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Damkam v. Holder

January 15, 2010

MARTIN DAMKAM, 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.

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

Submitted: September 22, 2009

Before BYE, SMITH, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

Martin Damkam petitions for review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") denying his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). Damkam contends that the BIA erred in affirming the Immigration Judge's adverse credibility finding. We deny the petition.

I.

Damkam, a native and citizen of Cameroon, entered the United States in October 2003 on a visitor's visa. He was authorized to remain until April 24, 2004, but stayed beyond that date. In May 2004, Damkam applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT, claiming that if he were returned to Cameroon, he would be persecuted on account of his political opinion. The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") reviewed Damkam's application and, on October 18, 2004, commenced removal proceedings against him pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(B). DHS referred his application to an immigration judge ("IJ").

In an affidavit accompanying his application, Damkam specified that his membership in the Social Democratic Front ("SDF"), an opposition party in Cameroon, had led to torture and threats against him and his family. Damkam said that he was arrested and tortured in 1992 and again in 2002. He also alleged that he received two threatening calls between July 2002 and April 2003, and that his house was searched twice by the police in May 2003. Damkam claimed that on June 12, 2003, he was summoned to a "special police station," where the police interrogated him for four hours and accused him of sabotaging the ruling political party. Damkam said that these experiences caused him to go into hiding and flee to the United States.

Damkam conceded removability before an IJ in November 2004, and renewed his request for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT. Damkam originally filed his claim in Baltimore, but on January 11, 2006, he filed a motion for a change of venue to St. Louis. The motion, which was granted the day it was filed, was accompanied by a letter from Pascal Damkam stating that he and petitioner were brothers, and that petitioner had relocated to Missouri to live with him.

On August 21, 2006, Damkam appeared before an IJ in St. Louis for a hearing on the merits of his claims. Damkam testified that he had joined the SDF in 1992 to bring political change to Cameroon. He stated that he was not a leader in the party, but a "militant" who helped to organize meetings. Damkam testified in detail about two instances of alleged persecution that he also referenced in his written application.

The first incident occurred on November 12, 1992, when Damkam was allegedly protesting the results of a "stolen" presidential election with other SDF members in Doula, Cameroon. Damkam claimed that the police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, and that he had been arrested. Damkam said that he was detained in a cell at the central police station for nearly two weeks and was beaten day and night before his release.

Damkam testified that he continued his active involvement in the SDF despite this initial arrest. He stated that he had no other incidents with the police until a second arrest on May 20, 2002, while he was protesting to demand that the government accept a list of SDF candidates for upcoming municipal and legislative elections. According to Damkam, the police again used tear gas on the protestors and detained him at a police station. He claimed that for six days, the police starved, tortured, and interrogated him at the urging of Ms. Françoise Foning, a leader in Cameroon's ruling political party and Damkam's employer at the time.

Damkam testified that he began working as Foning's driver in February 1999, but that she did not know about his SDF membership. He alleged that he was supposed to be driving Foning at the time of his arrest, and when she became aware that his absence was the result of his involvement with the opposition, she demanded that the police torture him. Damkam said that on the sixth day of alleged mistreatment, he fell from a torture device used by the police called "la balançoire"*fn1 and broke his arm. According to his testimony, a family member visiting the jail bribed the police to allow Damkam to receive treatment at a hospital, where he remained for eighteen days. He was allegedly released from the hospital upon signing an agreement to cease all activities with the SDF.

On cross-examination, Damkam stated that he obtained a visitor's visa to come to the United States on July 31, 2003, but did not leave Cameroon until October 23, 2003. He testified that he delayed his departure so that his family could ensure his safe travel to the airport. He also said that all his immediate family members, including his parents and five brothers, reside in Cameroon and are active in the SDF, but have not been harmed by the police. Similarly, Damkam testified that his wife and children had not been harmed since his departure. He reported, however, that in 2005 his home had been searched by police looking for documents that they suspected he stole from Foning. He also said that his wife had been summoned to a police station in December 2005 and January 2006 to provide information on his whereabouts.

On examination by the IJ, Damkam revealed that the person with whom he lived in Missouri was not his brother, as stated in his motion for a change of venue, but a cousin whom he regarded as a brother. Damkam said that although this cousin was aware of his involvement in the SDF, Damkam had not asked the cousin to testify because he did not think it would matter. Damkam also said that he knew his supporting witness, Alexander Taku, only from afar in Cameroon, because of Taku's position as the ...


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