In the early decades of the 2000s, gang violence increased in Central America and more people from Honduras began trying to cross the southern border from Mexico into the United States. Many have been caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, who are required by law to ask whether the person is afraid to return to his or her country. Answering “yes” secures a “credible fear interview,” which for those who are caught in this way, is the first step to an asylum claim.
The number of Central American claims more than doubled from 2012 to 2013, and increased sevenfold times since 2008 (see “U.S. seeing a surge in Central American asylum seekers” by Cindy Chang and Kate Linthicum, the Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2013. A total of 27,546 people told CBP that they were afraid of returning home in 2013. (See “More Illegal Immigrants Ask for Asylum,” by Joel Millman, Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2013.)
Despite the great number of Honduran asylum seekers, few are actually granted asylum in the United States. In 2013, between 6% and 8% of Honduran asylum seekers were granted asylum, compared with 50% of Chinese applicants (see “Violence Fuels Dramatic Rise in Central American Asylum Seekers” by Jill Replogle, KPBS Radio News, February 25, 2014).
Like other Central Americans who cross the southern border into the United States, many Hondurans are detained by CBP. Once detained, the agent must ask whether the person has a fear of persecution in his or her home country. If the answer is “yes”, the person is detained until an asylum officer can conduct a “credible fear” interview.
During a credible fear interview, the asylum officer determines whether the person has “a significant possibility” of proving to an immigration judge that he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of one or more of five grounds: either race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If the officer approves the case, the detainee will be referred to an Immigration Judge for a full hearing on the asylum claim.
In 2013, officers determined that 85% of all applicants expressing fear of persecution had a credible fear of returning to their countries.
Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Rival gangs involved in drug trafficking extort and terrify citizens. A typical claim from Honduras relates to gang violence or fear of retribution from gangs for having witnessed violence.
In order to receive a grant of asylum, you must demonstrate to the judge or officer that you were persecuted or fear persecution on account of one of the five grounds mentioned above. If you were harmed or fear harm because of gang activity, you will have to explain that you were targeted because of your membership in a particular social group.
For example, a particular social group can be something like “Honduran taxi drivers who refused to pay a gang.” The social group must be specific and contain a characteristic you cannot change, such as the fact that you worked as a taxi driver, or a characteristic you should not have to change.
Honduran claims are often denied because the applicant could not adequately describe a specific social group, leading the judge or officer to conclude that the harm or fear of harm, though real, was not tied to one of the five legal grounds for asylum. Fleeing your country because of general violence or gang activity is not enough to get you asylum in the United States.
The most important thing you can do to increase the chance of approval for asylum is to explain why you were targeted. If you were targeted because of your political opinion, make sure you clearly state and explain that. If you were targeted because of your membership in a particular social group, you must clearly define that social group.
It can be very helpful to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can assist you in figuring out whether you have a good asylum claim as well as can help you to explain the social group to the judge or officer.