R. R. D. v. Holder, No. 13-2141 (7th Cir. 2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

While R. was an investigator for Mexico’s Federal Agency of Investigation, he arrested hundreds of suspects and repeatedly testified against drug traffickers. Drug organizations tried to kill him. The Agency repeatedly transferred him, but threats soon resumed. He was wounded twice while on duty and eluded capture several times. Assassins shot at him, missed, and wounded his father. He quit the Agency, opened an office-supply business, and tried to conceal his former job. Strangers continued looking for him. He sought asylum in the U.S., contending that he had been persecuted as a member of the social group of honest police officers. The IJ denied the application. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, distinguishing between honest police and effective honest police, reasoning that only if criminal organizations target all honest officers would R. be entitled to asylum, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A). The Seventh Circuit vacated. The law calls for assessments of causation and risk. That R. is at more risk than that most “honest police” is a poor reason to disqualify him. The Board did not consider whether Mexico’s more-than-400,000 officers are willing and able to protect former colleagues. Nothing R. can do will erase his employment history. The court questioned why DHS wants to remove R. He appears to have led an exemplary life in the U.S. since entering (lawfully) and applying for asylum.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________   No.  13-­ 2141   R.R.D.,   Petitioner,   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  MARCH  5,  2014    DECIDED  MARCH  19,  2014   ____________________   Before   EASTERBROOK,   MANION,   and   HAMILTON,   Circuit   Judges.   EASTERBROOK,  Circuit  Judge.  While  R.R.D.  was  an  investi-­ gator   for   Mexico s   Federal   Agency   of   Investigation,   he   ar-­ rested  hundreds  of  suspects  and  repeatedly  testified  against   drug   traffickers.   Drug   organizations   offered   bribes   to   get   him  out  of  their  hair  and,  when  he  refused,  tried  to  kill  him   under   their   plata   o   plomo   policy silver   or   lead,   collo-­ quially   money   or   bullets.   The   Agency   repeatedly   trans-­ 2   No.  13-­ 2141   ferred  him  to  places  where  it  thought  that  he  would  be  safer,   but  testimony  exposed  him  to  public  view  and  threats  soon   resumed.  He  was  wounded  twice  while  on  duty  and  eluded   capture   several   times.   Once   assassins   shot   at   him,   missed,   and   wounded   his   father.   His   superiors   recommended   that   he  quit  for  his  own  safety.  He  opened  an  office-­ supply  busi-­ ness  and  tried  to  conceal  his  former  job,  but  when  strangers   continued   looking   for   him   he   sought   asylum   in   the   United   States.  He  contended  that  he  had  been  persecuted  as  a  mem-­ ber  of  the  social  group  of  honest  police  officers.  An  immigra-­ tion   judge   concluded   that   R.R.D.   had   been   threatened   re-­ peatedly   and   remained   at   risk   but   concluded   that   the   drug   traffickers   had   targeted   him   because   he   hampered   their   or-­ ganizations,  not  because  he  was  in  the  social  group  of  honest   cops.   The   IJ   denied   the   application   for   asylum,   and   the   Board   of   Immigration   Appeals   agreed.   A   motions   panel   al-­ lowed   R.R.D.   to   proceed   in   court   under   these   initials   to   avoid  what  may  be  an  ongoing  risk  to  his  safety.   Both  the  IJ  and  the  BIA  distinguished  between  risks  to  all   honest   police   and   risks   to   effective   honest   police,   such   as   R.R.D.;   they   thought   that   only   if   criminal   organizations   tar-­ get  all  honest  law-­ enforcement  officers  would  R.R.D.  be  enti-­ tled  to  asylum.  It  is  far  from  clear  to  us  that  drawing  such  a   distinction   is   permissible   under   8   U.S.C.   §1101(a)(42)(A),   which  defines  the  category  of  persons  eligible  for  asylum  as   those   who   seek   refuge   here   because   of   persecution   or   a   well-­ founded  fear  of  persecution  on  account  of  race,  religion,   nationality,   membership   in   a   particular   social   group,   or   po-­ litical   opinion .   Effective   honest   police   (or   honest   police   good  enough  to  impose  substantial  costs  on  criminal  organi-­ zations )  is  a  subset  of  all  honest  police,  to  be  sure,  but  why   is   that   not   a   social   group,   if   honest   police   is   a   social   No.  13-­ 2141   3   group?   Anyway,   the   statute   makes   eligible   a   person   perse-­ cuted  because  of  his  membership  in  a  protected  category;  it   does  not  require  that  all  members  of  that  category  suffer  the   same   fate.   The   law   calls   for   assessments   of   causation   and   risk;  that  R.R.D.  is  at  more  risk  than  that  faced  by   honest  po-­ lice   generally   is   a   poor   reason   to   disqualify   him   from   asy-­ lum,  if  he  otherwise  is  eligible.     The   otherwise   is   a   potentially   important   qualifier,   be-­ cause   persecution   means   adverse   action   by   government;   criminal  deeds  by  private  persons  come  to  be  treated  as  per-­ secution,  on  the  Board s  view,  only  when  the  government  is   unwilling  or  unable  to  protect  targets  from  private  violence.   See   Matter   of   Eusaph,   10   I&N   Dec.   453,   454   (1964).   See   also   Hor  v.  Gonzales,  421  F.3d  497  (7th  Cir.  2005);  Bitsin  v.  Holder,   719   F.3d   619,   628 31   (7th   Cir.   2013).   Mexico   has   more   than   400,000   police   officers;   the   Board   did   not   consider   whether   they   are   willing   and   able   to   protect   their   current   or   former   colleagues.  (R.R.D.  contends  that  so  many  officers  have  tak-­ en   the   criminals   silver   that   the   force   as   a   whole   does   not   protect   honest   police;   the   Board   did   not   address   this   possi-­ bility.)   Nor   did   the   Board   try   to   decide   how   much   risk   of   harm  shows  that  a  government  is   unable  to  protect  its  citi-­ zens.   Given   the   Chenery   doctrine   (SEC   v.   Chenery   Corp.,   318   U.S.   80,   87   (1943)),   we   must   proceed   for   the   purpose   of   R.R.D. s  petition  as  if  private  violence  equates  to  official  per-­ secution.  Likewise  we  must  treat   honest  police  as  a  social   group,  because  the  Board  did  not  question  its  propriety.  Cf.   Cece  v.  Holder,  733  F.3d  662  (7th  Cir.  2013)  (en  banc).   The  Board  cited  Pavlyk  v.  Gonzales,  469  F.3d  1082  (7th  Cir.   2006),   for   the   proposition   that   honest   law-­ enforcement   agents  targeted  for  their  official  work  cannot  use  their  risks   4   No.  13-­ 2141   as   a   basis   of   asylum   (technically,   in   Pavlyk,   withholding   of   removal).   That   is   not,   however,   what   Pavlyk   holds.   Pavlyk   was   a   fugitive   from   justice;   Ukraine   wanted   him   for   solicit-­ ing  bribes.  Nor  was  he  a  member  of  the  social  group  he  de-­ fined,  having  quit  his  law-­ enforcement  job  years  before  leav-­ ing  Ukraine and  he  did  not  claim  to  be  at  risk  as  a  member   of  the  group  of  former  law-­ enforcement  officers.  469  F.3d  at   1088.  We  wrote  in  Pavlyk  that   being  a  prosecutor  (Pavlyk s   law-­ enforcement  role)  is  not  an  immutable  characteristic,  or   one   that   no   government   should   be   allowed   to   manipulate   (governments   can   choose   whom   to   hire   as   prosecutors),   so   Pavlyk s  proposed  social  group  was  inadequate  and  he  was   left   only   with   a   contention   that   some   criminals   had   a   per-­ sonal  vendetta  against  him.   Like  Pavlyk,  R.R.D.  was  no  longer  a  member  of  his  pro-­ posed  social  group  by  the  time  he  sought  asylum.  But  unlike   Pavlyk,  R.R.D.  asserts  that  he  faces  persecution  as  a  member   of  the  social  group  of  honest  former  law-­ enforcement  agents   in  Mexico.  