385 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2004), 03-1538, Romilus v. Ashcroft

Docket Nº:03-1538.
Citation:385 F.3d 1
Party Name:Jean Randal ROMILUS, Petitioner, v. John ASHCROFT, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.
Case Date:September 14, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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385 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2004)

Jean Randal ROMILUS, Petitioner,

v.

John ASHCROFT, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.

No. 03-1538.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 14, 2004

Submitted June 10, 2004.

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Ilana Greenstein, Jeremiah Friedman, Harvey Kaplan, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Kaplan, O'Sullivan & Friedman, LLP, on brief, for petitioner.

Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, David V. Bernal, Assistant Director, Office of Immigration Litigation, and Jamie M. Dowd, Attorney, Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil Division, on brief, for respondent.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, ROSENN, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and HOWARD, Circuit Judge.

HOWARD, Circuit Judge.

Jean Randal Romilus, a native and citizen of Haiti, petitions for review of the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") denying him asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the

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United Nations Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). We deny the petition.

I. Background

Romilus, a farmer from the village of Ghantier, attempted to enter the United States with a falsified passport on March 5, 1999. The INS issued a Notice to Appear, charging Romilus as removable under 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(a) (6) (C) (i) and 1182(a) (7) (A) (i) (I). 1 Romilus admitted the factual allegations in the notice and conceded removability, but sought relief in the form of asylum and withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"). He also applied for relief under Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture. 2

The basis for the claims is persecution on account of political opinion. In hearings before the Immigration Judge ("IJ"), Romilus testified about four incidents in support of his claims. The first two incidents involved an oral agreement he made in 1992 with Jean Marie, a military officer, to care for Marie's cow in return for an equal share of the profits from the sale of the cow. Marie's later failure to share the proceeds was followed by two physical confrontations between the two men, with Marie initiating physical contact on both occasions. Romilus has had no confrontations with Marie since then.

The third incident occurred in 1997. Romilus testified that armed men dressed in civilian clothes broke into his house while he and his wife were asleep. The armed intruders pointed a gun at his wife and demanded that she give them money she had earned as a street vendor. One of them demanded that Romilus hand over the money, also at gunpoint. Fearing for his life, Romilus surrendered the money he had hidden under his pillow. The armed men took the money and left.

The fourth incident involved a grassroots community organization called the Organization for the Progress of the Young People ("OPJP"). Romilus joined the OPJP in 1998 and was made a delegate of the organization. The OPJP consisted of 15 founding members, all from Ghantier, and was led by a man named Louis Blaise. According to Romilus, the OPJP is a "progressive movement for young people seeking to make democratic changes in Haiti," and its goals include improving the local community by building new schools, healthcare facilities, and making clean water available for drinking and farming. Romilus testified that the OPJP seeks government cooperation and the participation of local residents, although not all the townspeople support the organization.

Romilus testified that an OPJP meeting was held at the Ghantier schoolhouse on January 31, 1999. Blaise was addressing a crowd of approximately 250 to 300 people when an unspecified number of armed men, dressed in civilian clothes, entered the school and began physically assaulting the people in attendance. The assailants beat attendees with their weapons and fists and shot Blaise in the arm. Romilus

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himself was struck in the jaw and lost two teeth. The intruders also seized OPJP documents. Romilus was unable to identify any of the men who broke up the meeting because many of them wore masks and none wore a uniform.

Romilus fled the scene and ran toward his home. En route he was stopped by his neighbors who told him that his house had been set on fire and that armed men were waiting for him. Fearing for his life, Romilus hid in the woods. He remained in hiding, sleeping in churches and schoolhouses, until he departed Haiti in March. Nobody informed the police about the attack on the schoolhouse, and no newspaper reported the incident.

While Romilus was in hiding, his parents helped to obtain a French passport and a plane ticket for him. Romilus departed Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and entered the United States at Miami International Airport. After his arrival in the United States, Romilus received an audio cassette tape from his wife. According to Romilus, his wife states in the tape that since he left Haiti she has experienced "problems," she has been "persecuted," and that, as a result of her persecution, she was forced to leave the house where she was living. Romilus testified that his parents also continue to live in Haiti, and that they have not been harmed since he left.

Romilus submitted background documentary evidence concerning country conditions and the often unstable political climate in Haiti. 3 Romilus's expert witness, Marlye Gelin-Adams, provided background information concerning Haiti's many local grassroots organizations. She did not, however, have any personal knowledge of the OPJP. She stated that there are some members of the government who view these grassroots organizations as a threat to their power because they exert pressure on the government to remain democratic and to honor Haiti's constitution. Additionally, she testified that there are non-governmental groups operating in Haiti that oppose the pro-democracy grassroots organizations. According to Adams, "armed thugs" from some of these non-governmental factions have attacked and threatened members of the pro-democracy organizations, and the national police has had trouble controlling the violence because its numbers are small and its officers are inexperienced or violent themselves.

In an oral decision, the IJ denied Romilus's application for asylum and withholding of removal. The IJ found that the two incidents involving the military officer, Jean Marie, were simply the consequence of a personal dispute and were not prompted by any of the statutorily protected grounds...

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