Single mom illegal immigrants get easier path to U.S. asylum
Being a single mother or witnessing a gang crime could be enough for Central American illegal immigrants to get on the path to asylum under guidance the Homeland Security Department issued last week, opening new ways for the surge of illegal immigrants to gain a legal foothold in the U.S.
The guidance, a 27-page training document from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says women who flee Central America because they fear being single heads of households can be deemed part of a targeted social group and can make claims of “credible fear” of being targeted in their home countries.
Likewise, victims of gang crimes, which are epidemic in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, can make the case that they fear retaliation — also proving a “credible fear” and earning a place on the pathway to getting asylum in the U.S. — according to the agency documents, which were obtained by the Judiciary Committees in both the House and Senate, and which suggest a creeping definition that could allow ever more people to claim a right to remain in the country.
“It is an evolving area of law,” Joseph E. Langlois, associate director of the refugee and asylum program at USCIS, told the Senate committee at a hearing Thursday.
Congressional critics, though, said the rules are more a rewrite than an evolution and predicted that they will make it possible for most of those who have arrived in the recent surge of illegal immigration from Central America to gain initial protected status.
“It changes the standards. It’s breathtaking in its liberalities in regard to what a refugee is,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, told Mr. Langlois.
The asylum system is supposed to protect people who are targeted because of “immutable characteristics” such as their race or religion, and who fear harm or death if they are forced to return to their home countries.
Asylum is not meant to be a safety valve for the world’s problems such as economic troubles or high crime rates, said administration critics who were shocked that the guidance suggested being a “female head of household” could qualify as a protected social group.
“That has no conceivable connection to persecution,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
She called the guidance “absurd” and said it amounts to a “unilateral rewriting of immigration laws.”
Ms. Vaughan also said the guidance serves as an “instruction handbook” for illegal immigrants to use all of the key phrases to be put on the asylum track.
The guidance offers several specific examples of cases in which those seeking to enter the country should be deemed asylum applicants, including a woman whose husband abandoned her and who received threats from a gang because she no longer lived with her husband.
USCIS said that is considered a clearly defined, immutable characteristic.
“Living without a male to head the household is fundamental: not something applicant should be required to change,” the USCIS guidance concluded in determining that such a person would be considered part of a protected social group on the basis of her living alone and the “‘machista’ cultural pattern” of Latin America where men father children and then abandon their families.
If the gang didn’t mention the woman’s living alone or being a single mother in its threats, though, then she wouldn’t qualify, the guidance said.
The World Bank has concluded that areas with high numbers of female-headed households in Central America have higher homicide rates, too — part of the immigration agency’s evidence.
In the crime witness or victim examples, USCIS said someone who reported a gang-related burglary and who was threatened afterward qualified as a member of a “cognizable” protected group. Even someone who didn’t report the crime, but whom a gang suspected of snitching, could gain asylum, the guidance said.
An immigrant from Guatemala with her son were taken to a federal detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Being a single mother or witnessing a gang crime could be sufficient cause for Central American illegal immigrants to get on the path to asylum.