Washington Law Review


Kill the Snitch: How Henriquez-Rivas Affects Asylum Eligibility for People Who Report Serious Gang Crimes to Law Enforcement

October 22, 2015 | 91 Wash. L. Rev. 1313

Abstract: In 2015, El Salvador became the murder capital of the world. Like its Central American neighbors, El Salvador has experienced a significant increase in gang violence during the past decade, as evidenced by its 2015 homicide statistics showing over 6,600 registered homicides in the country despite a population of only 6.3 million people. Rising crime rates and widespread gang influence are forcing many affected Central Americans to seek asylum in the United States.

Individuals may qualify for asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Some of the most recent immigration case law explores the definition of membership in a particular social group. In 2013, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Henriquez-Rivas created a new particular social group by extending asylum eligibility to individuals who witness and testify to serious crimes committed by gangs. Henriquez-Rivas eliminates the requirement for a particular social group to be visible to the naked eye. According to the Ninth Circuit, if a proposed particular social group is understood by society to constitute a group, then that group is “socially distinct” and therefore cognizable.

This Comment argues that the particular social group created by Henriquez-Rivas should be expanded to include people who report serious gang crimes to law enforcement without the need to testify in court.

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