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Circuit court judges throughout the nation have sharply criticized the immigration courts’ failure to protect due process and uphold fundamental rights.  These decisions have played a significant role in the immigration debate. Tchemkou v. Gonzales is one of several asylum cases the National Immigrant Justice Center has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to demonstrate the need for review of lower cases by independent judges.
Ms. Tchemkou became active in Cameroon's student movement in 1993 when she was a senior in high school and participated in a march to support striking teachers. She was arrested by the police, beaten and jailed for three days under inhumane conditions without water or food. After she was released, she was hospitalized for two weeks to treat dehydration and other injuries.  In 1996, she resumed her political activities and was arrested and severely beaten on two separate occasions. In 2001, Ms. Tchemkou obtained a visa to enter the United States, where she applied for asylum.
In its denial of Ms. Tchemkou's claim, the immigration court considered each of her beatings and arrests to be isolated incidents and found that they that did not constitute persecution. The judge compared the client's experiences in detention to those of the petitioner in a separate case, Liu v. Ashcroft, in which the Seventh Circuit found the petitioner's detention did not constitute persecution. The immigration judge further found that the beatings Ms. Tchemkou suffered were no different from those experienced by the general population in a war-torn country.  The judge also found that the client did not have a reasonable fear of future persecution because several of her family members remain in Cameroon. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the immigration judge had erred in all three of these findings, and that the Board of Immigration Appeals failed to correct these errors when it affirmed the immigration judge's denial of relief.
"The agency is obligated to consider the evidence of record as a whole," wrote Judge Ripple for a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit. "The atrocities suffered by Ms. Tchemkou in Cameroon bear no resemblance to the comparatively minor abuses suffered by the petitioner in Liu." The court also found that because the client was targeted for abuse on three separate occasions as a result of her political opposition to the government, she did not suffer the general deprivations and danger of individuals living in a war-ridden nation." Finally, the Seventh Circuit found that the client's family members did not participate in the same political activities as the client did. Therefore, the court found that their ability to continue living safely in Cameroon did not speak to whether Ms. Tchemkou would be safe there herself.
Ms. Tchemkou was represented by pro bono attorneys from the Chicago office of law firm Jones Day.