“The IJ abused his discretion in concluding that there was no legal error in his previous opinion affirming the negative reasonable fear determination.5 Contrary to the IJ’s holding, our precedents make clear that economic extortion on the basis of a protected characteristic can constitute persecution.
5 We review the legal error de novo and conclude that the IJ abused his discretion in reaching the result he did. See Popa v. Holder, 571 F.3d 890, 894 (9th Cir. 2009) (“An IJ abuses his discretion when he acts arbitrarily, irrationally, or contrary to law.”) (citations and quotation marks omitted); see also Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 405 (1990) (“A district court would necessarily abuse its discretion if it based its ruling on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.”).
AYALA V. SESSIONS 17
Borja, 175 F.3d at 736; Barajas-Romero, 846 F.3d at 357 & n.5 (“A person seeking withholding of removal must prove not only that his life or freedom will be threatened in his home country, but also that the threat is ‘because of’ one of the five listed reasons:” race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3)(A); 8 C.F.R. § 208.16(b)). In Borja, for example, the petitioner suffered past persecution on account of her political opinion when she was extorted partly for economic reasons and partly on the basis of her political statements. 175 F.3d at 736. We described this type of persecution as “extortion plus”—that is, extortion, with the threat of violence, on the basis of a protected characteristic. Id.
Here, Ayala testified that she suffered this type of persecution by stating that she faced extortion, and threats of violence, not only for economic reasons, but also because of her family ties. Rios v. Lynch, 807 F.3d 1123, 1128 (9th Cir. 2015) (“[T]he family remains the quintessential particular social group.”). Whatever the merits of her claim, it was legal error for the IJ to hold that extortion could not constitute persecution for the purposes of withholding of removal: where the petitioner’s membership in a particular social group (in this case, a family) is at least “a reason” for the extortion, it is sufficient to meet the nexus requirement for withholding of removal. See Barajas-Romero, 846 F.3d at 360 (Post REAL-ID withholding claims are not governed by the “one central reason” test that applies to asylum claims, but instead require only that a protected ground was “a reason” for persecution, which “is a less demanding standard.”).
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Therefore, we grant Ayala’s petition for review, and remand for the IJ to address whether Ayala has established a reasonable fear based on her extortion-plus claim of persecution.
We have jurisdiction to review the IJ’s negative reasonable fear determination relating to the reinstatement of Ayala’s expedited removal order. The BIA’s dismissal of Ayala’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction was the final order of removal; therefore, Ayala’s petition for review is timely because it was filed less than 30 days after that order.
We hold that the IJ abused his discretion in concluding that extortion could not constitute past persecution, and in failing to consider the question of Ayala’s family ties. Therefore, we GRANT Ayala’s petition for review and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Stephen Reinhardt and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges, and Edward R. Korman,* District Judge. (*The Honorable Edward R. Korman, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation.)
OPINION BY: Judge Reinhardt
In my experience, U.S. Immigration Judges, the BIA, and some Courts of Appeals make the mistake highlighted by the 9th Circuit in far too many instances by summarily disregarding credible claims of persecution based on extortion. That’s why the Trump Administration’s effort to “heighten” the standards for “credible fear” and “reasonable fear” of persecution will almost certainly compromise due process and fairness.