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CORDOVA v. HOLDER, NO. 13-1597

Decided: July 18, 2014

In Cordova v. Holder, the Fourth Circuit granted Cordova’s petition for review, and remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) for further proceedings after concluding that the BIA had failed to provide an adequate basis for their legal conclusions.

Cordova, Petitioner, entered the United States without inspection in July 2010. Four months later the Government served Petitioner with a Notice to Appear on charges that he was an alien present in the U.S. in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(A)(i). Petitioner submitted an application for asylum. Petitioner testified that he was attacked and threatened on multiple occasions by two El Salvador gangs, MS-13 and Mara 18, who demanded that Petitioner either join either of their respective gangs, or pay for their protection. Petitioner further testified that he feared he would be killed after members of MS-13 saw him with his cousin, who was a member of Mara 18. Based on his familial ties to the Mara 18 gang member, Petitioner claimed membership in a “particular social group” for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A). The Immigration Judge (“IJ”) denied Petitioner’s application for asylum and concluded that Petitioner was merely a person from El Salvador who had experienced problems with a gang. The IJ reasoned that Petitioner had not suffered past persecution, and that his fears did not amount to “fear based on a reasonable probability of future prosecution.” The BIA affirmed the IJ’s denial of asylum and withholding of removal because it concluded that Petitioner’s relationship to gang members was not a “social group.” Additionally, the BIA concluded that Petitioner had failed to demonstrate a nexus between the proposed social group and the threats he had received.

The Fourth Circuit rejected both of the BIA’s conclusions, and found that Petitioner had demonstrated that he was part of a family-based social group. First, the Court noted that Petitioner’s familial relationships were a central reason that MS-13 threatened to kill him. Petitioner’s cousin and uncle, both of whom were associated with Mara 18, were killed as a result of their association with Mara 18. The Court emphasized that even the BIA’s opinion stated that the motivation of the gang members who attacked Petitioner “was . . . retaliation for [his cousin and uncle’s] membership in a rival gang.” Reviewing the BIA’s opinion, the Court concluded that Petitioner had demonstrated a cognizable family-based social group, and that the BIA had failed to provide an adequate basis for concluding otherwise. Accordingly, the Court held that the “proper course with regard to nexus is to ‘remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation.’”

Full Opinion

Abigail Forrister