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Mejia-Lopez v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 11, 2019

Mario Mejia-Lopez; Silvia Lorena Rodas-Ordonez; Erick Fernando Mejia-Rodas; Meylin Lorena Mejia-Rodas; Luis Mario Mejia- RodasPetitioners
William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States Respondent

          Submitted: September 24, 2019

          Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, BEAM and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Petitioners seek review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' (BIA) denial of their request for humanitarian asylum. Mario Mejia-Lopez and Silvia Rodas-Ordonez are the parents of Erick Mejia-Rodas, Meylin Mejia-Rodas, and Luis Mejia-Rodas, and they seek asylum for themselves and their children. They contend that the BIA erred in requiring that they show past persecution on account of a protected ground as a prerequisite for obtaining humanitarian asylum. Petitioners also request that we remand this case to the BIA for full development of the record on their humanitarian-asylum claim. We deny the petition for review.

         I. Background

         Petitioners are natives and citizens of Guatemala. On or about October 31, 2016, petitioners reached the United States-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. Petitioners did not present valid entry or travel documents upon applying for admission and, therefore, were paroled into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) simultaneously served petitioners with a notice to appear (NTA), which charged petitioners with being removable pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 212(a)(7)(A)(i)(I). See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(7)(A)(i)(I). Petitioners resided in Carthage, Missouri. In January 2017, DHS filed the NTA in the Immigration Court in Kansas City, Missouri, initiating formal removal proceedings against petitioners.

         In June 2017, petitioners admitted to all factual allegations in the NTA, conceded removability, and declined to designate a country of removal. The immigration judge (IJ) designated Guatemala as the country of removal, and petitioners informed the IJ that they would apply for asylum and other relief.

         Petitioners claimed that they qualified for asylum based on (1) their membership in two particular social groups (PSG) and (2) their political opinions. Meylin alleged that she had suffered past persecution as a member of "female children subjected to rape within a society where the subordination and devaluation of women by men ha[ve] allowed them to be sexually persecuted with government sanctioned impunity." Pet'rs' Br. at 5 (quoting Admin. R. at 4). The remaining petitioners stated that they are members of one family and averred past persecution based on their kinship to Meylin. Petitioners explained that a man had raped Meylin when she was 13 years old. They alleged that the perpetrator's supporters had threatened to kill petitioners if they pursued criminal charges. The threats caused petitioners to seek refuge in the United States. They also contended that the ordeal has traumatized Meylin and affected her well-being.

         In addition, petitioners asserted that they had been persecuted based on their political opinions. According to petitioners, they expressed their political opinions when Meylin had resisted the perpetrator's abuse by reporting Meylin's rape to law enforcement and pursuing criminal charges. Petitioners claimed that their alleged political opinions had induced the threat that they received from the perpetrator's supporters. Petitioners also relied on the government's alleged indifference toward Meylin's rape.

         The IJ held a merits hearing in August 2017 and subsequently denied petitioners' multiple claims for relief. In relevant part, the IJ concluded that petitioners were not eligible for humanitarian asylum pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1)(iii) because petitioners had not established past persecution based on a protected ground that is enumerated in § 101(a)(42)(A) of the INA. See also 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). In sum, the IJ found that petitioners had not shown that they were harmed due to either Meylin's membership in her alleged PSG or as a result of their alleged political opinions.

         The IJ specifically found that petitioners had failed to show that Meylin's PSG is cognizable as a particular and socially distinct group. The IJ acknowledged gender as an immutable characteristic but explained that gender alone is insufficient to satisfy the particularity requirement of a PSG. Further, the IJ found that the group-young girls who have been sexually abused-is not socially distinct. The IJ also found that opposing private criminal activity as a victim is not a political opinion as that term is understood in immigration law. The IJ did not address the other alleged PSG.

         Petitioners appealed to the BIA. Among other things, petitioners argued before the BIA that they qualified for humanitarian asylum because they would suffer "other serious harm" if removed to Guatemala and that the "other serious harm" does not require proof of "harm or past persecution on account of a protected group." Pet'rs' Br. at 10. Petitioners described the "other serious harm" as the likelihood of Meylin continuing to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, the possibility of Meylin exhibiting careless behavior, and the risk of Meylin committing suicide. The BIA denied relief and agreed with the IJ, concluding that petitioners were not eligible for humanitarian asylum because they had failed to demonstrate the requisite past persecution on account of a protected ground.

         In determining whether past persecution in connection with a protected ground existed, the BIA only addressed Meylin's alleged PSG and petitioners' alleged ...

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