NOI 12: Why Are Central American Immigrants Applying for Asylum? – Part 2

Today we continue our discussion on why Central American immigrants are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border in such great numbers.

Jacob Tingen: Hi and welcome again to Nation of Immigrants. I want to thank everybody who’s listening and following along. We do have a growing number of people that are subscribing to things on YouTube and the podcast and whatnot. So I’m very excited to be talking again today about asylum and in particular why Central American immigrants are fleeing here to our US Mexico border, crossing over and applying for asylum. Last time we talked about some of the reasons that they’re definitely not applying for asylum. Today we’re going to focus more on the reasons that, the motivations behind why they are applying for asylum. So let’s kick this off with our intro video. Thanks again for watching Nation of Immigrants.

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President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Announcer: A podcast about US immigration law with your host Jacob Tingen.

Jacob Tingen: All right. Well to recap, last time we discussed some of the motivations or reasons, I guess that people say… the reasons that people say are the motivations for Central American immigrants coming into the country, which include primarily economic motivations that they’re coming to kind of take advantage of the immigration backlog and just live here and work and that they’re not actually fleeing anything in particular. They’re just coming, I guess to drain our resources and siphon our good way of life. I did find some interesting things, particularly blog comments and those kinds of things when I was preparing today for today’s episode. But that’s not the case. Last time we talked about how difficult the journey is, how dangerous it is. These aren’t people that are coming to take advantage of our immigration court backlog. These aren’t people that are coming solely for economic opportunity. It would be crazy to endure the hardships they have to endure to get here if that were the only motivation.

Jacob Tingen: So the only thing that makes sense is that these people are fleeing for their lives and we’re going to talk about that today and why that makes sense and in what context. And so we will talk a little bit about these different countries and the different hardships that immigrants face.

Jacob Tingen: And we’re going to focus our conversation on the Northern Triangle. It’s known as the Northern Triangle. So that’s El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Jacob Tingen: And you should know that we see immigrants in our office that come from literally all over the world. Unfortunately, people are persecuted and have to put up with very difficult circumstances for many different reasons from all over the world. But today’s conversation is going to focus on the the US Mexico border crisis and predominantly with Central American migrants coming, so people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Jacob Tingen: When I present an asylum case in court, or when a client comes to me and I give them a consult, one of the first things I figure out is how am I going to win this case. After we talk and I determine that they do have a fear and that they came because they are afraid, then I start to narrow down well do you have a case. So you can’t just… it’s not enough just to be afraid, but do you have a case.

Jacob Tingen: And I mentioned this last time, but there are four factors that I look at. The first of which is persecution. The second is can your government protect you. The third is do you belong to a protected ground. And the fourth is, is there a connection between your PR protected ground and your persecution.

Jacob Tingen: So when somebody comes from Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, for me, there’s already in my mind based on my experience, a strong inclination towards believing that their government can’t protect them, because the evidence that I’ve seen over and over again and the statements that I’ve heard from my clients over and over again, there’s a strong amount of testimony and similarity in the stories and also in country condition evidence, which we’ll review, that indicates these countries can not protect the immigrants who are fleeing from violence.

Jacob Tingen: Are they fleeing? What kinds of violence are they fleeing? Everything from murder to extortion with the threat of death to sexual violence, domestic violence. There are a wide number of issues that cause people to flee, but inevitably in Central America it typically tends to be about some kind of violence or threat of serious violence and harm to a person’s body or wellbeing. And so that is where we focus on. That’s the persecution element.

Jacob Tingen: And then the next question is well, can your government prevent this? Historically, the answer is no. And I’m going to mention just some homicide rates to give you some perspective. So El Salvador has a current homicide rate and these numbers fluctuate depending on the different outlets that you view. But I don’t think that this is off pace. El Salvador has a homicide rate of about 61.8 per 100,000. I guess that’s how we determine homicide rates, how many people are murdered per 100,000 people. Honduras has of homicide rate of about 41 per 100,000 people. Guatemala has a homicide rate of about 26 per 100,000 people. And to give you perspective in the U S we have a homicide rate of about 5 per 100,000 people.

Jacob Tingen: So these countries literally have homicide rates that are multiples of of our homicide rate here in the US. By any standard, they’re not anywhere close to as safe as the US and so it makes sense that people would come to the US. And then also as someone who’s from the US, we know that the American brand and the brand of the United States of America is that this is a safe place, that it stands for truth, justice and the American way. People know that if they can make it here, there’ll be safe.

