CAIR Coalition and Dedicated Wiley Rein Pro Bono Team Win Asylum for Honduran Teenager Fleeing Death at the Hands of MS-13

Aug 14, 2017

This month, CAIR Coalition and a pro bono team from Wiley Rein LLP won asylum for Carlos* a teenage refugee who had fled to the United States to escape forced gang recruitment in his native Honduras. The victory capped a hard-fought battle and secured the young man’s freedom after his grueling 2 ½-year detention in immigration custody.

In Honduras, Carlos had been abandoned to the streets of Tegucigalpa at age 12 by an abusive mother, and he survived by accepting food and shelter from a group of older boys who were members of the notorious MS-13 gang. Over the next few years, the gang forced Carlos under threat of severe physical punishment to carry packages of marijuana and extorted money for them. Carlos sought to escape the gang by fleeing to another part of Honduras, but gang members tracked him down, forced him back to his hometown, and beat him severely. At the age of 16, and at the risk of his life, Carlos defied an order by gang leaders to carry out the killing of an individual.

To escape the gang’s retribution, he fled Honduras and undertook a perilous four-month journey to the U.S. border. When he arrived he immediately surrendered himself to U.S. immigration officials and asked for asylum; as a result, he was locked in immigration detention for the duration of his asylum case, which was to last for 2 ½ years. Throughout that time, ICE fought tooth and nail to portray him as a dangerous gang member with no right to seek protection in the United States.

The immigration judge initially dismissed Carlos’s petition for asylum, finding that his forced involvement in MS-13’s criminal activities constituted a “serious non-political crime” barring him from asylum. On appeal, Wiley Rein successfully argued that Carlos’s young age at the time he engaged in the conduct in question, the tangential nature of his involvement, his repeated efforts to distance himself from the gang, and the fact he had no criminal convictions on his record were sufficient to show that the bar should not apply to him.

In an impactful decision, a unanimous panel of the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed and remanded the case back to the immigration judge. On remand, Wiley Rein argued that Carlos, if deported, would be vulnerable to persecution and death as a Honduran deportee who had been wrongly labeled as a gang member by U.S. law enforcement. In another impactful decision, the immigration judge found that Carlos had demonstrated his membership in a cognizable particular social group that the Honduran government would be unable or unwilling to protect, and granted him asylum.

Carlos, now 19, has finally been released from ICE detention and is experiencing freedom on U.S. soil for the first time.

*A pseudonym has been used to protect the client’s confidentiality.