FOR REVIEW OF AN ORDER OF THE BOARD OF IMMIGRATION APPEALS
MacMurray and MacMurray & Associates, on brief for
Jeffrey R. Meyer, Attorney, Office of Immigration Litigation,
Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Chad A.
Readler, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Stephen J. Flynn,
Assistant Director, on brief for respondent.
Lynch, Stahl, and Barron Circuit Judges.
Rosa Maria Villalta-Martinez ("Villalta-Martinez")
seeks our review of an order of the Board of Immigration
Appeals ("BIA") denying her applications for
asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the
Convention Against Torture Act ("CAT"). After
careful consideration, we deny the petition for review.
Facts & Prior Proceedings
recite here the relevant factual background. On May 8, 2015,
Villalta-Martinez, a citizen of El Salvador, illegally
entered the United States. On May 9, 2015, she was
apprehended by Border Patrol Agents, charged under 8 U.S.C.
§ 1182(a)(6)(A)(i), and released on her own
recognizance. Villalta-Martinez admitted to her removability,
and thereafter, filed applications for asylum, withholding of
removal, and protection under the CAT, claiming she was
persecuted, and faced future persecution, at the hands of
Salvadorian gang members, on account of her family
was the only witness to testify in support of her
applications before the Immigration Judge ("IJ").
She provided the following information: From 2012-2015, while
in El Salvador, she was in a relationship with Ever Eliseo
Garcia-Linares ("Garcia"). She became pregnant with
Garcia's child and, although she moved into an apartment
with Garcia, the couple never married.
owned a chain of stores in El Salvador. The Marasalvatrucha
gang demanded money from Garcia on a weekly basis. Due to
these extortion demands, Garcia left El Salvador with the
intent to move to Canada; however, he was apprehended in the
United States for illegal reentry, having previously been
her relationship with Garcia, Villalta-Martinez worked in one
of his stores. She testified that after Garcia left El
Salvador, on at least five separate occasions, gang members
came to the store that she worked at, put a gun to her head,
and demanded money. As a result, Villalta-Martinez moved to
another store to work,  in hopes of avoiding trouble with the
gang, but the same thing happened. She testified that the
gang members came to that store and demanded $2, 000. A gang
member told her that if she did not pay, he would pull the
unborn child from her womb, cut her, and rape her.
receiving this threat, Villalta-Martinez obtained $3, 000
from an aunt, who also resided in El Salvador, in order to
travel to the United States. Villalta-Martinez testified that
"she was afraid to return to El Salvador because gang
members would take reprisals because she did not comply with
their demands for money."
credited Villalta-Martinez's testimony as true.
Nonetheless, the IJ found that Villalta-Martinez: (1) failed
to establish that she suffered persecution in El Salvador;
and (2) failed to establish that she was persecuted on
account of her family membership with Garcia. The IJ
explained that "the evidence was not that
[Villalta-Martinez] was targeted because of Mr. Garcia, but
that she was targeted by gangs and each and every time
because they wanted money. The respondent has not established
that one of the reasons she was targeted was because of her
relationship with Mr. Garcia."
affirmed the IJ's denial and reasoning. The BIA
[E]ven if [Villalta-Martinez] is considered to be in a
familial relationship with a man with whom she was in a
romantic relationship and with whom she had a child, the
respondent has not established a nexus between her past and
future fear of harm by gang members and her familial
relationship to the man. The record reflects that the
respondent was the victim of extortion and that she continues
to fear future criminal activity.
Villalta-Martinez could not meet her burden for asylum, the
BIA determined that "she has also not satisfied the
higher standard of a clear probability of persecution"
as required for the withholding of removal.
order to qualify for asylum, an applicant must demonstrate
that she has experienced past persecution or has a
well-founded fear of future persecution on account of her
"race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular
social group, or political opinion." 8 U.S.C. §
1101(a)(42)(A). The standard for withholding of removal is
even higher; the applicant must show that it is more likely
than not that she would be subject to persecution on account
of an enumerated ground if she were repatriated. See
id. § 1231(b)(3); Mayorga-Vidal v. Holder,
675 F.3d 9, 13 (1st Cir. 2012).
first consider whether Villalta-Martinez has established a
well-founded fear of persecution based on one of the five
statutorily recognized categories. 8 U.S.C. §
1101(a)(42)(A). In her petition for review,
Villalta-Martinez's argues that the BIA erred in
concluding that there was no evidence establishing a nexus
between her past persecution and her proposed social group,
her family membership. Villalta-Martinez explains that
"[a]lthough money was part of the reasons why gangs
targeted her, the main reason was her familial
an applicant has met his or her burden for proving
eligibility is a question of fact, reviewed under the
substantial evidence standard. See Hincapie v.
