Cheo v. I.N.S., 96-71041

Decision Date16 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-71041,96-71041
Citation162 F.3d 1227
Parties98 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 9130, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,760 Meng Ly CHEO; Meng Heng Cheo, Petitioners, v. IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, Respondent.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Marco Antonio Rodriguez, Bonita, CA, for petitioners.

Susie Cho (argued), Mark C. Walters (briefed), Office of Immigration Litigation, Washington, DC, for respondent.

Petitions to Review a Decision of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I & NS Nos. A72-991-951, A72-991-952.

Before: CANBY, NOONAN and KLEINFELD, Circuit Judges.

KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge:

This asylum case turns on who must prove firm resettlement or the lack of it in a third country, if the asylum seeker has been there for a substantial period of time.


Meng Ly Cheo and Meng Heng Cheo are of Cambodian nationality. They applied for asylum on the ground that armed groups had tried to recruit them. One temporarily bought his way out with his watch and the money in his pockets. The armed groups commonly used threats of recruitment to extort money. The other brother was beaten up for not joining. Both had to get themselves smuggled out of the country to avoid recruitment, beatings and extortion. They feared that if they went back to Cambodia, they would be shot or tortured by one side if they refused to join, the other if they acceded.

At their hearing, at which they were found to be credible, an additional problem with remaining in Cambodia was developed, their Chinese ethnicity. The Cambodian constitution protects only persons of Khmer ethnicity, though this provision may be directed more at ethnic Vietnamese than ethnic Chinese. The Cheos testified that ethnic Chinese Cambodians are so designated on their documents, separated from Khmer children in school, and not allowed to have government jobs or to employ others.

The Cheos' parents still live in Cambodia. They operate a coffee shop in Phnom Penh. A sister lives there as well. But that is not to say there is no hazard. Three uncles have been killed, though it is hard to say by whom or why. In at least one case, "they tried to take the money from them and they know they are Chinese so they, they try to kill them to get the money."

When they got themselves smuggled out of Cambodia, in 1990, the Cheo brothers went to Vietnam for three months. Then after a brief return home, they lived for a year in Thailand. In 1991, they left Thailand for Malaysia, where they lived for three years. In 1994, they arranged to have themselves smuggled into the United States across the Mexican border.

In their INS proceedings, the Cheos conceded deportability. The immigration judge concluded that although they had proved discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Cambodia, it did not rise to the level of persecution for purposes of asylum. The military recruitment was not shown to be motivated by an animus against any group, and if by the government, as it may have been, would not constitute persecution. The IJ also noted that the Cheos had lived in Malaysia for three years without any molestation or persecution, and it was up to the Cheo brothers to prove that they had not firmly resettled there. They had offered no evidence to that effect. Because the Cheos "were not fleeing danger when they came to this country as they had been living in apparent peace in Malaysia for three years," had been in the United States for only a short time, and had paid smugglers to get themselves into the United States, the IJ denied voluntary departure.

The BIA adopted the IJ's decision, except for a disagreement with the IJ's view that the Cambodian army had probably been the force trying to recruit them. The BIA agreed with the Cheos that there was no official Cambodian army at the time, but held that it made no difference. The BIA rejected the Cheos' argument, raised for the first time on appeal, that the recruiters had imputed a political opinion to these apolitical young men. The Cheos petition for review.


A. Well founded fear.

The Cheos argue that they demonstrated a well founded fear of persecution by armed forces that had tried to recruit them, and imputed a contrary political opinion to them, if they were to return to Cambodia. We need not reach this argument for asylum because of our conclusion on firm resettlement.

B. Firm resettlement.

Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations 1 provide that an application for asylum must be denied if the applicant firmly resettled in another country prior to arrival in the United States:

(d) Mandatory denials. An application for asylum shall be denied if:

. . . . .

(2) The applicant has been firmly resettled within the meaning of [8 C.F.R.] § 208.15.

8 C.F.R. § 208.14(d)(2) (1994). The definition of firm resettlement requires some sort of availability of the opportunity to stay in the third country:

§ 208.15. Definition of "firm resettlement."

An alien is considered to be firmly resettled if, prior to arrival in the United States, he entered into another nation with, or while in that nation received, an offer of permanent resident status, citizenship, or some other type of permanent resettlement unless he establishes:

(a) That his entry into that nation was a necessary consequence of his flight from persecution, that he remained in that nation only as long as was necessary to arrange onward travel, and that he did not establish significant ties in that nation; or

(b) That the conditions of his residence in that nation were so substantially and consciously restricted by the authority of the country of refuge that he was not in fact resettled....

8 C.F.R. § 208.15.

We held in Yang v. INS, 79 F.3d 932 (9th Cir.1996), where the applicants seeking asylum from Laos had spent fourteen peaceful years in France subsequent to fleeing Laos, that the regulation was proper and mandatory. We noted that the statutory statement of purpose spoke to "the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands," id. at 939, citing Refugee Act of 1980, § 101, and persons firmly resettled elsewhere "are by definition no longer subject to persecution." Id. In Vang v. INS, 146 F.3d 1114 (9th Cir.1998), a Laotian who had spent twelve years in France argued that his French travel document had expired after he entered the United States, so he might not be allowed to return to France and should therefore not be considered to be firmly resettled there. But we held that his allowing his travel document to expire could not alter a finding of firm resettlement.

In this case, there is no direct evidence one way or the other as to whether the Cheos have or had the right to return to Malaysia. The IJ presumed a right to return from their three year undisturbed stay. We conclude that this rebuttable presumption was permissible. The regulations provide that if a ground for denial of asylum, such as firm resettlement, "may apply," the applicant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that the ground...

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