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Federal Court Gives Hope to Immigrants Fleeing from Violence and Corruption in Central America

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently issued a decision that gives hope to immigrants around the world fleeing violence and corruption in their home countries. In a decision styled, Garcia v. Holder (case number 13-60381) the federal court rejected a decision by the Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that potentially corrupt police officers were not acting “under the color of law,” when they threatened Mr. Garcia with violence and death. The federal court determined that Mr. Garcia may be eligible for protection under Article III of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT).

The Immigration Judge found Mr. Garcia credible when he testified that after he was deported to El Salvador, men dressed as police officers threatened him with death if he did not pay extortion money. During the weeks and months that followed, Mr. Garcia moved his residence in an attempt to avoid harm. However, groups of men continued to follow him and physically abuse him, telling him that he owed them money and needed to pay. Mr. Garcia eventually fled El Salvador, re-entering the U.S. without admission or parole. Immigration officers arrested him and attempted to remove him by reinstating his prior order of removal. Mr. Garcia claimed fear of harm if he was deported again, and his case was sent to the Immigration Court. The Immigration Judge and the BIA rejected his claim for withholding of removal and protection under the CAT. The federal court agreed that Mr. Garcia did not qualify for withholding of removal, but disagreed that he failed to establish a claim for protection under the CAT.

The Immigration Judge and the BIA found that Mr. Garcia could not say for sure that the men who threatened him and were dressed as Salvadoran police were actually police officers. Rather, Mr. Garcia thought they could have been just criminals dressed as police officers. The federal court decided that this distinction did not matter, and Mr. Garcia may still be eligible for protection under CAT. The court focused on the “color of law” analysis and used it to decide that because actual public officials may have been involved in the harm or threatened harm to Mr. Garcia, he could make a legitimate claim under CAT.

This is great news for all immigrants fleeing their home countries due to violence and threats of violence by criminals, corrupt police officers, public officials or a combination thereof. This case appears to allow for a colorable CAT claim if the immigrant can establish that public officials (including police officers) were involved in any part of the threats or extortion perpetrated upon the immigrant, even if done so by criminals.

The experienced immigration attorneys at Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon can help you with your asylum, withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture claims. Whether you entered the U.S. legally, or without admission or parole, whether you have been deported before or are an aggravated felon, we may be able to help you avoid deportation, call us today.