Nreka v. U.S. Atty. Gen., 04-10009.

Citation408 F.3d 1361
Decision Date16 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-10009.,04-10009.
PartiesFred NREKA, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL, Respondent.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

Charles Christophe, Christophe & Associates, P.C., New York City, for Petitioner.

James E. Grimes, David V. Bernal, Mark C. Walters, Regina Byrd, U.S. Dept. of Justice-OIL Div., Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Petition for Review of a Decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Before BARKETT, HILL and FARRIS*, Circuit Judges.

BARKETT, Circuit Judge:

Fred Nreka, a native and citizen of Albania who sought admission to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP"), petitions for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' ("BIA") order adopting and affirming the immigration judge's ("IJ") decision to deny him asylum and withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("CAT"). For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to review a BIA determination regarding asylum and withholding of removal of a VWP applicant. That being so, however, on the merits of Nreka's claims on appeal, we affirm the BIA's and IJ's decisions denying asylum-related relief.

I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History

On July 7, 2001, Nreka, a native and citizen of Albania, arrived in the United States and attempted to gain entry with a fraudulent passport. Nreka was detained and the INS1 initiated immigration proceedings by filing a Notice of Referral to an IJ (Form I-863). Because he attempted to enter the United States with a Swedish passport, and Sweden is a participant country of the Visa Waiver Program, see INA § 217(a), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a), Nreka was identified as a "VWP applicant."2 Nreka requested asylum and was therefore placed in so-called "asylum only proceedings," pursuant to 8 C.F.R. §§ 217.4 and 208.2(c). While awaiting his hearing before the IJ, he was paroled into the United States. See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(d)(5)(A).3

In his application for asylum and his testimony before the IJ, Nreka claimed that the Albanian government, which represented the Socialist Party ("SP"), persecuted him based upon his political opinion and membership in the Democratic Party ("DP"). Nreka began as a DP sympathizer in 1997, assisting the party by providing security for the DP headquarters. He became a party member in 1998, and continued participation by organizing events such as meetings, protests and demonstrations. Nreka stated that he supported the DP because, unlike the SP, the DP did not detain and mistreat the people and had recognized human rights while it was in power.

Nreka alleged that after he joined the party, the police — as a result of his being on a list proposed by the president of Albania — started persecuting him and his family. He described several incidents of persecution. First, Nreka claimed that he was beaten by a group of eight to ten policemen while on his way home from a DP meeting in June of 1998. Nreka stated that the policemen stopped him, telling him that they wanted to clarify some things about the DP, and then took him to a beach and beat him up with batons, rubber sticks, and the barrel of a gun. The officers allegedly broke Nreka's leg and left him unconscious, and he woke up in Shkoder hospital. Nreka told the IJ that he paid to be transferred to a military hospital because he did not trust the doctors at Shkoder hospital.

Second, Nreka testified that on several occasions in 1998, the police went to his family's house to search for him. They allegedly asked about his whereabouts, shoved his parents to the ground, and hit his brother and wife.

Third, Nreka stated that he was arrested and detained for twenty-four hours by the police in October of 2000 while on his way home from the DP's headquarters in Shkoder. A group of police officers stopped him on the road and told him to come with them "to clarify some things." He alleges that the officers took him to a cell and threatened that if he did not cease his DP activities, they would do to him what they did in June of 1998 when they broke his leg, and would "destroy, or burn" his family. After he was released uninjured, Nreka stayed at his parents' house for two days, and then moved from place to place, until he filed to the United States.

On cross-examination, Nreka conceded that between June of 1998 and October of 2000, he had also been detained by the police approximately seven other times, for one to two hours each. He explained that on these occasions, he was one of several people randomly stopped and searched by the police because they were suspected of possessing illegal weapons.

Some of Nreka's family continues to live in Albania, including his mother, who has received a government pension for the past five or six years; his wife, who could not afford the trip to the United States; and two brothers, one of whom Nreka says has also experienced problems because of his affiliation with the DP.

