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Definition of persecution critical in asylum cases

The humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border has been a recurring theme on this blog over the last month, and with good reason. The crisis itself is bad enough, but there are also individual stories that mirror the circumstances that many of the children at the border had to experience before reaching the border.

We bring up this sensitive topic again because some interesting data shows that people from Central America have a surprisingly low chance of obtaining asylum in the U.S. Even though gang activity and violence in some of these countries is rampant and it threatens the lives of countless people everyday -- including people who flee to the border -- it is very difficult for these same people to earn approval from the U.S. government for asylum.

So who does get asylum? According to data from Department of Homeland Security, more than 250,000 people were granted asylum in the U.S. during a decade-long period of time from 2003 to 2012. More than a quarter of these asylum recipients were from China (roughly 64,000 people) and another 8 percent or so came from Colombia (roughly 21,000 people). However, just 4 percent of asylum recipients were from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala combined.

Why is it so rare for Central American people to earn asylum? Well, it's due to the definition of persecution under asylum laws. Persecution or fear of persecution must occur due to "race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social or political group." Gang violence doesn't fit any of these categories and, thus, it is very difficult for asylum to be granted due to such violence.

Source: Slate, "Where Do U.S. Asylum Recipients Come From? (The Answer Is China.)," Ben Mathis-Lilley, Aug. 8, 2014

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