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Ruiz-Escobar v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 2, 2018



          Susan Kay Roses, with whom Michael P. Martel and Law Office of Michael P. Martel, Esq. were on brief, for petitioner.

          Emily B. Leung, Iris Gomez, and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute on brief for Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Greater Boston Legal Services, Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, Catholic Social Services of Fall River, amici curiae.

          John F. Stanton, Trial Attorney, Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, with whom Chad A. Readler, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, and Claire L. Workman, Senior Litigation Counsel, Office of Immigration Litigation, were on brief, for respondent.

          Before Lynch, Circuit Judge, Souter, [*] Associate Justice, and Selya, Circuit Judge.


         Marvin Javier Ruiz-Escobar sought withholding of removal ("WOR") and protection under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"), claiming that he had experienced past persecution and faced a clear probability of future persecution in Honduras on account of his family membership.

         He had an evidentiary hearing before an Immigration Judge ("IJ"). There, he presented evidence that, he alleged, established that a narcotrafficking gang called Los Cachiros had killed a number of his family members in Honduras. The IJ denied Ruiz-Escobar's request for relief, finding that he failed to establish that he had suffered -- or was likely to suffer in the future -- harm that was both (1) sufficient to constitute persecution and (2) related to his family membership. The Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") affirmed in a decision described below.

         Ruiz-Escobar timely petitioned for review in this court. We also describe below the arguments in the petition. As none of the claims have merit, we deny his petition for review.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         Ruiz-Escobar, a native and citizen of Honduras, first entered the United States illegally in May 2013 by crossing the Hidalgo, Texas border. He was apprehended, detained by the border patrol for several weeks, and interviewed by immigration officials in June 2013. In a Record of Sworn Statement from that interview, which he signed, Ruiz-Escobar indicated that he had entered the United States to work and live in Boston, and that he had no fear of harm if he were returned to Honduras. On the basis of this information, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") removed Ruiz-Escobar to Honduras on June 18, 2013, pursuant to an expedited removal order.

         In November 2013, Ruiz-Escobar again entered the United States illegally. This time, he eluded the border patrol and found his way to Massachusetts. On or about July 21, 2016, Ruiz-Escobar was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers after he was stopped by Massachusetts police for driving without a license. The next day, DHS notified Ruiz-Escobar of its decision to reinstate the prior removal order. In August 2016, an asylum officer interviewed Ruiz-Escobar and found that he had expressed a reasonable fear of harm upon return to Honduras.

         Through counsel, Ruiz-Escobar filed an application for WOR and for protection under CAT. In support of his application, Ruiz-Escobar submitted, inter alia, affidavits from himself and his sister; death certificates of his deceased relatives; and reports detailing conditions in Honduras.

         At the merits hearing on his application, Ruiz-Escobar testified that a number of his family members -- including his mother, his father, four uncles, and a cousin -- had been killed or "disappeared" in Honduras by a narcotrafficking group called Los Cachiros.[1] Ruiz-Escobar said he had heard from relatives that Los Cachiros had shot and killed his father in 1994 (the year before he was born) for refusing to sell them a piece of land, which they had wanted to use as a landing strip for their cocaine-transporting planes.

         Los Cachiros also purportedly held a grudge against Ruiz-Escobar's stepfather, Camilo Ruiz ("Camilo"), stemming from Camilo's refusal to become a bodyguard for Lucio Rivera, a Los Cachiros-affiliated narcotrafficker. Ruiz-Escobar claimed that Los Cachiros had attempted to kill Camilo in 2010 by cutting the brakes of his car. According to Ruiz-Escobar, the resulting car accident killed his mother, but Camilo survived. Camilo relocated to the United States in 2011, where he currently is located, and testified at Ruiz-Escobar's hearing.

         To rebut Ruiz-Escobar's testimony that Lucio Rivera had been targeting his family members, DHS counsel "Googled" the name "Lucio Rivera" at the hearing and found a Spanish-language article from a Honduran newspaper stating that Lucio Rivera had been convicted of three murders and sentenced to 104 years in prison by a Honduran court. Ruiz-Escobar's counsel objected to the admission of the article on the basis that she had not seen it. DHS counsel responded that she would "go upstairs and print it out." The IJ allowed the court interpreter to translate the article into the record.

         Ruiz-Escobar also described the deaths of four of his uncles: Andres Felipe Ruiz Mayen ("Andres"), Jose de Jesus Ruiz Mayen ("Jose"), Santos Ruiz Mayen ("Santos"), and Hector Porfirio Sevilla Cabrera ("Hector"). He claimed that Andres was murdered in 1998 for refusing to sell the Ruiz family's land to Los Cachiros. According to Ruiz-Escobar, the land was eventually sold to a cattle rancher, but Los Cachiros ultimately obtained possession of the land after killing the rancher. The second uncle, Jose, died in 2005. While Ruiz-Escobar did not have "personal knowledge" regarding the circumstances of Jose's death, he noted that "some people in [his] family" thought that drug traffickers "were possibly responsible" for Jose's death, even though an initial report indicated that Jose had been killed by a falling tree. The third uncle, Santos, has been missing since 2011. Ruiz-Escobar speculated that Los Cachiros had kidnapped Santos to obtain information about Camilo's location and "disappeared" Santos to "punish" ...

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