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In-grid Veronica Marroquin-Ochoma v. Holder

July 28, 2009

IN-GRID VERONICA MARROQUIN-OCHOMA, ALSO KNOWN AS MELISSA DIAZ, PETITIONER,
v.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR.,*FN1 UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL, RESPONDENT.



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

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Melloy, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: March 10, 2009

Before MURPHY, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

In-grid Marroquin-Ochoma, a native and citizen of Guatemala, petitions for review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (the "BIA") denying her application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture (the "CAT"). We deny her petition for review.

I.

Marroquin-Ochoma entered the United States in May of 2005. Removal proceedings were commenced against her on March 31, 2006. Marroquin-Ochoma conceded removability, and she applied for relief from removal on grounds of persecution on account of a particular social group and political opinion. In support of her application, Marroquin-Ochoma testified and submitted evidence that she left Guatemala because gang members had threatened her on account of her position as someone with access to money and on account of an imputed anti-gang political opinion.

From 2003 until early 2005, Marroquin-Ochoma worked with three other people in the payroll department of a large export company. She describes her employment as being in a bank on the company premises, and she frequently handled cash in her position. Shortly after she started with the company, Marroquin-Ochoma began receiving threatening notes at home from gang members. At least one note was signed "MS," for the gang known as Mara Salvatrucha. The notes demanded money and pressed her to join the gang. Gang members also called her at home and told her family to either give the gang money or turn Marroquin-Ochoma over to the gang. The notes and calls threatened her life and the lives of her family members if the demands were not met. She was never contacted in person. Although MarroquinOchoma did not take the threats seriously at first, she grew increasingly concerned as the threats continued.

Marroquin-Ochoma informed her employer of the threats, but she did not ask for any assistance from the company's security department, even though security officers would sometimes escort employees home. She did report the threats to the police, however. Although for a time the police sent extra patrols to her neighborhood, the police took no other action. The police instructed Marroquin-Ochoma to report her claims to the public prosecutor, but she did not do so because she believed the gang's power made such efforts futile.

Approximately one year after Marroquin-Ochoma joined the company, the threats caused her to leave her job and eventually flee Guatemala. The threats against her family continued even after she left, and gang members beat her father in reprisal for her refusal to concede to the gang's demands.

The immigration judge (the "IJ") found Marroquin-Ochoma generally credible, but he ultimately denied each of her claims. The IJ determined that MarroquinOchoma's "resistance to the role of gangs" did not constitute a political opinion. The IJ also concluded that Marroquin-Ochoma failed to show that the threats were based on her membership in a particular social group, because "being a person in a position of responsibility and with direct access to money[,] who refused demands for money and recruitment by the gangs," does not make someone a member of a particular social group. The IJ further held that even if Marroquin-Ochoma had established membership in a particular social group, she had not established past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution for purposes of asylum-or established a clear probability that her life or freedom would be threatened for purposes of withholding of removal-because she had not shown that the Guatemalan government was unable or unwilling to control the gang. Finally, the IJ found that MarroquinOchoma had not shown government acquiescence, as required to support her CAT claim. On administrative appeal, the BIA affirmed and adopted the opinion of the IJ, adding that Marroquin-Ochoma had failed to demonstrate that the threats rose to the level of persecution.*fn2

Marroquin-Ochoma now argues before this court that 1) remand is necessary for meaningful consideration as to whether the threats were on account of an imputed anti-gang political opinion and that 2) the BIA "erred in holding that the government of Guatemala is able to control the Mara Salvatrucha."

II.

To be eligible for asylum, an applicant must show that she is unable or unwilling to return to her country of origin "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). "Where there has been persecution on account of political opinion, it does not matter if the applicant actually holds the political opinion that the persecutor attributes to her. Rather, we consider the political views the persecutor rightly or in error attributes to a victim." De Brenner v. Ashcroft, 388 F.3d 629, 635 (8th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation and alteration omitted). It is the political opinion attributed to the victim, not the political opinion of the persecutor, that is ultimately relevant. Turay v. Ashcroft, 405 F.3d 663, 668 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 482 (1992)). The political opinion must be "'at least one central reason' for [the] persecution." Carmenatte-Lopez v. Mukasey, 518 F.3d 540, 541 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(1)(B)(I)). But the persecution need not be solely, or even predominantly, on account of the imputed political opinion. Parussimova v. Mukasey, 555 F.3d 734, 739--41 (9th Cir. 2009); cf. De Brenner, 388 F.3d at 636. Here, Marroquin-Ochoma argues that the gang members' threats were motivated by an anti-gang political opinion that the gang members imputed to her based on her refusal to join the gang or otherwise succumb to their extortionate demands.

Where, as here, the BIA adopts the decision of an IJ but adds additional reasoning, we review both decisions. Setiadi v. Gonzales, 437 F.3d 710, 713 (8th Cir. 2006). We defer to the agency's "interpretation of ambiguous statutory terms if the interpretation is reasonable and consistent with the statute," De Brenner, 388 F.3d at 636 (internal quotation omitted), and we review the IJ's factual findings for substantial evidence in light of the record as a whole, Hassan v. Gonzales, 484 F.3d 513, 516 (8th Cir. 2007). "To reverse the finding that the alleged persecution was not based on a protected ground, it is necessary that the record compel the ...


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