Gang Violence, Asylum Claims

Can gang persecution be the basis of an asylum claim in US immigration courts?  Gracye Cheng’s article in the latest issue of Forced Migration Review explores the immigration legal contours of this growing trend. The legal director of CARECEN suggests that more than half of all asylum applications filed by Central Americans are associated with street gangs. Citing a recent study by the International Crisis Group, Ms. Cheng notes “Criminal organizations traffic in everything from illegal drugs, to adopted babies, and street gangs extort [from] and terrorize entire neighborhoods, often with the complicity of [the] authorities.”

Among the most gang-ridden countries in Central America are Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In Honduras, 5% of the entire male population between the ages of 15 and 24 is a gang member.

Several legal hurdles have limited the number of successful asylum claims based on gang persecution. “Persecution”, as pertains to immigration law, is interpreted across several spectra: degree of strife (e.g. harassment to extreme violence), to what extent the violence was targeted against the specific claimant, whether or not state authorities have and are able to provide protection, and if the persecution is based on one of the five categories of persecution: belonging to a specific (1) race, (2) nationality, (3) religion, (4) political opinion; and (5) social group.

The large majority of such claims made in the US have failed. Claims with substantial targeted violence, threats against family members, and individuals resisting gang recruitment have all been turned down.

The United Nations has issued a guidance note on asylum claims based on gang violence, and we encourage you to visit this site and explore this issue in greater depth.

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