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Judge: Look closer at claim of being part of a persecuted social group

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In granting a petition for review of a denial of an asylum request, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton believes the Board of Immigration Appeals applied too narrow of a concept of a “social group.”

Doris Martinez-Buendia fled Colombia in 2005 and applied for asylum on the ground that she was being persecuted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) because of her anti-FARC political position and her involvement with the social group “Health Brigades.” The group provided health care to rural communities. In demanding she give public credit to FARC for the health-care work, it threatened her in letters and phone calls. She refused. Her sister was kidnapped by FARC as well as her brother-in-law; the latter died in FARC’s custody.

When she was delivering supplies to a school, a FARC member held a gun to Martinez-Buendia’s head and threatened that if she didn’t give FARC credit for the Health Brigades, they would do far worse to her than they did to her sister, who escaped captivity.

An immigration judge denied her application, which the BIA affirmed on the ground that Martinez-Buendia hadn’t established the past persecution she suffered was on account of her political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

The 7th Circuit reversed that decision in Doris Martinez-Buendia v. Eric H. Holder Jr., No. 09-3792, finding ample evidence Martinez-Buendia suffered the persecution because of her political beliefs. She refused to align with FARC because of her political views that FARC harmed a lot of Colombia and threatened democracy. There’s also evidence FARC viewed members of the Health Brigades as political opponents.

Because the judges found she was persecuted based on political beliefs, the majority didn’t address the idea she was persecuted on account of her membership in a social group. But Judge Hamilton addressed the idea in his six-page concurring opinion.

“I write separately to note that I believe the Board of Immigration Appeals also applied too narrow a concept of a ‘social group’ when evaluating petitioner’s leadership in the brigadas de salud (Health Brigades) in Colombia,” he wrote. “If we were not ordering the Board to grant refugee status to petitioner based on political persecution, I would order a remand to the Board for further development and consideration of the social group issue.”

The BIA erred in not recognizing that the statutory definition can reach a social group defined by its activities, at least where the persecution is based on those activities. He also wrote the BIA failed to consider the extent to which Martinez-Buendia was acting as a matter of conscience when she acted so as “to draw the attention and wrath of the FARC.”

“In sum, the facts and law relevant to petitioner’s claim for refugee status as a member of a persecuted social group deserved closer consideration. Future petitioners may offer evidence that they joined groups like the Health Brigades as a matter of conscience and that they have been persecuted, or that they face future persecution, on account of their membership in and work on behalf of the Health Brigades,” he wrote. “They should not be denied asylum simply because that membership may appear more fluid than membership in a racial, ethnic, or religious group, or because their involvement is the result of secular ethical values instead of religious faith.”
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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