Asylum Case Revived Over MS-13 Death Threats

An El Salvadoran shop owner whose children were threatened with death by the MS-13 gang because she could not  pay extortion has won the right of reconsideration for  her asylum claim from a federal appeals court in Virginia.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the Board of Immigration Appeals “failed to appreciate, or even address” the evidence of threats to the woman’s life and to her three children by the gang.

Zulma Yanneth Zavaleta Policiano and her three children fled El Salvador in 2012 to Eagle Pass, Texas, where she sought asylum, claiming persecution at the hands of the MS-13 gang. She told the court her father owned a wholesale business selling sodas, oil, flour and vegetables to stores in the area.

In 1998, she married and opened her own small store. The gang began extorting money from her father, who paid to avoid trouble, she said. At first it was $100 monthly, but grew to $1,000 a month. He could not pay and the gang threatened to kill to him and his family. He fled to Mexico.

The gang then turned to Policiano, knowing she was related to the family. She reported receiving threatening notes and phone calls. She said she handed over money multiple times and even kept a gang note that included a threat and warning not to tell police.

She said she feared returning to El Salvador.

The U.S. government accepted the veracity of her claims, but the immigration judge denied her asylum claim, finding that she failed to show that she was persecuted based on a protected ground. While her family ties qualified as “protected grounds” she failed to show she was threatened “because of” her relationship to her father, the IJ ruled.

The appeals court rejected this holding and the BIA’s affirmance of that ruling.

“We hold that the BIA abused its discretion in affirming the [Immigration Judge’s] clearly erroneous factual finding,” the 4th Circuit wrote.

The panel also blocked the deportation of Policiano while her asylum request is reconsidered.

Case: Policiano v. Sessions, No. 16-1231


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