People in the U.S. have heard that Central American gangs, like MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, are seizing control of the poorer neighborhoods in their countries. They terrorize the residents, forcing them to make regular extortion payments, which they call “rent”. They rob and kill; they traffic in drugs and rape; they forcibly recruit young people into their gang – all with virtual impunity. Those who do not comply, or seek help from the police, are routinely subjected to vicious beatings, and are often killed.
Our client, then a 15 year old Honduran, refused to join the MS-13 gang, despite threats of retaliation. One day while walking home from school, he could not pay the MS-13 members the money demanded of him, so they beat him to the ground, and began kicking him in the ribs and face. He lay on the ground, looking up as a gang member pointed a pistol at his face, and then heard it fire… He woke up in a hospital: he’d been shot twice, at point blank range – in the neck and through his collarbone. Months later, after recovering, he fled to the safety of the U.S..
Earlier this week, at the conclusion of our trial, a courageous Immigration Judge granted our client asylum. For many young Central Americans, asylum cases rooted in gang persecution are almost impossible to win – but if you present a compelling, well documented case, you show your client’s humanity, and help the Judge feel the terror he experienced looking into the barrel of that pistol – you can beat the odds. As an attorney, when you turn the cogs and work the levers on the machine so that it actually dispenses justice, and provides safety for the vulnerable – it is a great feeling.