Family Seeks U.S. Asylum After Fleeing Gang

Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2009

Threats from a street gang forced Pablo, Rene and Silvia Mira to flee to the U.S. in 2004 from their native El Salvador.

Now, the question is whether the government will consider resistance to joining gangs as grounds for asylum, and let them stay.

The U.S. government generally hasn’t viewed people fleeing gang pressure as candidates for asylum. Those granted such status traditionally have been fleeing oppressive political regimes or have been members of religious or ethnic minorities facing persecution.

But after an emergency appeal to block the Miras’ deportation landed before the Supreme Court last month, the Department of Homeland Security decided to reconsider the case of the Mira family. The Miras could help set a legal precedent that determines whether people fleeing gang violence qualify for asylum.

Attorneys for the Miras argue that youth who resist gang membership for personal, moral and religious principles constitute a “particular social group” that faces reprisals.

A DHS spokesman said the government is “developing regulations to better define grounds for asylum.” The new guidelines could end up changing how these kinds of cases are decided.

There is no official data on the number of court cases that involve claims for asylum by people who say they came to the U.S. to escape gang recruitment. But asylum scholars estimate that in the past decade thousands of Central American youth have fled gang violence and claimed that returning home would endanger their lives.

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Heather MacDonald, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, who studies gangs, cautioned that “creating another category for asylum will increase the number of people coming into the U.S. to seek asylum. It would be hard to adjudicate these factual claims.”

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