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Fourth Circuit Decision May Allow More People to Qualify for Asylum Protection

Posted by Hugo R. Valverde, Managing Attorney, and Anna D. Colby, Attorney Social Media Marketing Manager | Jan 05, 2024 | 0 Comments

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“Death threats on their own constitute persecution.”

For those of us who don't deal with threats on a regular basis the above statement may seem incredibly obvious, but for an asylum system in need of reform, the wording of the threats a person has received can mean the difference between staying in the United States or being forced to leave. 

In a new decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is the circuit that the commonwealth of Virginia comes under, the Court enlarged its view of what it means for an asylum applicant to be persecuted “on account of his or her religion.”

In the case of Chicas-Machado v. Garland, the petitioner is a national of El Salvador who is a Christian and was a very active member of her church in El Salvador. Because she was so actively involved at her church, the petitioner was approached by the MS-13 gang in El Salvador to serve as a lookout in their criminal activities, as they believed no one would suspect her because of her church involvement. She was threatened with death if she did not participate, and when she reported it to the police, she received a second death threat.

In the past, asylum based on the grounds of religious persecution has been shown because the petitioner was prevented from practicing their religion. In the case of Ms. Chicas-Machado, she was not prevented from practicing her religion, but rather approached by the MS-13 gang because of her religion. 

The question the Court had to consider was whether the petitioner received the threats on account of a protected ground (in this case, religion) - put more simply, whether her religion was “one central reason” that she received the threats. The Fourth Circuit found that “MS-13 members sought out Chicas-Machado and demanded that she assist them because of her position in, work for, and attendance at church; and then, because she refused to assist them, they escalated their conduct to persecution of her.” Therefore the petitioner's religion was “one central reason” that she was targeted by gang members instead of someone else.

What Does this Mean to Me?

The decision in this case will be very helpful for asylum seekers in the Fourth Circuit as it allows more to qualify for asylum protection. As the Court held that persecution based on religion is not only the restriction on practice of religion or suppression of religion, but also disparate treatment because of religion. 

If you have questions about applying for asylum, or another immigration petition, please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.

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