“Although the familial relationships at issue in Hernandez-Avalos and the present case involve a mother’s relationship with her son, this case is unlike Hernandez-Avalos in critical respects. In Hernandez-Avalos, a non-familial third party persecuted the petitioner because of her family association for the purpose of gang recruitment. In contrast, Velasquez had a long-standing personal disagreement with Estrada over a solely personal conflict regarding D.A.E.V. Estrada’s persecution of Velasquez was only between the two of them—that is, merely incidental to Estrada’s desire to obtain custody of D.A.E.V.5 “[T]he asylum statute was not intended as a panacea for the numerous personal altercations that invariably characterize economic and social relationships.” Saldarriaga v. Gonzales, 402 F.3d 461, 467 (4th Cir. 2005). Because Estrada was motivated out of her antipathy toward Velasquez and desire to obtain custody over D.A.E.V., and not by Velasquez’ family status, Hernandez-Avalos does not provide the rule here. The IJ and BIA appropriately concluded that Estrada’s motive was not
5 Nor, as Velasquez suggests, does Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I. & N. Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), control. There, the BIA considered whether “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” constituted a cognizable particular social group for asylum relief. Id. at 392. The legal validity of the social group identified by Velasquez is not at issue in this case. Moreover, A-R-C-G does not bear on our nexus analysis because, there, the Government “concede[d] . . . that the mistreatment [suffered by the alien] was, at for at least one central reason, on account of her membership in a cognizable particular social group.” Id. at 395.
Velasquez’ familial status, but simply a personal conflict between two family members seeking custody of the same family member. That factual conclusion is fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Abdel-Rahman, 493 F.3d at 448 (“The decision of the BIA concerning asylum . . . [is] deemed conclusive if supported by reasonable, substantial and probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, substantial evidence supports the IJ’s conclusion that Velasquez simply failed to show that family status was a reason, central or otherwise, for her difficulties. See Hernandez-Avalos, 784 F.3d at 949.
For similar reasons, this case also is unlike the recent decision in Cruz v. Sessions, 853 F.3d 122 (4th Cir. 2017). In Cruz, the petitioner, a Honduran national, applied for asylum based on her membership in a “particular social group,” namely the “nuclear family of [her husband,] Johnny Martinez.” Id. at 124–25. Martinez had been killed by his boss, who worked closely with organized crime groups, ostensibly after Martinez had discovered his boss’ illicit business and tried to go to authorities. See id. After Martinez’ death, Cruz confronted Martinez’ boss, who repeatedly threatened her and stationed his criminal associates outside of Cruz’ home. See id. at 125–26. Cruz fled to the United States, where she was detained and issued a Notice to Appear. When Cruz later claimed asylum, an IJ denied her petition, observing that her dispute with Martinez’ boss was a dispute with a “private actor for personal reasons.” Id. at 126–27. We reversed, relying on Hernandez-Avalos and concluding that the IJ, and subsequently the BIA, applied an “excessively narrow interpretation of the evidence relevant to the statutory nexus requirement” and that Cruz had satisfied her burden of proof by demonstrating that she
more likely than not was targeted “because of [her] relationship with her husband.” Id. at 129–30.
Velasquez’ case is inapposite. The dispute between Velasquez and Estrada was a private and purely personal dispute between grandmother and mother regarding D.A.E.V. Velasquez specifically testified to that fact. Unlike Cruz or Hernandez-Avalos, this case does not involve outside or non-familial actors engaged in persecution for non-personal reasons, such as gang recruitment or revenge. Rather, this case concerns solely a custody dispute between two relatives of the same child and necessarily invokes the type of personal dispute falling outside the scope of asylum protection. See Huaman-Cornelio, 979 F.2d at 1000; Jun Ying Wang, 445 F.3d at 998–99.
For all these reasons, Velasquez did not meet her burden of showing persecution “on account of” a protected ground.”
PANEL: CIRCUIT JUDGES WILKINSON, TRAXLER, and AGEE
OPINION BY: JUDGE AGEE
CONCURRING OPINION: JUDGE WILKINSON
The majority opinion did not rely on the BIA’s recent precedent Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017), probably because it was decided after this case was argued and therefore could not have factored into the BIA’s decision here. But, Judge Wilkinson seems very eager to embrace the L-E-A- rationale and to limit family PSG protection accordingly.