Jacob Tingen: And unfortunately, they travel through Mexico and this might be a topic we focus on in another episode, this idea of whether or not Mexico is a safe third country for some of these people. But as they come through Mexico, Mexico doesn’t have that same brand or frankly that same reality as being as safe a place as the US. In fact, I think when I was looking up statistics, depending on the website you look at Mexico has a higher homicide rate than Guatemala depending on some of the statistics that I was reading. So that’s an interesting factor in one that we can discuss here in a bit.

Jacob Tingen: So one of the things that I read again while I was preparing for this particular episode was this interesting kind of compilation of data by the Center for Immigration Studies and they’re an outlet, I guess you could call them a conservative think tank on immigration. And what they were saying was well, it’s just complete hogwash that people from Central America are coming to the U S because of violence. And we know that that’s made up because if homicide rates go down, then so should immigration. And they had this chart where they had a line graph where they’re like, here’s the homicide rate in Honduras and here’s the immigration rate.

Jacob Tingen: And what I think is interesting is that frankly, they did kind of track together a little bit. So it didn’t exactly prove their point.

Jacob Tingen: But the other thing though was just because people aren’t being killed doesn’t mean they’re not being persecuted. And so in particular, women, femicide wasn’t considered in that chart. Crimes against women and sexual violence is terrifying and affects women in an unbalanced way in some of these countries. And so that wasn’t considered at all by their data.

Jacob Tingen: And then one of the other recognitions that I want to talk about is in some of these countries there have been treaties between organized crime gangs and government entities. And so even though there’s a treaty and murder rates plummet, that doesn’t mean that the country has suddenly become safe and that nobody’s fleeing anymore. I mean, when’s the last time you were in the US and your state government made a treaty with a local organized crime organization? So I just don’t think that that really holds any weight.

Jacob Tingen: And that is actually the case. That is part of the history of some of these Central American countries. I believe Honduras or El Salvador in particular had a gang treaty that ultimately fell apart and murder rates spiked.

Jacob Tingen: And then additionally, some of these murder rates like Honduras has actually halved it’s murder rate, which is laudable. It should be applauded. But what’s also interesting is one of the things that I read was that these numbers are provided by the government. We’re not sure we can trust them. And I’m not saying that Honduras shouldn’t be trusted necessarily, but I do have some clients recently that have implied to me that political elections were influenced by gangs, that gangs essentially where the get out the vote effort that they go and say, vote for so-and-so or else. So these kinds of things are also happening in Central American countries. So just because people aren’t being murdered doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t fleeing violence.

Jacob Tingen: So yeah, when we go into immigration court, we typically send in an evidence packet that’s pretty hefty and that discusses some of the reasons that somebody might be afraid of returning to their country. What’s interesting is the Department of State provides a human rights report, essentially an evaluation of conditions in each country that we generally look to first. And then in addition, we’ll take a person’s or a client’s individual testimony or their statement to us and we’ll look for news reports to corroborate them, to see if they’re telling the truth. Frankly, we need to make that determination for ourselves, but then we also have to prove that in a court of law. So we’ll look up news reports, occasionally we’ll hire experts in country conditions. And you learn a lot of interesting things as you read these articles and as you work with these experts about conditions in these countries and what might motivate someone to, again, make a perilous journey North all the way to the US.

Jacob Tingen: And it’s funny, there’s actually a phrase for this. When somebody finally decides to head North to the United States for safety and protection, they’ll say [Spanish 00:00:10:31], which means I wanted North is what literally means. But basically it means I wanted to go to the US because I wanted to be safe. And so I’ll have a client that be like “And then when the gang threatened to kill my son [Spanish 00:10:46]. I wanted to come to the US.” Which is unfortunate that this is the situation that people are in.

Jacob Tingen: Well, one of the interesting things that I think should be pointed out in a conversation like this about why people are fleeing Central America and coming and claiming asylum in the US is this, the strong gang presence in the Northern Triangle, in El Salvador, Honduras and growing in Guatemala, is in part due to our immigration policies.