Being  a  former  agent  is  an  immutable  characteris-­ tic;  nothing  R.R.D.  can  do  will  erase  his  employment  history.   See  Escobar  v.  Holder,  657  F.3d  537  (7th  Cir.  2011);  Sepulveda  v.   Gonzales,  464  F.3d  770,  772  (7th  Cir.  2006);  Matter  of  Fuentes,   19  I&N  Dec.  658,  662  (1988).     All  the  BIA  had  to  say  about  this  possibility  is:   Nor  has   [R.R.D.]   established   a   well-­ founded   fear   of   persecution   on   account  of  his  status  as  a  former  police  officer  where  [he]  did   not  experience  persecution  after  leaving  the  police  force,  the   record   does   not   show   persecution   of   former   police   officers,   and  eight  years  have  now  passed  since  [R.R.D.]  left  Mexico.   (Internal   citation   omitted.)   The   Board   did   not   mention   R.R.D. s   testimony,   which   the   IJ   believed,   that   people   came   No.  13-­ 2141   5   looking  for  him  in  Mexico  after  he  quit  the  police  force.  The   IJ   also   believed   R.R.D. s   testimony   that   drug   gangs   use   un-­ armed   scouts   to   locate   targets,   and   that   R.R.D.   reasonably   believed  that  these  men  were  scouts  for  assassins.  The  IJ  did   not   believe   the   testimony   of   R.R.D. s   wife   that   these   scouts   had   R.R.D. s   picture,   but   that   does   not   affect   the   nature   of   the  risk  R.R.D.  faced.  He  and  his  wife  testified  that  unknown   men  continued  trying  to  find  him  even  after  he  left  Mexico.   Threats  can  imply  a  risk  of  future  persecution  if  they  are  suf-­ ficiently  menacing  and  credible.  Escobar,  657  F.3d  at  544.   And   the   record   contains   evidence   that   drug   organiza-­ tions  have  tried  to  locate  and  kill  other  officers  who  resigned   from  the  police  and  left  the  country.  Punishing  people  after   they  are  no  longer  threats  is  a  rational  way  to  achieve  deter-­ rence;  indeed,  the  United  States  itself  does  this.  A  perpetra-­ tor   of   securities   fraud   who   leaves   the   financial   profession,   and  no  longer  poses  a  threat  to  investors,  still  faces  criminal   prosecution,   the   better   to   deter   other   fraudsters.   There s   nothing   implausible   about   R.R.D. s   testimony   that   drug   or-­ ganizations  in  Mexico  share  this  view  of  deterrence.   Yet   although   the   record   contains   evidence   that   drug-­ dealing  organizations  in  Mexico  target  former  police  officers   in  general,  and  R.R.D.  in  particular,  the  Board  did  not  men-­ tion   it.   That   won t   do.   The   Board   must   analyze   rather   than   ignore   material   evidence.   Escobar,   657   F.3d   at   544.   Perhaps   the  Board  thinks  that  the  risk  R.R.D.  faces  as  a  former  officer   is  too  slight  to  satisfy  the  standard  for  asylum,  but  it  did  not   say   this.   Chenery   requires   us   to   return   this   matter   to   the   Board.   We  have  said  enough  to  show  why  the  order  of  removal   cannot   stand   without   further   proceedings.   We   also   wonder   6   No.  13-­ 2141   why  the  Department  of  Homeland  Security  wants  to  remove   R.R.D.  and  his  family.  The  IJ  found  that  R.R.D.  was  an  hon-­ est   and   effective   police   officer   in   Mexico,   willing   to   bring   criminals  to  justice  at  substantial  risk  to  himself.  He  appears   to   have   led   an   exemplary   life   in   the   United   States   since   en-­ tering  (lawfully)  and  applying  for  asylum.  He  appears  to  be   someone   who   should   be   hired   and   put   to   work   by   the   De-­ partment  of  Homeland  Security  itself,  rather  than  sent  pack-­ ing.  We  do  not  supervise  the  exercise  of  prosecutorial  discre-­ tion,   but   those   who   do   have   that   power   should   review   R.R.D. s  situation  before  renewing  any  effort  to  remove  him.   The   petition   is   granted,   the   order   of   removal   is   vacated,   and   the   case   is   remanded   to   the   Board   of   Immigration   Ap-­ peals  for  proceedings  consistent  with  this  opinion.  
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