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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Updated: 
December 17, 2020

What does "persecution" mean? How do I prove that the government was unable or unwilling to protect me from persecution?

Proving that you did or likely will suffer from persecution is a key element in proving asylum. However, the laws do not specifically define the term “persecution.” In past asylum court cases, it has been defined as causing (inflicting) suffering or harm upon those who differ in race, religion, or political opinion, in a way regarded as offensive.1

Another important part of proving your asylum claim is proving that the source of the persecution is the government, a quasi-official group, or a person or group that the government is unwilling or unable to control.2

If you are claiming asylum based on domestic or sexual violence, in order to show that your home country’s government is unable or unwilling to protect you, here are some points that you should discuss with your attorney and your domestic or sexual violence advocate:

  • Did you report the domestic or sexual violence to the authorities in your home country?
    • If you did report the abuse, what happened? What did the authorities do?
      • If you reported the domestic or sexual violence, and the authorities did try to help you but the abuser still threatened or harmed you, then this could be an example of your government being “unable” to protect you.
      • If you reported the domestic or sexual violence, and the authorities did not even try to help you, then this could be an example of your government being “unwilling” to help you.
    • If you didn’t report the abuse to the authorities, why not?
      • Sometimes it’s pointless or dangerous to report to authorities. If it’s well-known that they will do nothing for domestic or sexual violence survivors, for example, then the argument can be made that it’s pointless to report it and you should not have to do it.
      • Sometimes reporting abuse to authorities is not just pointless, it’s dangerous. For example, if it’s well-known that the authorities will tell abusers and rapists about the people who report them, it’s dangerous. Especially if the person who abused you is a powerful person in your community or works for the authorities, it may be very dangerous to report the domestic or sexual violence.
  • If it was pointless or dangerous to report abuse to your local authorities, you can work with your attorney and advocate to show that this is because your government can’t or won’t protect you against the person who abused you.

1 See, for example, Guo v. Sessions, 897 F.3d 1208 (9th Cir. 2018)
2 See, for example, Avetova-Elisseva v. I.N.S., 213 F.3d 1192 (9th Cir. 2000)