Keller and Heckman's Pro Bono Program Obtains Political Asylum for Victims of Gang Violence

Date: Jul 13, 2010

Keller and Heckman's Pro Bono Program recently assisted a mother and her 17-year old son in obtaining political asylum in the United States as victims of gang violence in their home country of El Salvador. Azim Chowdhury, a Keller and Heckman associate, represented the two before the Executive Office of Immigration Review, Immigration Court in Baltimore, Maryland. The mother and son were claiming political asylum based on a prolonged period in which they faced physical violence and threats of death at the hands of the notorious, internationally known criminal enterprise, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in their homeland of El Salvador.

The family's tragic saga began when MS-13 tried to recruit the older brother of the family in 2006. When he refused to join, the gang eventually murdered him. It then targeted its violent campaign against our clients. Their persecution continued at the hands of MS-13 forcing them to flee El Salvador in 2009.

Asylum is rarely granted to the victims of gang-based violence abroad. In a series of precedent-setting decisions in 2008, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that most victims of gang-based violence do not constitute a "particular social group," and thus do not qualify for asylum under the Immigration and Nationality Act. To avoid this fate, Mr. Chowdhury successfully argued that our clients should be granted asylum because the reason they were persecuted by the gang - an entity the Salvadoran authorities were unable or unwilling to control - was on account of their membership in a particular social group: their nuclear family.

Mr. Chowdhury distinguished our clients' case from other cases involving victims of gang violence by demonstrating that the gang's interest in the mother and son was due to the familial relationship with the murdered brother and not due to a desire to recruit or rob them. The Immigration Court agreed. The court also accepted Mr. Chowdhury's argument that the Salvadoran government was unable or unwilling to control the actions of MS-13 gang members. The court further found that our clients could not safely return to a different region or city within El Salvador because of the extensive network of MS-13. Finding the testimony of our clients credible and the voluminous evidence compelling, the court granted our clients' applications for asylum.