Petition for review of an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") affirming a decision of an immigration judge which denied petitioner Guo Qi Wang's application for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). We deny the petition, finding that the BIA correctly concluded that Wang's participation in a scheme to sell organs for profit on the black market was a serious nonpolitical crime.
Argued: September 23, 2009
Before WALKER, KATZMANN, and ROTH, Circuit Judges.
This case calls upon us in principal part to determine whether the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") correctly concluded that participation in a scheme to sell organs for profit on the black market is a serious nonpolitical crime.
Petitioner Guo Qi Wang petitions for review of an order of the BIA affirming a decision of an immigration judge which denied his application for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture ("CAT"). We agree with the BIA that Wang's participation in a scheme to sell organs for profit on the black market was a serious nonpolitical crime. Accordingly, we deny the petition.
In May 2000, Guo Qi Wang, a native and citizen of the People's Republic of China, attempted to enter the United States without valid travel documents. In April 2001, Wang filed an affirmative application for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), withholding of removal under the CAT, and deferral of removal under the CAT. In his application, Wang claimed a fear of persecution and torture for violating his agreement with the Chinese government not to expose the government's program of harvesting organs and tissue from executed prisoners for profit. Wang stated that, as part of the government's program, he extracted organs and tissue from executed prisoners at least one hundred times.
In July 2002, Wang was charged as removable by service of a Notice to Appear. In February 2003, Wang filed a supplemental asylum application, presenting essentially the same facts and claims as his first application, namely a fear of persecution and torture for exposing the Chinese government's program of extracting organs from executed prisoners for profit. At an April 2004 merits hearing, Wang testified in support of his application for relief from removal. Specifically, Wang testified that he had become personally involved, at the military hospital where he worked, in a scheme involving the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners. Wang stated that, in order to procure the cadavers from which to harvest organs, the hospital would pay court officials for each body, and that he himself sometimes made these payments on behalf of the hospital. According to his testimony, Wang personally removed the skin from cadavers "about 100 times." The harvesting would occur either at the execution location or at a crematorium, and Wang was present at some of the executions, although he was instructed not to disclose the details of the organ harvesting scheme to the public. Wang testified that after the organs were harvested, the hospital "sold them to patients[,] . . . [f]irst . . . [to] the patients who had money, and second [to] the patients who have prestige to get those organs." According to Wang, the organ harvesting scheme was very lucrative for the hospital. Wang participated in the harvesting of organs from 1988 to 1995, when he began refusing to participate. When Wang voiced an objection to the scheme as "an uncivilized and immoral way of doing things," the hospital required Wang to sign an agreement that he would not reveal the organ harvesting scheme "to the media, the foreign countries, or to outside parties." Besides harvesting the skin from executed prisoners, Wang also carried the corpse of an executed prisoner on a stretcher and administered anti-clotting medication to a living prisoner in order to extend the viability of his kidneys after his execution, although he told the prisoner that the medication was a tranquilizer that would prevent unnecessary suffering. According to Wang, he learned from his superior that some executions were intentionally botched, that is, the executioner would intentionally misfire so that the prisoner did not die, to extend the life of the kidneys before transplantation. Wang also testified that he had once removed the skin of a prisoner who was still alive after a botched execution. Wang claimed that the Chinese government would persecute and torture him, asserting that the government had responded to testimony he gave before Congress about the organ-harvesting scheme by identifying him as a traitor in the news and by seeking information about his whereabouts from his wife.*fn3
In August 2005, the IJ issued a decision denying Wang's application for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and withholding of removal under the CAT, but granting Wang deferral of removal under the CAT. In her decision, the IJ concluded, inter alia, that Wang was ineligible for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and withholding of removal under the CAT for having willfully committed a serious nonpolitical crime, namely torture. However, the IJ granted Wang deferral of removal under the CAT, concluding that if Wang were removed to China, government officials would likely torture him for revealing state secrets and publicly humiliating the Chinese government.
Wang appealed the IJ's decision to the BIA, arguing, among other things, that the IJ erred in finding that he had committed a serious nonpolitical crime. The government also appealed the IJ's decision to the BIA, arguing that the IJ erred in concluding that Wang established eligibility for deferral of removal under the CAT.
In November 2007, the BIA dismissed the appeals, adopting and affirming the IJ's decision. As relevant here, the BIA agreed with the IJ's determination that Wang was not eligible for asylum, withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), or withholding of removal under the CAT because there were "serious reasons to believe that the respondent engaged in a serious nonpolitical offense before coming to the United States." The BIA concurred with the IJ's finding that the organ extraction program would be considered criminal in the United States and under international law. The BIA further concluded that, even if Wang were otherwise eligible for asylum, it would deny him such relief as a matter of discretion because his actions in the organ extraction program were "sufficiently repugnant and atrocious, . . . involv[ing] extraction of tissue from persons who may not have been dead at the time of the extraction, . . . injecting condemned prisoners with heparin so as to preserve their organs after execution, while leaving the victims with an impression that the injections were performed to ease agony and pain associated with execution." Finally, the BIA held that, even assuming the truth of Wang's assertion that he was not involved in the extraction of organs or tissue from a live prisoner, i.e., torture, the serious nonpolitical crime bar would still be applicable in his case due to his involvement in the government's scheme to remove organs for profit. Wang filed a timely petition for review with this Court.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") and its implementing regulations, the agency must deny an application for asylum, withholding of removal under8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3), and withholding of removal under the CAT, if "there are serious reasons for believing that the alien has committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States prior to the arrival of the alien in the United States." 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(2)(A)(iii); see also 8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3)(B)(iii); 8 C.F.R. §1208.16(d)(2). The "[s]erious reasons to believe" standard is the equivalent of probable cause. See Khouzam v. Ashcroft, 361 F.3d 161, 165-66 (2d Cir. 2004). Determining whether something is a "serious nonpolitical crime" involves, under the BIA's interpretation of the statute, considering whether "'the political aspect of the offense outweigh its common-law character. This would not be the case if the crime is grossly out of proportion to the political objective or if it involves acts of an atrocious nature.'" INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U.S. 415, 429 (1999) (quoting Matter of McMullen, 19 I. & N. Dec. 90, 97-98 (BIA 1984)). ...