ST. LOUIS. MO — A major ruling issued last week by the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals holds promise for asylum-seekers fleeing to this country because they fear retribution and persecution by gangs in their home countries.
At its core, the ruling is important because it holds that people defecting from gangs can constitute a “particular social group,” a decision that may begin to break the mold for these types of cases.
For asylum, an applicant must show that he or she is unable or unwilling to return to the country of origin because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of membership in a particular social group, race, religion, nation-ality, or political opinion.
“The definition of a “social group” varies, depending on which Court of Appeals’ circuit issued the ruling,” said Deepinder Mayell, The Advocates’ director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program.
“To say this is murky is a complete understatement,” Mayell said. “The conflicting decisions and definitions among the circuit courts beg for a U.S. Supreme Court review and ruling that would set precedent for cases involving people fleeing to this country because of gang persecution, torture, and murder.”
In this case, the client unwittingly joined the Mungiki group without knowing the violent nature of their activities. For others, from Mexico and Central America, fear of retaliation for not joining, as well as the challenges of life outside of a gang, push people to join. However, once a member, always a member in the eyes of a gang and often, the government.
Matthew Ralph, a partner with Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm and a member of The Advocates’ powerhouse of attorney volunteers representing asylum-seekers, has been part of his client’s journey since 2005 when The Advocates’ client was scheduled to appear for the first time in immigration court.
Watch for the fall issue of “The Observer”; the case will be covered in detail.