Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Land Barons

     (CN) – Two wealthy landowners from Latin America can seek U.S. asylum because bandits and a drug cartel have targeted them for extortion and kidnapping, the 9th Circuit ruled.
     The federal appeals court remanded the previously unsuccessful petitions of Edgar Rene Cordoba and Antonio Medina-Gonzalez, both of whom had argued that they were eligible for asylum because they belonged to a persecuted social group of wealthy, educated landowners and business owners.
     Cordoba, who has been seeking asylum since 2002, says he cannot return to his native Colombia because he and his family are the constant targets of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
     The group has for decades waged a war against the “wealthy classes” of Columbia, and is known for kidnapping rich people, foreign visitors and politicians for ransom.
     Cordoba says the FARC kidnapped his father in 1992 and held him for a month. Cordoba was able to pay the ransom, and later took over his family’s extensive landholdings.
     From that time until he fled with his wife and children to the United States, Cordoba lived under constant threat from the FARC, he says.
     The group allegedly forced him to shut down his transportation business after it rolled his trailers down a mountain. His wife was attacked and threatened by members of the FARC as well, and she once even exchanged gunfire with two bandits.
     Another time, armed men on motorcycles followed her and attempted to pull her over after she picked up her children from a “prestigious” school. With no help from allegedly corrupt or fearful authorities, the family had to change apartments often to outsmart the bandits.
     The family escaped to the United States after someone called Cordoba demanding a “contribution” to the FARC of about $100,000. He complained to local police and prosecutors who told him to leave the country.
     Medina-Gonzalez, the scion of a well-to-do, politically connected family from Zacatecas, Mexico, faced similar harassment from the Zetas drug cartel. He says he was abducted in 2008 and held for ransom for eight days, and that his abductors were both cartel enforcers and members of the police force. He says that he was held captive his captors beat him, played “Russian roulette” with him, and “sexually molested” him. He was released after his brother in California came up with $20,000 for the ransom. Medina-Gonzalez fled to the United States in 2009.
     Both Cordoba and Medina-Gonzalez claimed they were eligible for asylum because they belonged to a persecuted class, and both had those claims rejected by an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals.
     In both cases, the board found that wealthy, educated landowners were not generally considered a coherent group under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA)
     In a reversal published Tuesday, the 9th Circuit found that this not true both in the wake of recent and decades old precedent.
     “For almost thirty years, the BIA has recognized that landownership may form the basis of a particular social group within the meaning of the INA,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a three-judge panel.
     Instead of granting review of the petitions outright, however, the panel remanded the consolidated cases so that the BIA could reconsider them against the 9th Circuit’s recent en banc ruling in Henriquez-Rivas v. Holder, which was still pending when the present cases were decided.
     That case “not only modified the nature of the social visibility inquiry, but did so while once again citing landownership as a defining example of a characteristic that may be the basis for membership in a ‘particular social group,'” Reinhardt wrote.
     The panel also granted Medina-Gonzalez’s petition for review of his Convention Against Torture claim, which inspired a partial dissent from U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary, who sat on the panel by designation from the Northern District of Ohio.
     “I believe the BIA’s denial of this claim, as with the denial of Cordoba’s CAT claim, is supported by substantial evidence and would affirm,” Zouhary wrote.

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