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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.