Ramaj v. Gonzales

Decision Date24 October 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-3531.,05-3531.
Citation466 F.3d 520
PartiesDed RAMAJ and Vera Ramaj, Petitioners, v. Alberto GONZALES, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ON BRIEF: Richard A. Kulics, Henderson, Nevada, for Petitioners. Craig A. Weier, United States Attorney, Detroit, Michigan, for Respondent.

Before CLAY and GILMAN, Circuit Judges; OBERDORFER, District Judge.*

OPINION

RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

Ded Ramaj and his wife Vera Ramaj are natives of Albania who entered the United States illegally in 1997. They prepared an application for asylum and withholding of removal in July of 1997, but the application was inexplicably not processed by the government for several years. In 2001, an Immigration Judge (IJ) denied the petitioners' request for relief and ordered them removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed in a per curiam opinion, adopting the IJ's decision. Ramaj and his wife timely petitioned for review. For the reasons set forth below, we DENY their petition.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual background

Ded Ramaj (Ramaj) is the lead petitioner in this case, claiming asylum based on his alleged persecution in Albania. Vera Ramaj's claim for asylum is based solely on her husband's application. This case turns on issues of credibility and the alleged inconsistencies between Ramaj's two asylum applications and his testimony.

1. Asylum applications

The Ramaj s prepared their first application for asylum and withholding of removal in July of 1997, but the application was not processed by the government until the fall of 2001. In the application, Ramaj sought asylum based on alleged persecution due to his Roman Catholic faith and political activities. The application states that he was a member of the Balli Kombetar political party since April of 1990, and that he tried to prevent other Albanians from investing in fraudulent pyramid schemes perpetrated by the government. He claimed to have been taken to the police station in Mamurras on an unspecified date and severely beaten. In response to a separate question in the first asylum application, Ramaj alleged that he was arrested in February of 1997 and was held for 10 days. He also claims that his family was detained and beaten on several occasions. No detail is provided as to any of these incidents. The application is not clear as to whether Ramaj was talking about one or two incidents of mistreatment that he endured personally. At the close of the application, the section that is to be completed by persons assisting in the preparation of the asylum application is blank.

In October of 2001, the Ramajs filed a second application for asylum, this time with the assistance of an attorney. Ramaj again claimed persecution on account of his political opinions and "partly" because of his religious beliefs. He stated that he was elected as a representative of the Democratic Party for the city of Raj in 1991, a post that he allegedly occupied until October of 1992. After Ramaj resigned due to disillusionment with the party, he said that he "was marginalized" and "was unable to find work." In 1994, Ramaj left to stay in his uncle's home in Mamurras. There he met Vera and joined the Balli Kombetar political party. According to the second application, and inconsistent with the first, he joined Balli Kombetar in 1994 and was a member until February of 1997.

The second application states that Ramaj was twice arrested and beaten by the Albanian police. The first incident allegedly occurred in December of 1996, when he contends that he was held at the police station in Mamurras overnight and beaten three times. Ramaj claims that these abuses took place because he was participating in demonstrations against pyramid schemes perpetrated by the government. In February of 1997, after allegedly participating in one of these demonstrations, he was again arrested, beaten, and held for a period of 10 days. Ramaj was finally released "because the government opened the jails and we all left." According to the second application, Ramaj believes that he will be arrested if he returns to Albania because he is "considered an outsider, a troublemaker, and a rabble rouser, because [he] spoke out, and set down in writing [his] thoughts about those people who are recreating a totalitarian society while calling it a `democracy.'" Ramaj also expressed his belief that he would be subjected to torture because "Albanian police routinely abuse and torture detainees."

