In August 2018, Wilkes Legal won asylum for a former police officer and her seven-year-old daughter who fled El Salvador to escape death threats from the
(MS-13) gang. In March 2015, the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs in El Salvador announced a plan on social media to kill at least one hundred police officers by year’s end. Soon thereafter, the gangs began
murdering Salvadoran police officers
at an alarming rate.
MS-13 gang members began lurking around *Angelica’s house just weeks after declaring war on the police force. Angelica, a transit police officer, lived together with her partner *Roberto, who also served on the police force. After locating Angelica and Roberto’s home, gang members started asking the neighbors about their movements and then put their house under surveillance. Afraid for their lives, Angelica filed a complaint at the local police station, but the officers merely advised Angelica to take care of herself and never opened an investigation.
Angelica and Roberto continued living in fear as armed gang members monitored their home every day for three months. Meanwhile, several of Angelica and Roberto’s colleagues on the police force were murdered, and the police station where Roberto worked was hit by a grenade while Roberto was off-site. Finally, the family made a plan to escape from El Salvador. Angelica and the couple’s daughter travelled to the United States first, and Roberto planned on following them a few weeks later. Tragically, however, Roberto was killed in a suspicious “accident” while on duty as a police officer and never made it to safety.
Since Angelica and her daughter arrived in the United States, the gangs’ war against the Salvadoran police has continued. The
Department of State reported
that during the first ten months of 2017, gang members murdered thirty-nine police officers, thirty-seven of whom were killed in targeted assassinations. Such reports clearly indicate that, for both current and former police officers in El Salvador, their choice of profession can carry a death sentence.
In August 2018, Wilkes Legal successfully represented Angelica and her daughter in their application for asylum before the Baltimore Immigration Court. The Immigration Judge granted asylum, finding a reasonable possibility that gang members in El Salvador would kill Angelica because of her status as a former police officer. Angelica and her daughter are grateful to have received protection in the United States, and Wilkes Legal is honored to have been part of their journey to safety.
Angelica’s victory is especially significant in light of recent changes to asylum law in the United States. In June 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a decision in
Matter of A-B-
making it more difficult for Central American asylum seekers like Angelica to prevail in their cases. In his decision, the Attorney General expressed the Administration’s general distaste for asylum claims based on gang violence or domestic violence, proclaiming: “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” As Angelica’s case demonstrates, however, every asylum claim requires careful analysis based on the unique facts of the individual case. Depending on the law and facts, victims of gang violence or domestic violence can still establish eligibility for asylum and deserve to receive protection under the laws of the United States. Wilkes Legal will continue to represent these asylum seekers and fight for the right of immigrants to seek asylum in the United States.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of these individuals.
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