Milagro Del Blanco De Guevara, et al. Petitioners
William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States Respondent
Submitted: December 12, 2018
Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration
LOKEN, MELLOY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
Del Carmen Blanco de Guevara and her two minor children,
natives and citizens of El Salvador, entered the United
States in 2015 without inspection. The Department of Homeland
Security ("DHS") initiated removal proceedings. De
Guevara conceded removability and applied for asylum,
withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention
Against Torture, with her children as derivative applicants.
After a hearing at which de Guevara testified, the
Immigration Judge (IJ) denied relief on multiple grounds --
de Guevara's testimony was not credible, she failed to
articulate a particular social group on which to base a claim
of asylum, she failed to prove past persecution or a
well-founded fear of future persecution, and she failed to
show that the government of El Salvador was unable or
unwilling to control alleged persecution by criminal gangs.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed in a thorough
opinion. De Guevara petitions for review of the BIA's
final agency action. We conclude that the BIA's decision
was "supported by reasonable, substantial, and probative
evidence on the record considered as a whole" and
therefore deny the petition for review. I.N.S. v.
Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478, 481 (1992), quoting 8
U.S.C. § 1105a(a)(4) (standard of review).
de Guevara's husband came to the United States in 2011,
she continued to raise her children in El Salvador in the
same village as her parents and sister. De Guevara testified
at the hearing that in October 2015, she received a phone
call and then a letter from the gang "Mara 18"
demanding $1500 and threatening to kill de Guevara or her
children. She reported to the police but did not show them
the letter because "if you go to the police, they are
going to kill you." Instead, de Guevara left El Salvador
and entered the United States with her children.
found de Guevara's testimony not credible because she
gave a materially inconsistent explanation of her fear of
returning to El Salvador in a sworn statement to the Border
Patrol and in a subsequent "credible fear"
interview at the asylum office. The BIA ruled that this
credibility finding was not clearly erroneous. We "defer
to the IJ's credibility findings if they are supported by
a specific, cogent reason for disbelief," as they are in
this case. Alemu v. Gonzalez, 403 F.3d 572, 574 (8th
Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). However, it is not clear that
the inconsistencies, though material, "are at the heart
of the asylum claim." Sheikh v. Gonzales, 427
F.3d 1077, 1080 (8th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).
Therefore, like the BIA we will also review the merits of
Attorney General may grant asylum to an alien "who is
unable or unwilling to return to her home country
'because of persecution or a well-founded fear of
persecution on account of race, religion, nationality,
membership in a particular social group, or political
opinion.'" Alemu, 403 F.3d at 574, quoting
8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42); see 8 U.S.C. §
concluded that the harm de Guevara suffered -- being
threatened by a phone call and letter from a gang demanding
money -- "did not constitute past persecution." We
agree. See, e.g., La v. Holder, 701 F.3d
566, 571 (8th Cir. 2012). Having failed to prove past
persecution, de Guevara must prove a fear of future
persecution that is both objectively and subjectively
well-founded. See Tawm v. Ashcroft, 363 F.3d 740,
743 (8th Cir. 2004). The BIA noted that de Guevara "did
not testify to any ongoing threats or evidence that anyone
still seeks to harm her." She testified that no member
of her family has ever been harmed, and that her family
remains unharmed in the village from which she fled. A
generalized fear of gang violence is not a basis for asylum.
See Constanza v. Holder, 647 F.3d 749, 754 (8th Cir.
2011). On this record, substantial evidence supports the
BIA's ultimate finding that De Guevara failed to prove
that she has a well-founded fear of future persecution if
removed to El Salvador.
further determined that de Guevara failed to prove
persecution on account of membership in a "particular
social group." "[W]e give Chevron
deference to the BIA's reasonable interpretation of this
ambiguous statutory phrase." Cinto-Velasquez v.
Lynch, 817 F.3d 602, 606 (8th Cir. 2016). In a pair of
cases decided on February 7, 2014, the BIA clarified its
[A]n applicant for asylum or withholding of removal seeking
relief based on "membership in a particular social
group" must establish that the group is (1) composed of
members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2)
defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within
the society in question.
Matter of M-E-V-G, 26 I. & N. Dec. 227, 237 (BIA
2014); see Matter of W-G-R, 26 I. & N. Dec. 208
(BIA 2014). "Persecutory conduct aimed at a
social group cannot alone define the group, which much exist
independently of the persecution." Matter of
W-G-R at 215. Thus, to warrant a discretionary grant of
asylum, an applicant must "demonstrat[e] the existence
of a cognizable particular social group, [her] membership in
that part particular social group, and a risk of persecution
on account of [her] membership in the specified particular
social group." Id. at 223 (emphasis omitted).
appeal, de Guevara argues the BIA erred in ruling she failed
to prove past persecution on account of her membership in two
particular social groups, "Salvadoran female heads of
households" and "vulnerable Salvadoran
females." The BIA ruled that "Salvadoran female
heads of households" is not a cognizable particular
social group "because it lacks social distinction and
The respondent's proposed group is too broad and
amorphous to meet the particularity requirement. The
respondent did not show that 'head of household' has
a commonly accepted definition with Salvadoran society, nor
is such condition necessarily immutable. . . . The respondent
also did not establish that such group is socially distinct.
The respondent's testimony that her neighbors knew she
was living without a ...