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Guatemalans Seeking Asylum in the US

Guatemala asylum claims in the US have consistently been some of the highest in number from a specific nationality. Out of all completed asylum cases in 2016, Guatemala represented 16.43% of the cases, a total of 30,639 cases. However, in that same year only 7.24% of Guatemalan asylum seekers, about 632 in number, were granted asylum.

Why Do Guatemalans Seek US Asylum?

What are the main claims that Guatemalans use to seek asylum? There are four main causes, although some represent a larger number of cases than others. These are the main reasons claims for asylum in the US are filed by Guatemalans:

  • Domestic Abuse

Since a ground-breaking asylum ruling in 2014 that classified “married Guatemalan women unable to leave their relationships” as a particular social group, women suffering from domestic abuse by their partners are a large group of asylum seekers from the country. This was one of the first times that a case was allowed for this specific reason.

The Guatemalan government refuses to deal with domestic abuse in most cases. Many of the women who come to the US with domestic violence asylum cases have gone to the police in their country and have been refused help, with statements that police do not get involved in domestic disputes. This is a common mindset within the country that keeps the women from getting help from the government, causing the persecution that the government cannot or will not stop.

  • Gang Activity

Guatemala has a high level of gang activity that often finds citizens under threat for their safety. Some large regional gangs are actively present in Guatemala, such as the Barrio 18 or Mara Salvatrucha commonly known as the MS-13, while many smaller gangs are also active. Gangs have been known to forcefully recruit members at young ages through threats and violence, kill deserting members, and commit other violent acts that threaten many Guatemalan citizens.

In most instances, the government is unable to control the actions of gangs in Guatemala, and citizens would not be any safer relocating to another area of the country. It can be difficult to gain asylum in the US because of gang-related threats, but it does still account for a large portion of successful applications from Guatemala.

  • Homosexuality

It is not illegal to be a homosexual in Guatemala. However, there is a high rate of hate crimes committed against homosexuals in the country. When paired with the poor prosecution record of the government in these types of cases, there is usually a basis for an asylum application based on fear of being persecuted for being a homosexual.

Of the main reasons for filing for asylum in the US from Guatemala, homosexuality generally has the lowest rates of acceptance because of the difficulty in proving that an individual is recognizably homosexual and faced persecution for it. Some cases do get accepted, although the rate is generally lower than with other application reasons.

  • Mayan Ethnicity

Those of Mayan decent faced severe persecution in previous years in Guatemala. Although the widespread persecution is no longer going on, some individuals may still be persecuted due to their ethnicity as a Mayan. This is not a common situation anymore and most asylum claims from Guatemala are not related to Mayan ethnicity. However, because the persecution still goes on in some areas to some individuals based on their ethnicity, it may still apply to some.

Statistics about Asylum Cases from Guatemala

  • In 2016, 12,155 people fled Guatemala to seek asylum abroad (World Data)
  • The most common receiving countries for Guatemalan asylum cases are the United States, Mexico, and Belize (World Data)
  • From 2016 to 2017, the US saw around a 50% increase in refugees coming from South and Central America, including those from Guatemala (NBC News)
  • While Guatemalans fleeing to the US were generally considered refugees in the 1980’s due to ongoing civil war, asylum seekers from 2000 and onwards are usually not considered refugees (Macalester College)

Potential Interference with Guatemalan Asylum

Executive orders issued in 2017 may have some negative impacts on Guatemalan asylum seekers. The abrupt changes made to the CAM program affected minors in Guatemala and other nearby countries, while proposed immigration bills may make the asylum process more difficult. Currently, an executive order from 2017 has made it so asylum seekers on the border must present a stronger case in their credibility hearing than before, making it similar to a court hearing.

Guatemalans may have a difficult journey on the way to getting asylum in the US. Arriving in the United States is difficult enough, but gaining acceptance for your asylum application may be easier if you work with an asylum attorney in the United States. Orange County asylum attorney Fady Eskandar is ready to help. Contact us today for a consultation about your case.