U.S. court rejects Salvadoran’s asylum appeal

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

(09-08) 16:58 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court denied asylum Monday to a Bay Area man who said he had fled El Salvador after gang members beat him, killed his brother and threatened his family.

Jose Santos-Lemus said that the assaults and threats amounted to persecution aimed at his family and against young Salvadoran men who opposed gang violence, and that police in his native country were unable or unwilling to protect him.

But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a deportation order against Santos-Lemus, saying he appeared to have been “victimized for economic and personal reasons” and not because of his opinions or membership in a family or group.

Santos-Lemus said he had been targeted by members of Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, a gang that was started in Southern California and has ties to El Salvador. Law enforcement authorities say it engages in drug dealing, weapons trafficking and extortion. San Francisco police say a man charged with murdering a father and two sons by shooting into their car on June 22 was an MS-13 member, although the man’s lawyer denies it.

Santos-Lemus said gang members shot and killed his oldest brother in 2001, beat and robbed two more brothers, and sent many anonymous notes threatening his family over a four-year period, all because of perceived insults. He said he was beaten and stabbed by a group of MS-13 members in 2003 and left El Salvador after receiving a death threat in May 2004.

Santos-Lemus said he and his family had been too fearful to report any of the crimes to Salvadoran police, who they believed were involved with the gang. Although persecution by a foreign government is the most common reason for U.S. courts granting asylum, some applicants have won their cases by arguing that police tolerated criminal attacks motivated by the victim’s views or social status.

His lawyer said Santos-Lemus now lives in a Bay Area community, which he did not specify. Santos-Lemus said two of his brothers have also come to the United States, but his mother is still in their hometown of Chalatenango, El Salvador, and two sisters and a brother live elsewhere in the Central American nation.

Santos-Lemus conceded that his relatives who still live in El Salvador have not been attacked by gang members. That undercut his assertion that he had been persecuted because of his family, the appeals court said. The court also turned back his argument that he had been singled out as an opponent of gang violence.

“The harassment appears to have been part of general criminality and civil unrest,” Judge J. Clifford Wallace said in the 3-0 ruling. “There is no evidence that they targeted him because they perceived him to be a member of any kind of anti-gang group.”

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