Petition for Review of a Final Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Nos. A71-468-234 & A72-126-978
Before Bauer, Flaum, and Evans, Circuit Judges.
Valentin Boykov and Krassimira Boykova seek to avoid deportation to their native country. Preferring to remain in the United States rather than to return to Bulgaria, a nation lately visited by economic instability and political uncertainty, the Boykovs ask us to vacate an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals upholding an immigration judge's denial of their requests for asylum or withholding of deportation. We affirm.
Valentin Boykov entered the United States on June 11, 1990 as a visitor for pleasure, authorized to remain until December 11 of the same year. Not one but three Decembers passed, however, only to find Boykov joined by his wife, Krassimira Boykova, who, in January 1993, entered the country "without inspection" (in the parlance of the INS), and their two children, who arrived the following September. In October 1993, the INS served the Boykovs with an order to show cause why they should not be deported, and the couple subsequently conceded deportability and filed requests for asylum or withholding of deportation.
Both Valentin and Krassimira, who married in 1980, testified before the immigration judge. Boykov, now 39 years old, was born in Sofia, while Boykova (ne Opalchevska), 36 years of age and an ethnic Macedonian, grew up in Blagoevgrad, in the Macedonian region of Bulgaria. Her father was an outspoken Macedonian nationalist whose opposition to the communist regime following World War II earned him the hostility of Bulgarian authorities, as well as repeated arrests and interrogations and, on at least one occasion, a severe beating. Although the Opalchevskis were permitted to move to Sofia in the 1970s when Krassimira's father found work there, they were forcibly repatriated to Blagoevgrad in 1979 following his death. Krassimira's marriage to Valentin, however, enabled her to return to Sofia.
Much of Boykov's testimony, and of the statement he attached to his asylum application, centered around an incident that took place at a Sofia restaurant in 1980 shortly after his wedding. Boykov, his brother, and a friend had finished dining at the restaurant when an argument over the bill erupted between the three customers and the waitress who had served them. Police were summoned and they sided with the waitress. In a burst of imprudence, Boykov's friend denounced the police as "communist stooges" and declared that only in a communist country could the unfolding scene be staged. As if to prove him correct, the police hauled him away in their car. Boykov never again saw his friend alive. A week later, the friend's parents discovered their son's body in front of their home. Boykov and his brother soon received visits from the police, who warned that they would be killed if they spoke to anyone about the incident. Boykov testified that, until he left Bulgaria, police continued to visit him two to three times a year to remind him to keep quiet.
The connection Boykov drew between the restaurant incident and other events underscores both the episode's psychological impact and the extent to which, for Boykov, it colored his subsequent encounters with the authorities. As Boykov explained in his asylum application, "we were afraid that because of my wife's Macedonian nationality, and the anti-government activities of her family, the police would use that as a pretext to act upon their threats." In fact, following a visit from Boykova's relatives shortly after the friend's death, police broke into the Boykovs' home, arrested and detained them overnight, and questioned them about the purpose of the relatives' visit. Boykova was pregnant at the time.
Boykov's next run-in with the authorities (apart from the periodic police visits) occurred in 1989. Boykov became involved with a branch of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces ("UDF") that had been organized at the construction company where he worked. At a meeting of company employees, he read aloud a UDF report critical of company management, who were all Communist Party members. Boykov testified that, following the meeting, the company's manager and the Communist Party secretary assigned to the company informed Boykov that if he persisted, he could lose his job and his apartment, "and something even worse could happen." When the police next visited Boykov in January 1990, they warned him that "now . . . it would be much easier for them to get rid of" him. Asked to interpret this last warning, Boykov responded, "undoubtedly the incident that happened with my friend played a big part, . . . but also . . . my activities in my work place were . . . also a factor." Around this time, Boykov also received threatening telephone calls from anonymous sources who knew "intimate biographical details" about him and his family.
Boykov believes that, since his arrival in the United States, his letters home have been opened and his phone calls intercepted. "I am afraid," he testified, "that if I go back I could be killed, my kids could be kidnapped and I'm 100 percent positive that I wouldn't be able to find any employment." Asked why the Bulgarian government allowed him so easily to leave the country, Boykov explained that he was not a threat from afar: "I'm not such a tremendous political activist and I haven't done anything that in any way threatens the security of the state, the government."
Boykova's testimony mainly recounted the difficulties she encountered after her husband left for the United States. Boykova received threatening phone calls and on one occasion was visited by officials whose questions regarding her husband's whereabouts led her to believe that they were not, as they claimed, conducting a census, but, rather, were connected to the police. She lost her job and, because she "had temporary residency in Sofia only by force of [her] marriage to a . . . resident," Boykova was denied government benefits. According to Boykova's asylum application, her repeated requests for government assistance were met either with silence or responses such as, "[G]o to Macedonia for assistance," or, "Since your ...