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  1. #1
    Senior Member CCUSA's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    New Jersey

    More immigrants seeking asylum cite gang violence ... 01029.html -

    More Immigrants Seeking Asylum Cite Gang Violence
    Applications From Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans Have Nearly Doubled

    By N.C. Aizenman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 15, 2006; Page A08

    Increasing numbers of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans are entering the United States illegally and applying for asylum on the grounds that their lives are imperiled by gang violence in their home countries, according to immigration lawyers and advocacy groups.

    Although the number granted asylum barely surpassed 700 last year, asylum applications by people from those three countries have almost doubled, which lawyers attribute primarily to fear of gang violence.

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    The lawyers hope to persuade judges to more readily grant asylum to those who have risked reprisal by resisting extortion demands by gangs, testifying against gang members, renouncing their own membership in gangs or trying to avoid being forced to join gangs.

    Gang violence has grown to epidemic proportions in the three countries since the mid-1990s, when the United States began sending Central American-born members of the rival Los Angeles-based Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 gangs back to their home countries. The deportees helped fuel the rise of ferocious sister gangs in Central America, whose estimated 60,000 members are now battling each other, the police and residents in hundreds of communities.

    Many of those who say they fled gangs end up in the Washington area, which has one of the nation's largest Central American immigrant populations.

    Jose Hernandez, a soft-spoken 19-year-old currently living in a shelter in the District, said he left El Salvador in 2004 after a close friend was gunned down in his home town of Yayantique. Both Hernandez and his friend had been resisting entreaties to join MS-13.

    A few days later, Hernandez said, several tattooed gang members grabbed him on the street, held a knife against his stomach and warned him to join "or you'll end up like your friend."

    Such accounts are common, said Eric Sigmon, who runs a project for the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children that finds pro bono lawyers for unaccompanied minors stopped at the U.S. border. Of the roughly 1,500 Central American children interviewed since the project began 16 months ago, about half cited fear of gang violence as a reason for embarking on the dangerous trek north.

    "These are not kids who are leaving just because they feel like it one day," Sigmon said.

    Brittney Nystrom of the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, which provides a similar service to adult illegal immigrants held in five detention centers in Virginia, said that "literally every week" she comes across an illegal immigrant who left his or her country because of gang violence or fears returning because of it.

    Immigration lawyers have responded with a budding effort to win asylum for their clients. And the growing awareness of gang violence may well explain why the number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans filing asylum claims in U.S. immigration courts jumped from about 7,000 in fiscal 2004 to more than 13,000 in fiscal 2006.

    Geoff Thale, an expert on Central American gangs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit advocacy group, dates the trend to spring 2005, when asylum lawyers first began contacting him for background information on gangs in Central America. Since then, Thale has received about 100 such calls, two or three a week.

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    More Immigrants Seeking Asylum Cite Gang Violence
    But asylum claims are hardly an easy route to legalization: Only 721 Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans were granted asylum for any reason in fiscal 2005.

    U.S. law requires that an applicant prove his fear of violence is credible and that the threat is based on his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Immigration judges have frequently ruled against applicants who were victims of gangs because of bad luck or who have faced conscription by a gang simply because they were young and male.

    But some judges have been amenable to more nuanced arguments.

    Last year, an immigration judge based in Arlington County granted asylum to a 14-year-old Salvadoran boy whose father had a dispute with gang members. After the father died, gang members began harassing the boy -- at one point beating him so badly they broke his arm, according to the boy's attorney, Christina Wilkes of the D.C.-based immigrant assistance center Ayuda.

    "The judge found that my client was persecuted based on belonging to his family and that this constituted membership in a 'particular social group' protected under asylum law," Wilkes said. The boy now lives with an uncle in Northern Virginia.

    Several lawyers also have argued that someone who faces retaliation for refusing to join a gang for religious reasons or because he opposes the gang's values is being persecuted based on a political view and is therefore eligible for asylum. Wilkes, who also represents Hernandez, said she is hoping to argue that in his case.

    Former gang members who worry that they will be killed as punishment for defecting sometimes have been recognized as a protected group by immigration judges. But those judges are often reluctant to grant asylum to former members, opting instead for a less-generous form of relief known as "withdrawal of removal."

    Those granted withdrawal of removal cannot receive federal assistance or apply for permanent residency. The decision permits U.S. authorities to deport immigrants to someplace other than their home country. In practice, however, they are allowed to remain in the United States indefinitely.

    That was relief enough for attorney Jason Dzubow's client, a 29-year-old construction worker who faced deportation back to El Salvador after he was picked up for driving while intoxicated in Virginia.

    During an interview in Dzubow's presence, the construction worker, who said he was fearful of being identified by name, said he grew up in a neighborhood of the city of San Miguel that was so dominated by gangs that the corpses of their victims would remain on the street because no one dared move them. He said he was forced to join MS-13 when he was a teenager but fled to the District when gang members handed him a gun and ordered him to kill a cousin belonging to the rival Mara 18 gang.

    The construction worker, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has two U.S.-born children, had since tried to cover a large "1" and "3" tattooed on his right and left shoulders with new tattoos of snarling panthers. But he was terrified that other MS-13 members on his deportation flight would see through the ruse and realize he had tried to renounce the gang -- a virtual death sentence.

    When the judge ruled that he could stay in the United States, his wife recalled, "it was almost like he couldn't breathe."

    "It was incredible," he agreed. "I felt like I was reborn."
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  2. #2
    Senior Member CCUSA's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    New Jersey
    I knew this was coming. There is gang violence all over the world. We are deporting the bad eggs back to their home countries. We don't need MS13 here!!

    If there was ever a civil war in Mexico forget it! We'd have 90 percent of Mexico running toward our border crying asylum!
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  3. #3
    Senior Member gofer's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    I think a lot of the stories are con-jobs. How could you possibly verify most of them? Besides they could be the target by gangs in this country.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    May 2005
    Heart of Dixie
    If they can get asylum, they can get a VISA and protection, and assistance. With the unrest in Mexico, I looking for this to become the new reason given to gain entry.
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