Appellate attorney Derek Stikeleather of Goodell DeVries has secured a major immigration victory for his client Luis Miguel Cabrera Martinez at the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In a published opinion, the federal appellate court vacated the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision that had affirmed an Immigration Judge’s denial of Mr. Martinez’s asylum application.
Mr. Martinez, a Cuban journalist and dissident, had sought asylum due to past persecution and a well-founded fear of future persecution for his political journalism in Cuba. After communist agents in Cuba’s repressive one-party government discovered that Mr. Martinez had been anonymously writing for a dissident online periodical, the government began a sustained and escalating campaign of abuse against Mr. Martinez. He was not only threatened with death if he did not stop writing, he was also beaten unconscious on the street by plain-clothed government agents, twice arrested and detained in prison without being charged, fired from three separate jobs at the government’s direction, prevented from relocating within Cuba or legally traveling abroad, and stripped of his cell phone and laptop because the government dubbed him a "national security threat."
Working pro bono with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s Defending Vulnerable Populations Project, Derek petitioned the Eleventh Circuit to review and reverse the Board of Immigration Appeals' decisions denying asylum. Although federal appellate courts are generally reluctant to disturb an agency decision denying asylum, the three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the Immigration Judge and Board of Immigration Appeals had both plainly erred in stating that the record contained no evidence that Cuba’s totalitarian government viewed Mr. Martinez as a journalist. Although the political oppression of dissident journalists in Cuba was well-documented and merits asylum under U.S. immigration law, the two lower courts had denied asylum on the premise that the government suspected Mr. Martinez of merely associating with journalists, thus, leaving him unprotected. It also dismissed the government’s persecution of him as merely intermittent harassment.
Although the Eleventh Circuit panel unanimously found clear error in ruling on fear of future persecution, Judge Beverly Martin dissented to say that the evidence also clearly established past persecution as the Cuban government had "made it nearly impossible for him to live his life." She added that, given "the scope and trajectory of the government’s campaign against Mr. Martinez, I easily conclude that the facts of his case show past persecution supporting a grant of asylum." The case has been remanded to the Board of Immigration Appeals for further proceedings consistent with the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion.