Central American Deportations Persist

3 Reasons Deportations Continue Despite Claims of Persecution

ice arrests and deports asylum seekersAs a part of a new nationwide enforcement effort, the Obama Justice Department is rounding up hundreds of Central American migrants who have arrived in recent years and have been ordered by immigration judges to leave.

‎“This should come as no surprise,” said Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security. “I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.”

After Central American migrants were initially detained, several were sent to federal detention centers. But many more were released to live with relatives or friends in the U.S. while their cases were considered in court. For those that have been ordered removed, immigration enforcement officials are detaining migrants at their homes in preparation for deportation to their home countries.

The new stepped-up effort has targeted hundreds of families who are fleeing the escalating violence and harsh economic conditions in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In most cases, these migrants are seeking asylum based on a fear of persecution in their home countries. But many of these asylum cases are being denied.

What is Asylum?

An asylee is a person that has already made it to the U.S. border or the interior (by legal or illegal entry) and is seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Examples of situations that may qualify as persecution include: imprisoned and tortured political dissidents or supposed undesirables; fired on protesters; committed genocide against a certain race; or made sure that members of a certain religion were left out of the political process.

In general, an asylum seeker must fulfill four eligibility criteria:

  • The applicant is present in the United States (by legal or illegally entry);
  • The applicant is unable or unwilling to return to your home country due to past persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution if you return;
  • The reason for persecution is related to one of five things: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group; and
  • The applicant is not involved with an activity that would qualify as a bar from asylum.

What is Persecution?

immigration protest for central american asylum

The law doesn’t offer any simple definitions of persecution. For practical purposes, it may be more helpful to evaluate the types of harm that have been recognized as forms of persecution. Examples of persecution include:

  • Physical violence such as beating, assault, rape or sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, electric shocks, invasive physical examinations, forced abortion or sterilization, and forced labor
  • Torture such as severe human rights violations which may involve physical violence, deliberate infliction of mental harm, prolonged unlawful detention, rape and sexual violence
  • Other violations of human rights such as genocide or slavery
  • Unlawful detention such as imprisonment or detention without due process or formal charges or for discriminatory or political reasons, particularly if the detention was combined with mistreatment
  • Infliction of mental, emotional, or psychological harm such as intimidation, surveillance, interference with privacy, long-term threats, or being forced to engage in conduct that is not physically painful or harmful but is abhorrent to the person’s deepest beliefs
  • Substantial economic discrimination or harm such as the deliberate deprivation of food, housing, employment, or other life essentials, or ransacking, destruction, or confiscation of property
  • Other discrimination or harassment such as passport denial, pressure to become an informer, or restrictions on access to education

The victim may have been previously persecuted, or may have a “well-founded” fear of persecution. To be “well-founded,” the applicant’s claim of persecution must be:

  • subjectively genuine, and
  • objectively reasonable.
asylum for undocumented immigrants

It’s important to note again that the persecution (or fear of) must have been based on at least one of the five grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. It’s vital that the applicant demonstrate how the persecution fits one of these categories.

What’s more, the persecution should have come from either the home country’s government or other organized groups or organizations that the government is unable to control.

Three Reasons Asylum is Being Denied

No Eligibility

In many cases, unfortunately, the applicants’ cases do not qualify for asylum. Although it is understandable that families want to flee countries plagued with high crime, that alone doesn’t qualify for asylum. Gang violence and living in a dangerous region generally will not make someone eligible.

Likewise, poor economic conditions aren’t justification for asylum. Many countries and areas of the world suffer from a lack of job opportunities. This general state of economic depression isn’t sufficient.

The applicant must show that some form of harm is being inflicted on them based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Lack of Representation

Second, proving persecution can be very difficult for an asylum applicant. Although the applicant’s testimony is enough to show a genuine fear of harm, it can be helpful to have other forms of evidence such as human rights reports, newspaper articles, proof of relevant memberships or affiliations, and affidavits by experts.

The Asylum Officer is in a unique position. The officer is trained to facilitate the applicant’s case by researching and interviewing, but it is that same officer that is in the position of making a decision on the case. The applicant really needs a devoted advocate.

Therefore, it’s much more advantageous for asylum seekers to have professional legal representation. An experienced attorney understands the law and how to make a case. But qualified legal advice is expensive, and there is a limit on the available pro bono and community resources available.

No Representation

Finally, immigration advocates claim that many of the asylum seekers haven’t been given proper consideration under the law. They say that the sheer number of cases has broken the system, and hundreds of families are being deported without the legal representation necessary establish an asylum case.

More than 100,000 families from Central America have crossed into the U.S. since last year, and it’s been extraordinarily difficult for the system to properly process all the cases.

In a statement, LULAC National President Roger C. Rocha, Jr. said, “These families have been the subject of raids resulting in the apprehension of women and children who were not permitted to have proper legal representation. This denial of due process adversely impacts an individual’s ability to make a case for asylum and is contrary to law.“

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Sources: USCIS