that   the   past   and   feared   future   harm   do   not  amount  to  persecution;  (2)  that  the  squatters  acts  did  not   occur   because   of   petitioners   membership   in   any   particular   group  but  were  instead  done  for  profit  and  with  indifference   to  who  was  injured  as  a  result;  and  (3)  that  the  squatters  acts   could  not  be  imputed  to  the  government.   Each  of  these  three  grounds  reflects  an  aspect  of  8  U.S.C.   §1101(a)(42)(A),   the   cornerstone   of   the   asylum   process.   The   statute   permits   federal   officials   to   grant   asylum   to   aliens   who   seek   refuge   here   because   of   persecution   or   a   well-­ founded  fear  of  persecution  on  account  of  race,  religion,  na-­ tionality,  membership  in  a  particular  social  group,  or  politi-­ cal  opinion .  The  IJ s  first  and  third  reasons  both  concern  the   definition   of   persecution ,   which   differs   from   less   serious   travails  of  life  (ground  1)  and  also  entails  governmental  dis-­ crimination  rather  than  private  crime  (ground  3).  See  Hor  v.   Gonzales,   421   F.3d   497   (7th   Cir.   2005);   Bitsin   v.   Holder,   719   F.3d  619,  628 31  (7th  Cir.  2013).  The  second  ground  concerns   the  statutory  causation  requirement.   Petitioners   contested   all   three   issues   before   the   Board   of   Immigration  Appeals,  for  an  adverse  decision  on  any  one  of   3   No.  13-­ 1679   the  issues  is  conclusive  against  them.  The  BIA  bypassed  the   first  issue,  as  it  was  entitled  to  do,  see  INS  v.  Bagamasbad,  429   U.S.   24   (1976),   and   ruled   against   petitioners   on   the   other   two.   As   the   Board   saw   matters,   the   record   establishes   that   the  campesinos  are  thieves  whose  own  interests,  rather  than   antipathy   toward   petitioners   ownership,   led   to   the   orga-­ nized  invasion  of  petitioners  land.   The   Board   added   that,   although   a   government s   unwill-­ ingness  or  inability  to  control  private  misconduct  can  justify   treating  crime  as  persecution,  Honduras  is  both  willing  and   able  to  control  the  campesinos.  Local  police  initially  did  not   intervene,   but   petitioners   hired   a   lawyer   who   obtained   a   court  order  requiring  them  to  do  so.  A  task  force  of  70  offic-­ ers   then   removed   the   squatters.   Some   returned but   so   did   the  police,  who  evicted  them  a  second  time.  Petitioners  con-­ tended  that  Honduras s  legal  system  protects  squatters  who   raise  the  national  flag  on  other  people s  land,  but  the  Board   thought   that   actions   speak   more   loudly   than   words and   the  police  turned  out  in  force  to  enforce  the  judge s  eviction   order.  Petitioners  say  that  they  fear  a  repetition  of  the  inva-­ sion;  the  Board  thought  that  this  would  just  lead  to  a  repeti-­ tion  of  the  eviction.   The   main   questions   in   this   court   are or   should   have   been whether   substantial   evidence   supports   the   Board s   conclusions  that  the  campesinos  did  not  act   because  of  pe-­ titioners  status  as  owners,  and  that  at  all  events  Honduras  is   both  willing  and  able  to  protect  landowners  from  campesin-­ os.   Instead,   however,   petitioners   devote   almost   all   of   their   brief  to  the  question  whether  owners  of  rural  land,  or  of  tim-­ ber-­ bearing  land  in  particular,  constitute  a   social  group  as   the  statute  uses  that  term.  Our  decision  in  Cece  v.  Holder,  No.   No.  13-­ 1679   4   11-­ 1989   (7th   Cir.   Aug.   9,   2013)   (en   banc),   reflects   disagree-­ ment   with   the   way   the   Board   has   applied   that   term,   and   it   could   well   be   that   the   approach   in   Cece   would   require   the   Board  to  recognize  the  sort  of   social  group  that  petitioners   propose.   But   how   could   a   decision   in   petitioners   favor   on   this   subject   help   them?   Some   language   in   the   immigration   judge s  decision  expresses  doubt  about  petitioners  proposed   social  group,  but  it  did  not  underpin  the  IJ s  adverse  deci-­ sion and  for  the  sake  of  argument  the  Board  assumed  that   petitioners   belong   to   a   cognizable   social   group.   Petitioners   and  appellants  need  to  address  the  issues  on  which  they  lost,   and   social  group  is  not  among  them.   Petitioners   briefly   mention   the   causation   question   (whether  the  campesinos  acted  because  of  petitioners  status   as  landowners)  and  allude  to  the  question  whether  Hondu-­ ras   is   unwilling   or   unable   to   control   agricultural   squatters,   but  they  do  not  develop  an  argument  on  either  subject.  Peti-­ tioners  say  that  the  campesinos  may  return  and  that  four  of   them   were   seen   in   2009   wielding   machetes   near   their   land   and  were  heard  to  threaten  retaliation  for  the  eviction.  These   events   may   explain   why   petitioners   have   hired   a   guard   for   their  land  and  are  uneasy  about  returning  to  Honduras,  but   they   do   not   come   to   grips   with   the   Board s   conclusion   that   the  government  is  both  willing  and  able  to  control  trespasses   and  other  threats  of  misconduct  by  campesinos.   The  Board  has  used  the   unwilling  or  unable  to  control   formula  since  1964  yet  has  never  attempted  to  quantify  just   how   far   a   nation   may   depart   from   perfect   law   enforcement   without  being  deemed  complicit  in  private  crimes.  See  Cece,   slip  op.  29 30  (separate  opinion).  Many  places  in  the  United   States  endure  high  levels  of  violence  without  any  suggestion   5   No.  13-­ 1679   that  the  police  and  judiciary  have  abetted  criminals  in   per-­ secution  of  persons  whose  property  is  stolen  or  whose  lives   are  threatened.  But  we  need  not  explore  the  subject  here.  Pe-­ titioners   have   not   asked   us   to   address   it   or   explained   why   they   think   Honduras s   demonstrated   commitment   to   evict-­ ing   their   squatters   is   inadequate.   We   have   not   been   given   any   reason   to   doubt   that   the   Board s   decision   is   supported   by  substantial  evidence,  so  the  petition  for  review  is   DENIED.