Syrians and Central Americans seeking asylum in increasing numbers

As violence escalates in the certain regions of the world more immigrants from the Middle East and Central America seek asylum in the United States.

The numbers fleeing the brutal Islamic State in Syria continue to increase. Estimates are that the latest wave of refugees reaching Turkey has reached 150,000. Those arriving in the United States requesting asylum are still few, but their number is growing.

Another wave of migration involves women and children fleeing gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Over the last year, the number arriving at the border is estimated to be 62,000. In June, there were reports of 32 murders of Honduran youths under age 18, according to a report by the New York Times that cited data compiled by a youth shelter called Covenant House in Tegucigalpa. The highest murder rates in the world are in the capital of Honduras, along with Guatemala City and San Salvador.

It is very important to file for asylum within one year of arrival. Include unmarried children in the U.S. under the age of 21 on the application.

The difficult path to asylum from Syria

In 2012, a Syrian dissident applied for a U.S. visa in Lebanon. After receiving a denial of his application, he flew to Mexico City and Tijuana. He turned himself in to a customs official at the border and requested asylum. In his asylum petition, he explained that after organizing a protest, the Syrian regime imprisoned and tortured him. After release, he learned of the executions of others in his group. An Immigration Judge granted his asylum request.

The number of Syrians with "credible-fear" referrals increased from five in 2010 to 118 in 2013. The percentage of Syrian credible-fear requests approved in 2013 was 94 percent. However, it has become much harder for Syrians to obtain U.S. visas, because many cannot prove they will return home after visiting. The denial rate for visas increased from 28 percent in 2010 to 46 percent in 2013.

Central Americans fleeing violence

For Central American families fleeing gang violence, it may be even harder to obtain asylum and it is important to get help from an experienced asylum lawyer.

A Honduran woman recounted how gangs demanded an ever increasing weekly "war tax" from her family who ran a small grocery store in San Pedro Sula. When the family could not pay, the gang shot the husband. After receiving more threats, the woman fled with her family. At one point, she could no longer push her disabled daughter's wheelchair over rocky terrain and others helped carry the 13-year-old girl. The woman keeps newspaper clippings of her husband's death along with his death certificate and autopsy, which she hopes will help with an asylum claim.

To receive asylum, it is necessary to prove persecution or fear based on one of the following:

  • Religion
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Political opinion
  • Membership in a particular social group

It is difficult to fit within one of these categories based on fear for life because of gang threats or violence. However, a recent Board of Immigration Appeals decision found that a married Guatemalan woman who suffered domestic violence and could not leave her relationship was part of a particular social group. The decision could provide a path to asylum for some women.

Proof of persecution by a home government or proof that the government is unable to stop persecution (i.e. repeated beatings by a husband) is another requirement.

Before filing an asylum petition, speak with an immigration attorney at the Kasen Law Firm who can help with the process. Evidence of persecution is very helpful, but often a decision comes down to consistency and credibility.

Keywords: Asylum, Withholding of Removal, fear of persecution