I recently posted about the Trump Administration’s attempt to eliminate asylum protections for Cental American citizens fleeing persecution in their home countries because they supposedly can seek asylum in Mexico first. I commented that the Trump Administration’s radical new “Rule,” which I feel is patently illegal, has drawn the strong concern of the UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency. At the end of UNHCR’s press release they stated:
“People have been leaving parts of Central America in growing numbers in recent years for reasons ranging from extreme economic deprivation to persecution. Many of them are fleeing horrific violence by brutal gangs and are in need of international protection.” (My emphasis).
It isn’t often that a lawyer deals with an issue torn right from the pages of today’s news headlines, but this case is one of them. It is also an example of why I encourage consultations, even if one has an existing order of removal, because it is still possible to secure relief from removal in America with hard work and favorable law.
This case involves a Guatemalan family that is indigenous (Mayan) living in a relatively small town in southwest Guatemala. My client was the oldest of nine siblings. When he was a teenager, the local MS 13 Gang aggressively recruited him for membership, and he suffered numerous beatings and other forms of harm when he refused to join the Gang. He decided that there was no future for him in Guatemala and came to the United States in the late 1990s.
The man’s refusal to join the Gang greatly angered the Gang leader, who was a neighbor of the family. The Gang leader took a liking to the man’s sisters and attempted to recruit two of them. When the first refused to join, she was beaten to death. When the second refused to join, she was severely beaten and poisoned to death. The Guatemalan police did nothing except oversee a cursory inquest that failed to assign a cause of death, despite the clear evidence of foul play.
After the death of the second sister, the client return to Guatemala to help the family, met a local woman, got married and had one son. However, after a year of the gang’s harassment and threats to kill him he returned to the United States.
He was caught at the border and returned to Guatemala after getting an order of removal. Terrified of returning to his hometown, he stayed with his in-laws and tried to cross the border again three months later. This time he was successful.
The Gang next sought to recruit one of the man’s younger brothers, and when he refused to join MS-13 they attempted to kill him by running him down with a pickup truck while he was riding a motorbike. He then fled to the United States and sent home when he was intercepted at the US border. Upon his return the Gang attacked him again, chasing him and stabbing him in a public park in his hometown. He then fled to the United States once more and made it across the border this time.
After this, the gang started to harass another of the man’s sisters after she also refused to join MS 13.
The man’s younger brother, who made it to the United States, was picked up in an ICE encounter in Morristown in 2012. Because of the persecution he suffered in Guatemala, I sought withholding of removal relief for him, which was the only protection available. This is because a person with a prior order of removal cannot seek asylum. (Withholding of removal is similar to asylum, but requires a higher standard of proof of persecution.)
I was successful in 2012 in securing withholding of removal relief for the man’s brother, and the brother is now living safely in the United States.
My client’s separation from his wife and son made him return home in 2013 to try again to make a life for himself there. In the year and a half that he was in his hometown, he and his wife had two daughters, and he started a successful tourist business. However, the success made the Gang leader jealous, and the Gang burned one of man’s buses and stole the second one. The Police again went through the motions of investigating the crimes but did nothing. Facing new death threats and the destruction of his business, the man fled to the United States and successfully made it across the border.
In his absence, the Gang leader threatened the man’s wife and attempted twice to kidnap the man’s son. This forced the man to bring his family to the US border to save their own lives. They were caught by Customs and Border Protection and reunited with him. The wife, who had a prior order of removal herself, requested withholding of removal relief and the three children have asylum claims that have not yet come to court.
The man paid a steep personal price for bringing his family here. After spending a short time with his family, ICE took him into custody as an alleged “flight risk” and for the last seven months, he has been incarcerated at Essex County Correctional Facility. We heavily litigated his right to withholding of removal relief and were successful on June 27 of this year. If the Government does not appeal by July 29, he should be released and finally able to rejoin his family and to provide for them.
The client won because the proof was overwhelming that his family was a “particular social group” entitled to the protection of US asylum and withholding law. We were able to show that the Gang leader’s hatred of the family was “at least one central reason” for his persecution, and that was sufficient to allow him relief under the law. (Merely being a crime victim is not.) We also needed and were able to prove that the Police were again unable or unwilling to provide the family with real protection from the Gang.
The Trump Administration says that the vast majority of asylum claims are “fraudulent.” This case is just one example where that is emphatically not true. As a country dedicated to human rights (at least before the current Presidency), it is in our national interest to be a haven and refuge for the persecuted and oppressed. After all, isn’t this what America is supposed to be about? Results like this are one of the reasons I will continue practicing immigration law as long as I am able.