Today, the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Beasley School of Law and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a new Annotated Table of Contents (ATOC) for lawyers supporting the asylum claims of small business owners forced to flee Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador due to gang extortion. ATOCs are a tool asylum attorneys and their clients use to bolster their arguments with detailed, authoritative, and compelling information on country conditions.
Based on extensive research and country expertise, the new resources illustrate why small business owners from these countries constitute a particular and distinct social group, as gangs specifically target them due to their visibility in their communities. Most are not politically or financially powerful enough to obtain protection from the police or to hire personal security, and those who refuse to submit to gangs’ extortion demands face the threat of serious violence and death. The materials also include information on “state complicity”—the unwillingness and/or inability of the three governments to protect small business owners from persecution at the hands of non-state actors.
The new ATOCs are part of a joint research project between WOLA and the Sheller Center to provide asylum attorneys with compelling information on country conditions in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—some of the most violent countries in the world and the region from which the vast majority of asylum seekers in the United States are fleeing.
Apart from the resources on extortion of small business owners, in February 2019, WOLA and the Sheller Center published additional ATOCs on gang recruitment, domestic violence and gender-based harms, persecution of members of the LGBTQ community and state complicity in the three Northern Triangle countries. With decades of on-the-ground experience in Central America, WOLA’s experts are frequently asked to serve as expert witnesses in asylum cases involving these issues.
The information included in the ATOCs is typically hard to locate, either because it is in Spanish, comes from local in-country news sources, or simply requires some digging to unearth. This research provides asylum attorneys with essential resources at a time when the Trump administration continues to take unprecedented steps to limit access to asylum for those fleeing persecution.
As contexts shift, WOLA and the Sheller Center will continue to produce additional materials on different particular social groups and update existing ATOCs.
To access these materials, please visit the following website maintained by the Sheller Center.