2. Removal hearing and exhibits

In July of 2004, a removal hearing was held in Detroit, with the IJ sitting by designation and appearing by video conference from New York. Although Ramaj, his wife, and a family friend all were present at the hearing, Ramaj was the only witness who testified. He and his wife both conceded removability and requested asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

The IJ then discussed the various exhibits that were before the court. Most were admitted without issue, but the IJ challenged the Ramajs' method of authenticating Exhibit 8. Exhibit 8 consists of nine pages, the first of which is a cover page, followed by two documents. The first document starts on the next page and is in a foreign language, with the English translation following. It says that Ramaj was "stopped by Police forces of Mamurras for 2 days in December of 1996 due to his support for [the] National party. With the same motive he was arrested for 10 days in February of 1997." On the face of the English translation is a faded stamp and a signature, which Ramaj alleges is the attestation of the translator. The next page, in two languages (a foreign language and English), is a "signature certificate" saying that the translator Apostol Spiro signed the English translation in the presence of Fatri Hoxha, a "public notary." Finally, a United States Embassy certification appears on the next page, certifying that Fatri Hoxha was the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania and that he was the person who signed the signature certificate.

The second document, also in a foreign language, follows. The English translation is on the next page, stating: "The citizen DED NDU RAMAJ resident of Mamurras city is mistreated from the police. As a result of that we found damage of the articulations, edemas in the body and hematomas. He has been under our medical care on antibiotics therapy, vitamins therapy for a period of two weeks in the month of February 1997. This verification is released as documentation." A doctor signed the statement. On the face of the English translation is a faded stamp and a signature, which Ramaj alleges is the attestation of the translator. The next page is the "signature certificate" saying that the translator Apostol Spiro signed the English translation in the presence of Fatri Hoxha, a "public notary." Then comes the United States Embassy certification, certifying that Fatri Hoxha was the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Albania and that he was the person who signed the signature certificate.

The government objected to the admission of the documents contained in Exhibit 8 "because the signatures and positions of the officers who signed the [translation] attestations were not certified as required by 8 C.F.R. [§] 1287.6 or translated as required by the regulations." This argument was found persuasive by the IJ, who excluded the documents for lack of proper authentication. Ramaj challenges the exclusion of these documents on appeal.

After the IJ resolved the dispute regarding Exhibit 8, Ramaj testified. He said that he first became involved in politics at the beginning of the democratic movement in 1990. Ramaj's membership in the Democratic Party allegedly began in 1991, after which he was elected as a representative of the party at the local polling station. At some point after the Democratic Party won the election in 1992, Ramaj said that he became disillusioned and terminated his membership.

Ramaj testified that he moved from his hometown of Kurbin to his cousin's house ("moved to my uncle's son") in Mamurras. When asked why he left his hometown, Ramaj said that he "left because [he] didn't feel safe in Kurbin and the killing started." He claimed that these killings were perpetrated by "masked people from the police." Ramaj believed that he could be a target "[b]ecause [he] ... resigned from the Democratic Party" due to his objections. He had known some people who were killed, and he "wouldn't stay with [his] mouth shut." But speaking out against the injustices would allegedly put him at risk.

Contrary to both his first and second written applications, Ramaj testified that he was accepted as a member of the Balli Kombetar party in Mamurras in September of 1996. He then began protesting against pyramid schemes. In December of 1996, he said that masked police came to the home where he was staying, ransacked it, and arrested Ramaj and his cousin. They were allegedly imprisoned for 24 hours at the Mamurras police department, during which time they were beaten, but not severely enough to cause Ramaj any injuries on his body. The assailants warned Ramaj and his cousin not to protest anymore.

In February of 1997, Ramaj was again engaged in public protest in Mamurras. Although in his second asylum application Ramaj indicated that he was protesting against the pyramid schemes, he testified that he was also objecting to the change in the political situation in Albania. He was allegedly arrested and jailed for ten days. Ramaj also claimed that he was severely beaten, resulting in wounds all over his body that caused him to be treated by a doctor for several days. He said that he was finally released from confinement on February 15, 1997 after the Democratic Party fell from power. Ramaj testified that ...

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