Immigration Law: Standards Still High For Those Seeking Asylum

Standards still high for those seeking Asylum, Vargas v. Holder, No. 11-1680, 2012 WL 2042623 (1st Cir. June 7, 2012)

Summary: The First Circuit has reinforced prior case law stating that refugees who suffered from economic terrorism and pervasive non-political criminality do not constitute grounds for asylum. Petitioners Romelia America Vargas and her husband, Walter Antonio Vargas, were denied their petition for review after failing to convince the Court that Guatemalan gang members persecuted them because of their political opinion and association with a cognizable social group.

Discussion: To qualify for asylum, one must establish past discrimination and a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. See 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(42)(A). Over 12 years, Guatemalan gang members made extortion demands upon several businesses owned by Mr. Vargas and his family. The Vargases sought to avoid harassment by moving to a different region within the country, but they never escaped the gang’s reach. In 2005, the Vargases fled to the United States.

Despite their “compelling case of suffering,” the Vargases failed to establish that the gang’s threats stemmed from more than a desire for money. The Vargases never expressed a political opinion to the gang members who threatened them. Instead, they argued that the gang members knew the Vargases’s opinion “opposing their criminal lifestyle.” Further, the Vargases argued that gang members targeted them not for their wealth, but because they belonged to a well-known business family. Yet belonging to a social class is not sufficient for fear of future persecution. Yes, gang members targeted the Vargases. Unfortunately, their threats do not meet the requisite statutory grounds for asylum.

Implications: This case emphasizes that those seeking asylum need more than sympathy; they need evidence disproving that something besides money motivated their persecution. When arguing for asylum, always point to affirmative actions taken by refugees. Circumstantial evidence may not be enough.

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