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Cantarero-Lagos v. Barr

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 6, 2019


          Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals

          Before DAVIS, JONES, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.


         Petitioners Wendy Cantarero-Lagos and her minor son, Henry Bonilla-Cantarero, filed a petition for review challenging an order by the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") denying their applications for asylum and withholding of removal. They claim that the BIA reversibly erred by refusing to consider a reformulated particular social group ("PSG") on appeal. Because the BIA is not required to consider a PSG on appeal that was never presented to the immigration judge ("IJ"), the BIA's order is AFFIRMED.


         Petitioner Wendy Cantarero-Lagos came to the United States from Honduras with her minor son, Petitioner Henry Bonilla-Cantarero, in June 2014. After they were apprehended by Border Patrol agents, Petitioners admitted to crossing the border illegally, conceded removability, and filed applications for asylum and withholding of removal. At their hearing before an IJ, Cantarero-Lagos testified that she and her son left Honduras because, in 2012, she had been threatened by gang members who were trying to extort her and, in 2001, her father had attempted to rape her.[1] She did not report either incident to the police, nor did she experience continued threats from either the gang members or her father after the 2012 and 2001 incidents. Cantarero-Lagos told the IJ that she feared returning to Honduras with her son because gang activity and rapes were on the rise and she doubted the ability of law enforcement to provide protection.

         After Cantarero-Lagos finished testifying, her attorney defined her PSG as "single Honduran women, aged 14 to 30, who are victims of sexual abuse within the family and whom the government fails to protect."[2] However, when the IJ expressed skepticism about this definition, her attorney revised the PSG to "single Honduran women, age 14 to 30, who are victims of sexual abuse within the family and who cannot turn to the government." In an oral decision, the IJ denied the petitions for relief. Although the IJ found Cantarero-Lagos's testimony credible, he concluded that her PSG was not cognizable and that it lacked any nexus to her cited harms.

         On appeal before the BIA, Cantarero-Lagos conceded that the PSG she presented to the IJ "fails for many reasons." Arguing, however, that "the evidence lends itself to a more cognizable and logically sound group," Cantarero-Lagos asked the BIA to consider a reformulated PSG: "Honduran women and girls who cannot sever family ties." She asserted that this new PSG "naturally [arose] from the substance of the evidence presented at the merits hearing" and was thus appropriate for the BIA's consideration.

         In a published opinion, the BIA dismissed her appeal, holding that "[a]n applicant seeking asylum or withholding of removal based on membership in a particular social group must clearly indicate on the record before the Immigration Judge the exact delineation of any proposed particular social group." Matter of W-Y-C- & H-O-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 189 (BIA 2018). Reasoning that "[t]he Board is an appellate body whose function is to review, not to create a record," the BIA explained that "[w]here, as here, an applicant delineates a social group for the first time on appeal, the Immigration Judge will not have had an opportunity to make relevant factual findings, [and the BIA] cannot do [so] in the first instance on appeal." Id. at 190-91 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); cf. id. at 189 ("The [BIA] generally will not address a newly articulated particular social group that was not advanced before the [IJ]."). Furthermore, because "respondent was represented by counsel below and could have advanced this newly delineated group before the Immigration Judge," the BIA decided not to remand the case back to the IJ. Id. at 192.

         Cantarero-Lagos and Bonilla-Cantarero filed this petition for review.


         On a petition for review, this court "review[s] the BIA's decision and only consider[s] the IJ's decision to the extent that it influenced the BIA." Shaikh v. Holder, 588 F.3d 861, 863 (5th Cir. 2009). "The BIA's factual findings are reviewed for substantial evidence." Ghotra v. Whitaker, 912 F.3d 284, 287 (5th Cir. 2019). The BIA's legal determinations-"including whether the Board applied an inappropriate standard or failed to make necessary findings"-are generally reviewed de novo, "unless a [legal] conclusion embodies the BIA's interpretation of an ambiguous provision of a statute that it administers," in which case its interpretation may be entitled to Chevron deference. Id. (internal citation omitted); Orellana-Monson v. Holder, 685 F.3d 511, 517 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal citation and alteration omitted). Auer deference may be appropriate if the BIA's legal conclusion interprets a regulation it administers. See Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461-63, 117 S.Ct. 905, 911-12 (1997).

         Here, the government argues that the BIA's opinion is entitled to both Chevron and Auer deference. These doctrines do not apply. Although the BIA's opinion is "a precedential decision, which relies in part on the Board's interpretation of the adjudication scheme set forth in the [Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA")]," the government has not identified any ambiguous phrase in the INA that the BIA's opinion interpreted. Thus, Chevron deference is inappropriate. Similarly, although "the agency's decision rested, in part, on [an invocation] of its standard of review regulation, 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(d)(3)," the BIA's opinion does not purport to interpret the regulation but rather to apply it. Consequently, Auer deference is also inappropriate, and this court will review the BIA's legal determinations de novo.


         Petitioners contend that the BIA reversibly erred by refusing to consider their reformulated PSG. They further claim that the BIA announced "an excessively strict standard" when it concluded that applicants must give an "exact delineation" of their PSG to the IJ. Finally, Petitioners argue that even if the BIA did not err in its legal holdings, the legal standards announced in its opinion should ...

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