Gonzales, 494 F.3d 213, 218 (1st Cir. 2007)
("[W]hether persecution is on account of one of the five
statutorily protected grounds is fact-specific";
therefore, "we review the BIA's answer to that
question through the prism of the substantial evidence
rule."). "We uphold the BIA's findings if they
are supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative
evidence on the record considered as a whole, and will
reverse only if any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled
to conclude to the contrary." Ratnasingam v.
Holder, 556 F.3d 10, 13 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal
quotations and citations omitted). "When the BIA adopts
and affirms the IJ's ruling but also examines some of the
IJ's conclusions, this Court reviews both the BIA's
and IJ's opinions." Perlera-Sola v. Holder,
699 F.3d 572, 576 (1st Cir. 2012).
a linkage to one of the five statutorily protected grounds is
'critical' to a successful asylum claim."
Hincapie, 494 F.3d at 218 (quoting I.N.S. v.
Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 483 (1992)). In order to
sufficiently demonstrate persecution on account of a
protected ground, the petitioner "must provide
sufficient evidence to forge an actual connection between the
harm [suffered] and some statutorily protected ground, "
beyond a "reasonable possibility of a nexus."
describing the gang's extortion tactics before the IJ,
Villalta-Martinez testified that "[t]here were times
that we were able to close the doors on time, but at the end
they would be outside waiting for us and they would
take us, take all our belongings." On
cross-examination, she explained that the gang members would
follow her and "the rest of the employee[s]."
"They were demanding money from the store and then they
demanded directly money from me." When asked if she was
targeted for working at the store, she responded "[f]or
that reason, and also because I was the partner of the owner
of the store."
agree with the finding of the BIA that there is
"insufficient evidence in the record to demonstrate that
the gang members were or would be motivated to harm
[Villalta-Martinez] for any other reason than to extort money
from her, " and we cannot find, viewing the record as a
whole, that a reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to
conclude to the contrary. Villalta-Martinez consistently
testified in the plural, explaining that both she and her
fellow employees were targeted by gang members. Such
testimony likely indicates that gang members were targeting
all the employees in the store in order to extort money. The
threats, albeit terrifying, do not satisfy the statutory
requirements for asylum. See Escobar v. Holder, 698
F.3d 36, 38 (1st Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted)
("Evidence of widespread violence . . . affecting all
citizens is not enough to establish persecution on a
protected ground."). Further, Villalta-Martinez failed
to demonstrate whether any of the gang members who threatened
her had any knowledge of her relationship with Garcia.
See id. at 38 (finding that petitioner failed to
provide a connection between family and protected
classification where "nothing indicate[d] that the
guerrillas specifically targeted [petitioner's]
dissent suggests that remand is appropriate because
"neither the BIA nor the IJ . . . addressed (or even
mentioned) the significant countervailing evidence in the
record that suggests that Villalta-Martinez was targeted --
at least in part -- due to her familial ties to the father of
her child." The dissent argues that the IJ and the BIA
failed to consider Villalta-Martinez's testimony that the
gangs targeted her "because she was the partner of the
owner of the store[.]". Relying on Aldana-Ramos v.
Holder, 757 F.3d 9, 18 (1st Cir. 2014), the dissent
explains that asylum is proper in mixed-motive cases,
"so long as one of the statutorily protected grounds is
'at least one central reason' for persecution."
Aldana-Ramos, the IJ and the BIA erred by stating
that the persecution at issue was due to wealth, and
therefore could not be attributed to familial relation.
Id. The BIA thus failed to consider the possibility
of a mixed-motive case. No such error occurred here. The IJ
explained that Villalta-Martinez "has not established
that one of the reasons she was targeted was because
of her relationship with Mr. Garcia." (emphasis added).
The IJ and thus the BIA explicitly acknowledged the
possibility of a mixed-motive case, but, based on the