Political Asylum Arguments Fail for El Salvadoran Immigrant

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View from the mountains of El Salvador, near Ataco

I don’t practice immigration law, but was intrigued a few months ago when I heard about a case that was up for review in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved an El Salvadoran immigrant who was facing deportation and filed an asylum petition. He argued that the gang violence that he faced in El Salvador, and his refusal to join the gang (Mara Salvatrucha) and the resulting threat of violence and death, was due to a political opinion, namely an anti-gang one. Thus, he should qualify for asylum.

The case piqued my interest because I was in El Salvador last summer for the first time. I went with my boyfriend, Alejandro, who is originally from there. Although it is a beautiful country that has made great progress since the end of the civil war in 1992, you cannot help but be struck by the violence, or the threat of violence that follows you everywhere, especially in the capitol, San Salvador. During the short 3 days that we were in SS, there were at least 6 or 7 murders by gangs. Most of them were young adults and teenagers who were assassinated because they resisted joining the gang. 3 of them (of whom 2 were sisters and in their teens) were found shot one morning in a car outside of a local district attorney’s office!

However, I digress from the case that was in front of the 8th Circuit, Gertrudis v. Holder. Citing precedent made by other immigrants who were also facing gang violence in their native country (Guatemala, for example), the court affirmed the denial of the asylum petition. The anti-gang opinion, or the threat of violence stemming from the petitioner’s anti-gang opinion, did not amount to a “political opinion” that would justify asylum under our current laws.

Not being that familiar with immigration laws, the opinion still seems to me well-founded, but like so many things in immigration law, just wrong from a moral point of view. These are immigrants who flee their countries to get away from horrible gang violence. It seems so wrong to send them back there, knowing that they could very well be killed. Another reason to reform our immigration laws.



  1. sue  February 11, 2010

    listen if they choose a gang lifestyle then thats their problem. they don’t have the right to bring their lifesyles here. as we all know many illegals are right here in this ccountry and are practing gang members. more of these illegals are killing americans than americans killing one another. i say unless they apply and go through the proper process deport their butts let them face the music they choose it. you wouldn’t feel this way if your child was gunned down by one of these lawless creatures. my son was killed by a man from another country and given amnesty. ask me to agree to helping these people no way

    • Karen Lundquist  February 12, 2010

      On one hand, I agree with what you say, Sue. If a person chooses a gang lifestyle, then they should bear the consequences, whether that means deportation from the US, incarceration or even death on the streets. But this story deals with an individual who wasn’t in a gang and was facing that gang violence in their home country, El Salvador. The threat of gang violence was the argument that this person used, unsuccessfully, to obtain political asylum. I agree with you that no gang members, whether from the Mara Salvatrucha or another gang, should be in this country legally. That was never the argument made in this blog posting. I am very sorry that you son was killed; the tragedy would be no less for you if the killer was an American or a US legal resident but certainly has been made more bitter by the fact that he was given amnesty.


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