Why Were You Persecuted? Proving the "Nexus" or Motivation in an Asylum Claim

The harm an asylum applicant suffered must have been "on account of" one of five grounds, not random or merely personal.

By , Attorney · American University Washington College of Law

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.

How Do You Show "Nexus" in an Asylum Case?

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.

Examples of How Asylum Claimants Showed the Required "Nexus" or Motivation

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:

  • A young Bangladeshi woman was educating women about birth control as part of her master's thesis. She was raped by men with beards who warned her to "stop corrupting Muslim women." In this scenario the persecution (the rape) occurred on account of the woman's political opinion (feminism) and/or her religion (she interprets Islam differently than the men).
  • A Jewish man from Tajikistan was beaten by nationalists and ordered to leave the country. Their threats against him included anti-Semitic remarks. Here you would look at the threats and beating together. The words of the persecutor indicate that the man was persecuted on account of religion.
  • An Albanian from Kosovo witnessed Serbs murdering her family members in 1999 while she was a child. She was so traumatized that she cannot return to her country even though the war is over. The severe persecution she suffered as a child watching family members murdered can be said to have occurred on account of her nationality (Albanian) and religion (Muslim).

    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.

    Getting Legal Help

    Consider consulting with an immigration lawyer experienced in asylum and refugee law for help in preparing and presenting your case. The lawyer can provide great value in helping research your country situation, suggest which aspects of your claim are strongest, prepare your written statement, and accompany you to Asylum Office interviews or court hearings.

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