Recinos-Coronado v. Attorney General, 11th Cir., 09-29-17 (unpublished)
Before WILSON and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and WOOD,* District Judge.
* Honorable Lisa Godbey Wood, United States District Judge for the Southern District of Georgia sitting by designation.
“We grant the petition for review on Recinos-Coronado’s petitions for asylum and withholding of removal. The BIA erred as a matter of law when it excluded from its past-persecution analysis the sexual abuse that Recinos-Coronado suffered at the hands of his uncle on the ground that Recinos-Coronado failed to report it. We have treated an applicant’s failure to report abuse as separate from the question whether the applicant suffered past persecution. See Lopez v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 504 F.3d 1341, 1344–45 (11th Cir. 2007). And in previously determining that an applicant suffered persecution based on cumulative incidents, we included in the past-persecution analysis (without discussion) an incident that the applicant failed to report—there, threatening “graffiti at his wife’s farm which alluded to [guerillas’] presence in the area, and referenced him specifically.” Mejia v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 498 F.3d 1253, 1255–57 (11th Cir. 2007). By refusing to consider the uncle’s abuse solely on the ground that Recinos-Coronado failed to report it, the BIA erred.”
There respondent in this case is from Guatemala. Generally, reporting anything to the police in Guatemala is a waste of time, at best, and personally risky, at worst. The police are both corrupt and ineffective. Filing a police report is probably as likely to get the victim shaken down or abused by the police, or have the police tip off the abuser, as it is to result in effective law enforcement action.
Here’s what the latest U.S. State Department Country Report has to say about the police and the judiciary in Guatemala:
“Principal human rights abuses included widespread institutional corruption, particularly in the police and judicial sectors; security force involvement in serious crimes, such as kidnapping, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, and extortion; and societal violence, including lethal violence against women.
Other human rights problems included arbitrary or unlawful killings, abuse and mistreatment by National Civil Police (PNC) members; harsh and sometimes life- threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; failure of the judicial system to conduct full and timely investigations and fair trials; government failure to fully protect judicial officials, witnesses, and civil society representatives from intimidation and threats; and internal displacement of persons. In addition, there was sexual harassment and discrimination against women; child abuse, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children; discrimination and abuse of persons with disabilities; and trafficking in persons and human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children. Other problems included marginalization of indigenous communities and ineffective mechanisms to address land conflicts; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and ineffective enforcement of labor and child labor laws.”
Like many aspects of BIA asylum jurisprudence, on its face, the concept that the victim should report the harm to police seems to be rational. But, in practice, in disposing of (particularly Northern Triangle) asylum cases on an “assembly line” basis, the BIA takes a plausible factor and turns it into a “handle for quick denial” without much real analysis or even attention to the basic applicable law (in this case, 11th Circuit precedents that had been issued a decade earlier — hardly “hot off the presses”).
As a judge, I wanted to see the police reports if available or hear an explanation of the reason for unavailability. But whether or not an incident was reported to police was only one of many factors in judging the credibility of an asylum case, and never was determinative in and of itself. Sure, this is only one case. But an “expert tribunal” shouldn’t be getting basics like this wrong. It’s symptomatic of an appellate system “geared for denial.”
I do wish the 11th Circuit would publish this case. Although it’s short, it provides very important guidance on a point that obviously escaped the BIA.