Immigration 101: Asylum: Past Persecutionv

To show that you are eligible for asylum, you must show that you suffered persecution in your home country in the past, or that you would face persecution there if you return. The meaning of “persecution” goes beyond just harassment, discrimination, minor injuries, and inconveniences. “Persecution” means extreme harm: Torture, sexual violence, and physical violence (especially multiple incidents), and lengthy jail sentences or other periods of imprisonment all meet the definition. Death threats and other threats of serious harm may meet the definition of persecution. The exact circumstances are critical: One anonymous letter in the mail with a vague threat of harm might not be enough, but opening your front door to find a group of individuals standing on your doorstep, brandishing guns and threatening to kill you, probably would.

While one isolated incident of harm might not rise to the level of persecution, a pattern of that kind of harm might. The courts look at the cumulative impact of the harm you suffered in determining whether you have experienced persecution. So while individual incidents of detention, violence, harassment, discrimination, ostracism, or economic deprivation might not be enough when viewed one by one, they may still be enough to establish persecution when taken as a whole.

If you did suffer persecution in the past in your home country, the courts must assume that you would suffer future persecution as well, unless they can show that you would not. Even if you were never actually harmed in your home country, you can still demonstrate that you are eligible for asylum by showing that you have an objectively reasonable (reasonable to an ordinary person) basis for believing that you would face harm there in the future. For example, if you left your home country because you received a death threat in the mail from an extremist nationalist political group (something that probably wouldn’t meet the requirement for past persecution by itself), you would be eligible for asylum if you could show that there was a reasonable possibility that this political group could carry out its threat against you if you returned.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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