Sex Trafficking Risks Give Albanians Asylum

     (CN) – The risk of sex trafficking for young Albanian women living alone makes them eligible for asylum in the United States, the full 7th Circuit ruled, leading dissenting judges to question the “amorphous” characteristics of this social group.
     Johana Cece had fled Albanian after catching the attention of a criminal gang known there for forcing young single women like her into prostitution rings.
     After Cece’s parents left Albania in 2001, the 22-year-old was living in the country alone and caught the eye of the criminal gang known for its participation in prostitution rings. Cece had even heard that the leader of the gang who was stalking her had kidnapped a high school girl and forced her into prostitution.
     This man ultimately made it clear to Cece “that he would find her and do whatever he wanted to her,” according to the ruling.
     Though Cece moved 120 miles north to Tirana to stay with her sister in a university dormitory, she was once again left alone after her sister left the country.
     Cece claimed that “she remained a target no matter where she lived” in Albania as a single woman living alone, according to the ruling.
     She said as much when she applied for asylum and withholding of removal in the United States in 200.
     Bernd Fischer, an Indiana University professor who testified at Cece’s hearing, said human trafficking for prostitution is a serious problem in Albania.
     “Dr. Fischer described how anomalous it is for a single woman to live by herself in Albania, that such a woman would be an ideal target for a trafficker, particularly if she had been such a target in the past, and that the problem was pervasive throughout Albania,” the court found.
     Reports issued by the U.S. State Department in 2004 regarding the large-scale problem with human trafficking in Albania corroborate Fischer’s statements.
     An immigration judge granted Cece asylum in 2006, based on her inclusion in a group of “young women who are targeted for prostitution by traffickers in Albania.” The Board of Immigration Appeals vacated that decision, however, after finding that Cece had failed to establish past persecution or her inclusion in a protectable social group. The board also noted that Cece had successfully relocated for a period of time within Albania.
     In a subsequent ruling, the board “emphasized that Cece’s proposed group was defined in large part by the harm inflicted on its members and did not exist independently of the traffickers,” according to the 7th Circuit’s recent opinion.
     The Chicago-based federal appeals court had heard Cece’s case en banc in 2012, and found, 9-2, on Friday that Cece meets the criteria for asylum eligibility, which requires an applicant to “show that she is ‘unable or unwilling to return’ to the country of his nationality ‘because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.’ An applicant who successfully proves that she was subject to past persecution is presumed to have a well-founded fear of future persecution.”
     The main issue at hand was whether Cece belonged to a protectable social group.
     “The characteristics of the group consist of the immutable or fundamental traits of being young, female, and living alone in Albania,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the majority. “Even if the group were defined in part by the fact of persecution (and we do not believe it to be), that factor would not defeat recognition of the social group under the act. Although it is true that ‘where a proposed group is defined only by the characteristic that it is persecuted, it does not qualify as a ‘social group,” the Board of Immigration Appeals has never required complete independence of any relationship to the persecutor. And just because all members of a group suffer persecution, does not mean that this characteristic is the only one that links them.” (Parentheses and emphasis in original.)
     The board also erred in determining that Cece could relocate safely within Albania, according to the ruling.
     This finding “ignored the fact, emphasized throughout the hearing and appeals, that Cece had lived safely in Tirana only while living with her sister in her sister’s university dormitory,” Rovner wrote. “Once her sister left Tirana and Cece had to move from the dormitory, she was again at risk. The Albanian expert testified at length that Albania was a small country and that it would be difficult to hide anywhere.”
     Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook blasted the decision in a dissenting opinion and he joined a separate dissent written by Judge Daniel Manion.
     Among the requirement for social group status is “a characteristic that is either immutable or so important that no one should be required to change it,” Manion wrote. “Age changes; that’s why decisions such as Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93 (1979), reject arguments that age must be treated like race or sex for legal purposes,” he continued. “Whether a person lives alone also is subject to change. People may marry, live with relatives, or join forces with similarly situated persons. Many single women live with other single women. A group such as ‘young Albanian women who live alone’ therefore flunks the board’s test on multiple grounds, even if we treat marital status as the sort of thing that no one should be required to change.”
     He added: “The use of ‘young,’ or for that matter, ‘middle-aged,’ or ‘old,’ to define a characteristic of a social group is simply too amorphous; there is no clear demarcation of who fits within this social group.”

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