Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Asylum from gang violence

A case making its way to the highest level of the US court system deals with the story of Salvadoran teens who fled their homeland to avoid the gangs of El Salvador. Recently the US Supreme Court temporarily blocked the deportation of three Salvadoran teens living undocumented in Minnesota so their appeals could be heard. A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes the case:

Three recent high school graduates from South St. Paul who fled gang violence in their homeland of El Salvador are in the middle of a deportation battle that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is expected to set a national precedent on whether resisting forced recruitment into violent gangs in other countries is grounds for asylum here.

Pablo, Rene and Silvia Mira left El Salvador in 2004, illegally crossing the border to live with their mother in Minnesota. Arrested by immigration agents shortly after entering the United States, they argued they were fleeing recruitment by the notorious MS-13 gang, whose criminal activities include drugs, human trafficking and murder.

Although their case was still making its way through judicial appeals this summer, the Miras were unexpectedly seized at their family apartment July 6. Deportation was slated for this week -- until their appeal was referred to the full U.S. Supreme Court by Justice John Paul Stevens.

"It was a miracle,'' a still-astonished Rene Mira said of the court order that led to the temporary halt of their deportations. "To return to our county would be so dangerous. You can't even go out at night, because you don't know if you'll come back,'' he said while sitting in the family's small apartment with his twin brother, Pablo, and sister, Silvia.

The Miras' hopes to stay depend on how the Obama administration applies traditional definitions of asylum -- protection for people fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality and political beliefs -- to people claiming to be members of social groups that are targeted for reprisals by violent elements in the homelands.

You can read the Petition for a Stay which convinced Justice Stevens to block the deportation, at least temporarily, here.

This is an important case. I have written before about lawyers who write me asking for information on Salvadoran gangs to help support their clients' asylum claims. The Washington Office on Latin America published a Gang Asylum Guide, to assist lawyers.

The circumstances are ones I know firsthand as well. I knew a young man in El Salvador, growing up in a gang area. Maybe he joined once, maybe he didn't, but he grew fearful and decided his only option was to flee to the US. He didn't make it very far, and was picked up by border patrol and held in a detention facility close to the Texas border. We received his lonely letters from there. His asylum claim, based on a well-founded fear of what the gangs might do to him, was turned down. He was deported back to El Salvador. Someone died as a result.

I'm not saying that the US can or should open its doors to everyone in El Salvador who is not a member of a gang. But either the gang problem must be solved or the US must consider adding compassion to some of its immigration policy.

1 comment:

humble.pie said...

what a well-argued petition. Stuff like this keeps up faith in the US of A.

please don't drop this ball, distinguished justices of the Supreme Court. Here are 3 youngsters with a lot to offer America. It's a chance to take a much-publicized giant leap away from gang violence in both countries.

not to demean the subject matter, but here is trivia-for-the-day:

Justice John Paul Stevens is a member of a prominent Chicago legal family who attended the southside University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. This is the same school that Barack Obama's daughters attended until they moved to Washington. Other Labbies are serving in the Obama administration. Justice Stevens himself once taught in the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, as did Obama.