In addition to Nreka's testimony about the above incidents, Nreka presented the following documentary evidence: (1) an identification card showing his membership in the DP; (2) a letter from the DP, stating that Nreka had protected democratic institutions from being burned down during a 1997 communist rebellion and that he had been "prosecuted, threatened[,] and ill-treated from the ex-security of the communist state," which posed a serious threat to his life; and (3) a letter from Shkoder hospital, stating that he stayed in the hospital from June 17, 1998, to June 19, 1998, and then transferred to the military hospital.4

The IJ denied Nreka's application for asylum and withholding of removal under the INA and the CAT. After summarizing the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by Nreka, and explaining the standard for establishing a well-founded fear of future persecution, the IJ stated that "much of the evidence that has been submitted, as well as the testimony, tends to be not substantial to the extent that it would reach the standards which would need to be achieved to satisfy the burden of proof relating to political asylum." He observed that Nreka's testimony was "general in nature and limited to details that are apparently readily available in the [U.S. Department of State's] 2000 Country Report [on Human Rights Practices in Albania] or other general documents relating to Albania" and noted his concerns about Nreka's credibility. He observed that Nreka's mother continued to receive her government pension and stated his belief that Nreka's family would have been affected if the government sought to harm Nreka. The IJ found it "a little bit straining of credulity" that the president had an agenda that was specifically adverse to Nreka, considering that Nreka was not heavily involved in the struggle between the SP and the DP. Lastly, the IJ found "troubling" the fact that Nreka sought a transfer to the military hospital instead of a general hospital since he claimed to fear the government. The IJ ultimately found "the respondent's arrival in the country by use of fraud, his testimony, and the evidence presented to be insufficient to meet his burden of proof, and this Court finds that his application for political asylum, withholding of removal and relief pursuant to the Torture Convention should be denied, and are hereby denied." The IJ did not expressly order Nreka removed.5

Nreka appealed to the BIA, arguing that the IJ erred in denying him asylum, withholding of removal under the INA, and CAT relief. The BIA adopted and affirmed the IJ's determination, agreed that Nreka's claim was "not credible," and dismissed Nreka's appeal. Nreka timely filed this petition for review.

II. Discussion
A. Jurisdiction

The first question presented is whether, under the INA as amended by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009 (1996) ("IIRIRA"), we have jurisdiction over a petition for review of a BIA order that denies asylum and withholding of removal but does not expressly order removal of a VWP applicant in "asylum only proceedings" pursuant to INA § 217(a), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a) and 8 C.F.R. §§ 217.4 and 208.2.6

INA § 242, 8 U.S.C. § 1252, is the jurisdictional basis for immigration determinations post-IIRIRA. It states:

(a) Applicable provisions

(1) General orders of removal

Judicial review of a final order of removal (other than an order of removal without a hearing pursuant to section 1225(b)(1) of this title) is governed only by chapter 158 of Title 28, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section . . .

(2) Matters not subject to judicial review

. . .

(B) Denials of discretionary relief

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no court shall have jurisdiction to review — . . . (ii) any other decision or action of the Attorney General the authority for which is specified under this subchapter to be in the discretion of the Attorney General, other than the granting of relief under section 1158(a) of this title.

8 U.S.C. § 1252. In relevant part, 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a)(1) permits "[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States . . . irrespective of such alien's status, [to] apply for asylum. . . ."

Nreka applied for asylum and withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1158(a) and the CAT and now appeals the BIA's (and IJ's where applicable) final determination denying such relief. We have jurisdiction to review his claim under the jurisdictional grant in § 1252(a)(1). We agree with the INS's position that, assuming that the "final order of removal language" of § 1252(a)(1) acts as a condition precedent to the grant of jurisdiction throughout the remainder of § 1252, the denial of asylum and withholding of removal in Nreka's case constitutes a "final order of removal"...

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