Today, the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Law School and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a new series of Annotated Table of Contents (ATOCs) for lawyers supporting cases of asylum seekers fleeing Central America’s Northern Triangle region. ATOCs are a tool asylum attorneys and their clients use to bolster their arguments with detailed, authoritative, and compelling information about country conditions.
Based on extensive research and country expertise, the new resources illustrate why it is not feasible for most asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador to first try to internally relocate within their home country before seeking protection in the United States.
The materials come after the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued new guidelines for asylum officers conducting credible fear interviews, which call on officers to determine whether or not an asylum seeker had previously attempted to internally relocate.
The guidelines, issued in July 2019, state that “many of the cases arising at the Southern border are cases of individuals that are willing to engage in costly and dangerous international travel – neither of which would be necessary if they sought refuge within their home country, particularly given the fact that there are areas that are generally very safe within each of the countries that currently make up the bulk of our credible fear cases.”
The new ATOCs released today by WOLA and the Sheller Center illustrate why this is not true for most Central American asylum seekers. Due to the small size of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as the powerful, transnational reach of criminal gangs in the region, internal relocation is often not enough to guarantee the protection of individuals fleeing persecution. The materials document numerous cases in which individuals attempted to seek refuge within their own country or within other countries in the region and were later found and killed by the gangs they had fled.
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 at the southern border. As U.S. asylum policies continue to shift and the need persists for expert country condition resources, WOLA and the Sheller Center will continue to produce additional materials and update existing ATOCs.
In addition to the resources on internal relocation, we have published ATOCs on extortion of small business owners, gang recruitment, domestic violence and gender-based harms, and persecution of members of the LBGTQ community. Each of the materials includes information on “state complicity”—the unwillingness and/or inability of the Northern Triangle governments to protect these groups from persecution.