Dead Honduran Seeks Asylum in the U.S.

by Jason Dzubow on January 23, 2012

Four years ago, Josue Rafael Orellana Garcia fled Honduras to escape persecution by a criminal gang.  It seems the gang originally targeted him due to a handicap–he lost an eye and much of his hearing when he was struck by a tree during Hurricane Mitch.  Mr. Orellana arrived illegally in the United States at age 17 and requested political asylum.  His case was ultimately denied, and he was deported to Honduras in 2010.  

Mr. Orellana's mother with a photo of her deceased son.

Back in Honduras, Mr. Orellana disappeared while running an errand.  His body was found in July of last year.  Presumably, Mr. Orellana was murdered by the same gang members that had been persecuting him all along. 

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Orellana’s attorney has brought a posthumous asylum case before the Board of Immigration Appeals.  The purpose of the case is to highlight our country’s failure to protect people fleeing gang violence in Central America.  Mr. Orellana’s attorney, Joshua Bardavid, states, “I think it’s something that needs to be acknowledged: that we failed him; that he came here seeking safety, and the entire system let him down.”

The problem of gang violence is certainly endemic in several Central American countries.  Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have some of the highest murder rates in the world (several times higher than Mexico, which has received much attention of late).  And the asylum grant rate from those countries is quite low.  According to statistics from the Department of Justice, in FY 2009 (the latest year I see data available) the asylum grant rate was as follows: Honduras: 5.5%, El Salvador: 2.9%, Guatemala: 4.3%.

As far as I know, there is no provision in the INA to grant asylum to someone who is deceased (unlike naturalization, which can be granted posthumously).  However, Mr. Orellana’s case is a sobering reminder that when we return Central American asylum seekers to their countries, we sometimes condemn them to death.  Hopefully, his case will help bring attention to this serious and difficult issue. 

For those attorneys and advocates working on gang-based asylum cases, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has some good resources that might prove useful.

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