We need to highlight something important about asylum cases that many people do not understand; that generally makes their asylum cases unwinnable.

A few days ago, a family came to my office. They were business owners that would have lost their lives and livelihood if they did not pay protection money to a criminal gang that was threatening them in their home country. The family did what I might have done in their situation: they left the country to seek safe haven in the US. Unfortunately for them and for those in a similar situation, merely being a victim of a crime is not a sufficient basis for receiving asylum. The reason for this is that being a victim of crime is not defined as "persecution" by any law or court in the United States. Being a victim of crime (and extortion by a criminal gang is exactly that) does not fall within the one of the five (and only five) categories for which a person can apply for asylum. Those five categories are persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion, and membership in a social group with an immutable characteristic (this includes things such as someone's sexual orientation).

Even under the categories for which people qualify, the approval rates for people from Latin America are dismal. For example, for fiscal year 2023 to date, the rate of approval for Mexican asylum cases is 5%; for Guatemalans, approximately 10%; for Salvadoreans, approximately 11%; and even for Venezuelans, where people are starving in the streets and protesting Venezuela's communist regime, the rate of approval for their asylum claims is only 38%. The vast majority of asylum cases are being denied because they do not have a valid legal basis for their claim, they do not use attorneys competent in asylum cases, and/or the cases are poorly prepared and presented.

To win an asylum case, there must be evidence of "persecution" on one of the five grounds named above; and most of the time the only evidence available is the person's testimony—making such claims difficult to prove. While there are lawyers (and non-lawyers) filing asylum cases just to get a work permit, virtually all these cases will be denied and the person will end up with a deportation order. What makes the situation worse is that by filing cases which have no chance of winning, the system has become overwhelmed with work—putting those with cases that can be won in a ten to twelve year waiting line to get an interview or hearing.

The exception to this rule (and there are almost always exception to immigration rules) for those that are victims of organized crime is to prove that the criminals or organized crime syndicate threatening or harming you is acting as a de facto government where you live. In that case, you might be able to file and win your claim under the category of political opinion. But these are still very difficult cases to win and require extensive preparation and support.

Finally, just remember that it is a bad idea to have a notario or a family member prepare your asylum claim as you only have one chance to create a compelling story for your asylum claim, and it is your signature alone on your USCIS form. The government will argue that any mistake you make or anything important that was left out of your original asylum application but later changed means that you are lying and that your application must be denied.

If you are going to make an asylum claim, talk to an attorney that knows how to file, argue, and win asylum cases; and, of course, always tell truth.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.