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Njong v. Whitaker

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 28, 2018

Dereck Teke Njong Petitioner
Matthew G. Whitaker, Acting Attorney General of United States[1] Respondent

          Submitted: October 15, 2018

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

          Before SHEPHERD, KELLY, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         Dereck Teke Njong petitions for review of a final order of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA affirmed an order of the immigration judge (IJ) denying Njong's application for asylum under 8 U.S.C. § 1158, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and relief under Article III of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) pursuant to 8 C.F.R. §§ 1208.16-1208.18.


         Njong is a native and citizen of Cameroon who was placed in removal proceedings after entering the United States without proper documentation in September 2016. He requested asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT, claiming persecution on account of the political opinion he exercised in Cameroon as an active member of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC). Njong describes the SCNC as "a group that advocates for the rights of . . . the English-speaking Cameroonians to separate from the French." Njong is from the English-speaking Northwestern region of Cameroon.

         At his hearing before the IJ on April 19, 2017, Njong testified about his involvement with the SCNC and the harm he claims to have suffered as a result. Njong testified that after joining the group, he offered his services as a professional driver to transport documents between villages. Njong stated that he offered to transport these documents because some of the SCNC meetings are held in secret.

         Njong testified that as a result of his SCNC affiliation, the Cameroonian gendarmerie[2] detained him twice and beat him during one of those detentions. First, on September 25, 2015, the gendarmerie stopped him at a military checkpoint, found SCNC documents, arrested him, and detained him for four days. Njong testified that during this detention, where he was not physically harmed, he was interrogated as to whether he was "one of those people who want to separate Cameroon to [sic] two parts." Njong claims that he did not respond, but that he was asked to sign a written statement acknowledging that he would be sent to the Kondengui maximum security prison if he was later found to support the SCNC or participate in its activities. According to Njong, he was released after signing the statement.

         Njong testified that he was detained for a second time on May 1, 2016, after he was found transporting SCNC documents again. According to Njong, on the first and second days of his three-day detention, members of the gendarmerie beat him with sticks, stepped on him, and smashed him with their military boots. He testified that he suffered injuries to his right ankle, left elbow, and both knees. Njong also claims he was told he would be sent to the Kondengui prison, where he was afraid of going because "people that go there never come out" and some of them are killed.

         Njong explained that he was eventually released with the help of a mayor whose mother is Njong's cousin. He testified that he purchased pain medication to treat his injuries after release. Thereafter, he sought ways to leave the country, as he was, and remains, afraid of being killed there because of his involvement with the SCNC. Njong claims that after he crossed the Nigerian border on May 28, he finally went to a hospital to seek medical attention for his injuries.

         Finally, Njong testified about his family. He stated that he is married to Henrita Njong-who has been in the United States for years and now lives in Maryland-and that they have four children together. Henrita was at some point also a member of the SCNC in Cameroon but was granted asylum in the United States. Njong testified that Henrita filed a derivative asylee petition on his behalf, and that individuals from the United States Consulate interviewed him in Cameroon in 2014 in connection with the application. Njong claimed that, as far as he knew, his application was still pending. When asked why he did not wait for the application to be approved before coming to the United States, Njong responded that it was because of the harm he suffered at the hands of the gendarmerie in 2015 and 2016.

         In a written decision, the IJ denied Njong's claims for relief on two grounds. First, the IJ found that Njong's allegations of persecution by the Cameroonian government were not credible. The IJ also found that Njong had made false statements "relating to his children." It further found "compelling" the documents submitted by the government stating that Njong had previously told U.S. consular officers that Henrita was his cousin and he had married her for immigration benefits. The IJ found, however, that there was no evidence that the marriage itself was illegal.

         Second, and in the alternative, the IJ determined that even if he found Njong to be credible, Njong had failed to establish eligibility for relief. As to asylum, the IJ found that Njong had not suffered past persecution and had not shown a well-founded fear of future persecution. And consequently, the IJ found, Njong necessarily failed to meet the higher "clear probability" threshold required for withholding of removal. Finally, because Njong's claim for relief under the CAT rested on the same factual basis as ...

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