Sin­gle mom il­le­gal im­mi­grants get eas­ier path to U.S. asy­lum

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

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.

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