Jacob Tingen: Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t deport criminal immigrants necessarily, but when we did this earlier in the 90s what happened was Honduras and El Salvador… to give you a brief example, in the late 90s Honduras was granted TPS, which is temporary protected status, which means Hondurans who were present in the US we’re granted status, I think due to Hurricane Mitch. And so Hondurans in the US were granted TPS, temporary protected status, and were allowed to stay and the idea being that the government in Honduras couldn’t accept people who were from Honduras and living in our country, that things were in such difficult, dire conditions that the country would not be able to receive an influx of people to their country and kind of manage that.

Jacob Tingen: And then also El Salvador was granted TPS in the early 2000s for another natural disaster. I think for them it was an earthquake. And so El Salvadorans were granted TPS, temporary protected status. If they were present in the US they were given a work document and allowed to stick around, because again, the reasoning was hey, this country isn’t able to assimilate these immigrants that have been in the US and things are kind of dangerous and they don’t have the infrastructure and resources to kind of welcome people home.

Jacob Tingen: Well what’s interesting is throughout the 90s we’d been deporting criminal immigrants to these countries and in response I guess to US gang culture, Hispanic immigrants in some cities and some places had formed a gang culture of their own. And so MS-13 and MS-18 became organized criminal organizations. They became gangs and then members of those gangs were deported to their countries. So in this power vacuum of a strong government and a weak infrastructure in light of natural disasters and other political events, who filled this void? Who filled this gap of power? Well, unfortunately it was gangs.

Jacob Tingen: And so these gangs have threw out the past two decades gained a lot of power and influence. I did mention some of them signed treaties. There have been multiple efforts to kind of crack down on gangs, which then raises concerns about human rights violations on the part of the government. There was this heavy handed kind of Mano Dura policy. And again, I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but I believe the experts who tell me about it and there are good resources and we’ll probably post a couple with the show notes, but I’m just trying to give you a sense or a feel for what’s happened.

Jacob Tingen: So these gangs control large portions of Central America. People know better how gang territory is charted than they do their own cities and municipalities. They know well, I can’t go on that side of the street because I live on this side of the street. This side of the streets controlled by MS-13. If I go to that side of the street, which is controlled by Barrio 18 then I could be in trouble. They might think I’m some kind of a spy. It doesn’t matter if my family lives over on that side of the street. That’s the other gangs territory. It’s dangerous for me to go over there.

Jacob Tingen: And these are the kinds of realities that people live with. I had a client that I recently interviewed and they said on the walls, graffiti on the walls and multiple places was a phrase that just has dystopian undertones to me, but it was [Spanish 00:14:37], which in English means, see, hear, don’t talk.

Jacob Tingen: So even if people aren’t being murdered with abandon, even if the murder rate goes down, when you’ve got a gang showing up with get out the vote efforts, when you’ve got a history of corruption and gang treaties, when you’ve got a power void and a lack of infrastructure, when the police don’t show up for hours when you call and you live in a neighborhood that says see, hear, but don’t talk, with that strong undertone of or else, yeah, I think I’d come to the US. I think I’d maybe try to look to change my conditions and see how I could improve my life elsewhere because I don’t trust that I have a future in my home country.

Jacob Tingen: Now that’s just country conditions. Like I said, when I prove an asylum case, I have to prove persecution, whether or not the government can help prevent that persecution, that my client belongs to protected ground and that there’s a connection between that protected ground and that persecution. So those are the four factors that I have to prove.

Jacob Tingen: But this is the kind of environment, this is why people are coming. And for many people that I talked to when I talked to them about this issue and they like, “I’ve got a question, why are people coming? What’s actually happening?” And I explain this to them. They’re like, “Wow, well we should be just granting asylum to all of these people.” And I said, “Well, we don’t grant hardly to all of them. They still have to prove all four factors.”

Jacob Tingen: And so we’ll be talking about additional factors as we go along. But I wanted to give you a taste of what some of these people are actually fleeing, what it’s actually like there, and put this information out there.

Jacob Tingen: Thank you for listening to Nation of Immigrants. As I’ve been mentioning the past couple of episodes, you can support the podcast at jacobtingen.com. I have a link for podcasts now and there’s a button you can provide donations. And again, we’re trying to organize a 501C3, but those donations will be geared towards paying for the bills of immigrants and other clients in the United States. And then as always, subscribe on YouTube and iTunes. I look forward to hearing from you and we’ll be back with more asylum in the next episode. Thanks again.

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President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

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