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Sanon v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

April 11, 1995




Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals No. A 27 690 033.

Before CUMMINGS and FLAUM, Circuit Judges, and PAINE, *fn* District Judge.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.



Petitioner Fidele Sanon appeals from a denial of asylum and withholding of deportation by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Because the record before us does not reflect that the Board adequately appraised itself of Sanon's case, we vacate the Board's decision and remand for further proceedings.


Fidele Sanon was born on December 13, 1960, in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), a former French colony in West Africa. From 1981 to 1985, Sanon attended the University of Ouagadougou, the country's only university, and studied American literature. Sanon, who is fluent in English, taught English language courses at a local high school at the same time. Sanon also developed relationships with Americans in Burkina Faso at both the Peace Corps and the United States Information Agency ("USIA"). During the Summer of 1985, the Peace Corps employed Sanon as a translator.

In August, 1983, a military coup led by Captain Thomas Sankara overthrew the government of Burkina Faso and instituted a communist dictatorship. To consolidate his power, Sankara established local groups called Committees in Defense of the Revolution ("CDRs") throughout the country. CDR members served as a government militia, acted as informants, and generally encouraged support for Sankara and his policies. Under the slogan "join or disappear," the government invited everyone to join CDRs, and approximately twenty-five percent of the population opted to sign up. Many who refused to enlist fled the country, and those who stayed without joining were often denied job promotions or faced other indignities.

Sanon, an avowed anti-communist, refused to join and subsequently experienced a number of problems. Before the coup, Sanon had belonged to a student group called the Burkinabe Student Association, which had defended the interests of the students against the government; the Association was dismantled when the CDRs were created. Sanon's students at the high school formed their own CDR, chanted revolutionary slogans in class, and labeled Sanon a "reactionary" because he taught the "language of imperialism." These students also frequently threatened to report Sanon to the authorities because he would not let them address him as "comrade." Representatives from the main CDR headquarters twice came to visit Sanon's school after students complained that the teachers lacked sufficient revolutionary fervor. The second visit so frightened Sanon that he quit his job and temporarily went into hiding in the country.

In 1985, Sanon worked for the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso giving French lessons and cross-cultural seminars to American volunteers. On one occasion, Sanon and his fellow language teachers spoke privately and critically of the Sankara regime. Soon thereafter, he heard a radio broadcast in which details of that conversation were mentioned; someone in the group had reported them to the authorities. The same news report announced that the government was canceling all student exit visas and removing the Minister of Education on suspicion of aiding counter-revolutionary students. Sanon, who had received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States, held one of the canceled visas.

Sanon visited the Ministry of Education to demand the reinstatement of his visa, but new procedures required CDR approval of all visa applications. According to Sanon, the CDR had blacklisted him, but Sanon nonetheless managed to persuade a low-level official to issue him an exit visa without CDR approval in November, 1985. Even with the visa, Sanon feared he would not be allowed to leave. William Weinhold, Director of the USIA in Burkina Faso and Sanon's friend and sponsor, had seen CDR members drag a departing student with a valid visa off an airplane in August. To avoid such an incident, Sanon left the country on a day of national mourning, when no CDR members would be at the airport to stop him, and arranged to have Weinhold accompany him to the airport. Sanon departed successfully, although he subsequently learned that after he left, the government had transferred the Bureau of Passports to the Presidential Palace because no one could determine how he had escaped. Sanon knows of no other students from Burkina Faso who have been able to come to the United States since his departure.

In October, 1987, while Sanon was studying in the United States, a second coup led by Captain Blaise Compaore, Sankara's Minister of Justice, overthrew the Sankara regime. Despite the change, Burkina Faso remained a communist country opposed to United States' policy and political ideals. Compaore disbanded the CDRs but developed similar organizations to mobilize the population and promote revolutionary goals. In fact, Compaore evicted the Peace Corps from Burkina Faso because of its "imperialist" associations. Compaore's government, like Sankara's, also maintained close ties with Libya.

In the United States, Sanon studied at Ball State University in Indiana and received a Master's Degree in Education. He also applied for and received an extension on his passport until 1991. Sanon's student visa expired, however, on May 22, 1987. On May 8, 1988, the INS issued an Order to Show Cause, charging Sanon with deportability under section 241(a)(2) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1251(a)(2) (recodified now at section 241(a)(1)(B) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1251(a)(1)(B)), as a nonimmigrant alien who had remained in the United States for a period longer than that authorized. In response, Sanon requested discretionary asylum, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1158(a), mandatory withholding of deportation, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1253(h)(1), or, alternatively, voluntary departure to France.

An immigration judge held five proceedings over a tenmonth period in 1989 and issued an order granting Sanon's asylum request and withholding deportation on October 13, 1989. The judge found Sanon's story "candid[,] . . . credible and worthy of belief" and determined that Sanon had proven both a well-founded fear of persecution in Burkina Faso that qualified him for asylum and a clear probability of persecution that qualified him for withholding of deportation. The immigration judge found that Sanon's association with the Peace Corps, his abrupt exit from Burkina Faso, and his long-term stay in the ...

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