Argued April 1, 2014
Petition for Review of a Decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Nos. A200-981-396 & A200-981-397.
For Katsiaryna Sobaleva, Alexandru Potorac, Petitioners: Gary J. Yerman, Attorney, Yerman & Associates, Llc, New York, NY.
For ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., Attorney General of the United States, Respondent: Nicole N. Murley, Attorney, Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC; OIL, Attorney, Mona M. Yousif, Attorney, William C. Peachey, Attorney, Department of Justice, Civil Division, Immigration Litigation, Washington, DC.
Before TINDER and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges, and KAPALA, District Judge.[*]
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Petitioner Katsiaryna Sobaleva, a citizen of Belarus, entered the United States on a valid student visa. She applied for asylum, contending that the Belarusian government persecuted her for her political opinion before she left and likely would do so again if she were to return. She also requested asylum for her husband, Alexandru Potorac, a citizen of Moldova. (Because Potorac's eligibility for asylum derives entirely from Sobaleva's, it does not require separate consideration.) An immigration judge denied Sobaleva's application and ordered that she and Potorac be removed to their respective countries. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed, explaining that Sobaleva had not established either past persecution based on her political opinion or a well-founded fear of future persecution.
Sobaleva and Potorac petition this court for review of the orders of removal. We conclude that two significant flaws in the decisions of both the immigration judge and the Board require that the petition be granted and the case remanded for further consideration. First, the judge and the Board applied the wrong legal standard to conclude that Sobaleva was not persecuted in Belarus. Second, both the judge and the Board misconstrued and disregarded important evidence, so that the decision to deny Sobaleva's application is not supported by a reasoned analysis.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
In Belarus, Sobaleva belonged to a group called Malady Front (Young Front), a large youth organization opposed to the country's longtime authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko. Malady Front and affiliated organizations like Young Belarus have been frequent targets of government crackdowns on dissent. See, e.g., U.S. Department of State, 2010 Human Rights Report: Belarus 3-8 (April 8, 2011) (describing the arrests and detentions of group members for their political activity); Amnesty International, 2007 Report on Belarus (April 3, 2007) (ascribing the five-year prison sentence of Malady Front leader Alyaksandr Kazulin to a " systematic campaign of harassment, intimidation, and obstruction by the Belarusian authorities" ). Conditions in Belarus have not improved since Sobaleva's departure in May 2010. See Boika v. Holder, 727 F.3d 735, 739 (7th Cir. 2013) (summarizing evidence that, since Lukashenko's disputed election in December 2010, the Belarusian government has been particularly aggressive toward opponents).
Sobaleva filed a timely application for asylum roughly nine months after her arrival in the United States. Her application described her participation in anti-government protests and her mistreatment by police in connection with two of them. A hearing on her application was held before an immigration judge.
In her testimony at the hearing and in an affidavit, Sobaleva recounted that police officers arrived at an October 2009 protest
and began beating protesters indiscriminately. One officer hit Sobaleva hard in the face, knocking off her glasses and causing her nose to bleed. While she was bent over to retrieve the glasses, an officer grabbed her by the neck and shoved her into a police bus, where another officer hit her in the arm. Upon ...