WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
29 May 2008 | Publication | News

Central American Gang-Related Asylum Guide

DOwnload the guide

This WOLA resource guide offers attorneys, immigrant activists, policymakers and human rights workers the facts they need to understand the complicated and nuanced phenomenon of gangs in Central America and gang-related asylum cases.

Growing numbers of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are seeking asylum in the United States due to gang-related persecution. With this manual, drawing on our expertise on gangs in Central America, we offer the most current information available on gangs to assist advocates who represent people seeking asylum because they were victims of gang violence, were formerly involved with gangs and fear reprisal, or both.

The information offered in this resource guide can be used to support arguments for such asylum claims. With this guide, WOLA also aims to encourage attorneys, immigrant
advocates, and policymakers to offer accurate portrayals of Central American gangs in
asylum hearings.

UPDATE: In late June 2008, the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals issued 2 precedent opinions on gang-related asylum which have significant implications for any asylum cases in which the claim is based on an individual being persecuted because of his/her membership of a particular “social group”.

The 2 cases are: 

Matter of E-A-G-, 24 I&N Dec. 591 (BIA 2008)

(1) The respondent, a young Honduran male, failed to establish that he was a member of a particular social group of “persons resistant to gang membership,” as the evidence failed to establish that members of Honduran society, or even gang members themselves, would perceive those opposed to gang membership as members of a social group.

(2) Because membership in a criminal gang cannot constitute membership in a particular social group, the respondent could not establish that he was a member of a particular social group of “young persons who are perceived to be affiliated with gangs” based on the incorrect perception by others that he is such a gang member.

Matter of S-E-G-, 24 I&N Dec. 579 (BIA 2008)

Neither Salvadoran youth who have been subjected to recruitment efforts by the MS-13 gang and who have rejected or resisted membership in the gang based on their own personal, moral, and religious opposition to the gang’s values and activities nor the family members of such Salvadoran youth constitute a “particular social group.”

Download the Resource Guide in its entirety.


1. Why a Resource Manual on Central American Gangs

2. Elements of Successful Legal Arguments for Gang-related Asylum

3. Gangs in El Salvador

4. Gangs in Guatemala

5. Gangs in Honduras