If you are a foreign-born person in the United States who has suffered persecution in the past or have a well-founded fear of persecution in the future on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, you could file a claim for asylum.
In order to be granted this status, an immigration judge or asylum officer must determine that you meet the definition of a refugee. That requires first convincing them that you have suffered harm, or you fear harm, that is so severe that it can be considered persecution.
The next step is to convince the immigration judge or asylum officer that this persecution occurred specifically because of your race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion—that is, one or more of the five grounds specified in the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) at Section 208.13.
This article will discuss how to identify and establish the crucial connection, or nexus, between the persecution and one or more of the five grounds.
Establishing "nexus" involves answering the question "Why?" It's not enough to show the mere fact that you suffered or fear persecution in your home country: You must also show the grounds upon which this persecution was directed at you. You're trying to outweigh any perception that what you faced was random or impersonal. You must demonstrate that the persecutor's main motivation or reason for attempting to harm you was on account of at least one of the five grounds noted above.
One way to determine the motivation of the persecutor is to take a look at what they said to you. Take, for example, a young man from Mexico. Four armed men kidnap him from a shopping mall. They say, "We are X-Gang and we know your father is the mayor." Here we see that the persecution (kidnapping) occurred on account of the man's relationship to his father (membership in a particular social group) or on account of a political opinion that was imputed to him because of his father. Since both grounds are specified under the immigration law, the applicant can be considered a refugee.
Let's look at the same kidnapping example with a slight change: A young man from Mexico is kidnapped by four armed men outside a shopping mall. The kidnappers say, "We are X-Gang and we saw you buy those expensive sneakers. We want the sneakers and all your money." Here we see that the persecution (kidnapping) occurred because X-Gang wanted the sneakers and money. There is no nexus to any ground specified under the I.N.A. and the asylum applicant would not be considered a refugee.
You will not have to prove that one (or more) of these grounds is the sole reason the persecutor was or is motivated to harm you, but you will have to prove that it is a central reason for the harm.
Think about your case as a series of steps: If you have suffered or fear harm that is so severe it can be considered persecution, you have fulfilled step one. Step two is to establish the nexus—to tie the persecution to one of the five grounds.
Asylum claims are decided on a case-by-case basis, meaning that the asylum officer or immigration judge will look at the individual facts of the case and apply the law to those facts. With that in mind, here are some examples where nexus can be established:
If you submitted an affirmative application for asylum and are appearing before an asylum officer, you might receive some help with establishing nexus. Unlike immigration judges, asylum officers have an affirmative duty to gather all information about nexus. This means that they must ask questions to determine whether the persecution the applicant suffered or fear has a tie to at least one of the five grounds.
Regardless of this affirmative duty, you have the burden of proving that there is a nexus between the persecution and one of the five grounds. When deciding whether you have met your burden, the judge or officer looks at what a reasonable person would believe. Showing a nexus can be tricky. For example, you would not be able to establish nexus if the military forcefully conscripted you only because you were a young man. There is nothing unique or personal about young men being conscripted.
Consider consulting with an immigration lawyer experienced in asylum and refugee law for help in preparing and presenting your case.