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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

The Refugee Protection Act and the “Central Reason” for Persecution

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This is part four in a series of posts about the Refugee Protection Act ("RPA"), a bill introduced by Senators Leahy and Levin in the United States Senate.  The RPA would modify the requirements for asylum by changing the requirement that a "central reason" for the persecution is a protected ground.


In order to qualify for asylum, an applicant must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected ground (race, religion, nationality, political opinion, particular social group).  The REAL ID Act (effective May 11, 2005) modified this definition, and the law now requires that "at least one central reason" for the persecution must be a protected ground.  The BIA found that this new requirement did not "radically alter[]" existing law. See In re: J-B-N- & S-M-, 24 I&N Dec. 208 (BIA 2007)


While the law may not have been radically altered, the REAL ID Act makes it more difficult for asylum seekers to obtain relief.  I worked on a case in the Fourth Circuit (ably litigated at the agency level by the University of Maryland Law School Clinic) where an El Salvadoran man had been repeatedly harassed and beaten by members of the MS-13 gang.  The gang attacked him for several reasons: (1) they did not want him to date a certain girl; (2) they wanted to steal his money; and (3) they did not want him to attend the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  The Immigration Judge ("IJ") specifically found that the harm faced by the asylum seeker rose to the level of persecution, and she told him: "I think you are in a terrible situation and I could not have more sympathy for you."  However, both the IJ and the BIA found that the "central reasons" for the persecution were that the gang did not want my client to date the girl and the gang wanted to rob him-these are not protected grounds.  The BIA found that "even assuming... religion was one motive, we do not find his religion to be 'at least one central reason' for the persecution."  The Fourth Circuit agreed and denied our Petition for Review. See Quinteros-Mendoza v. Holder, 556 F.3d 159 (4th Cir. 2009)


The difficulty in Quinteros-Mendoza was that the IJ had to determine the motivation of the gang members.  It is difficult enough to establish the motivation of a persecutor, let alone to rank that motivation as "one central reason" for the persecution.  The RPA would relax this requirement.  The law would be changed so that the applicant must prove only that a protected ground is "a factor in the applicant's persecution or fear of persecution." 


Where an asylum applicant faces persecution, he should not be required to demonstrate the motivation for his persecutor's actions with such specificity.  The RPA would correct this problem.

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