Ericka Welsh

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In recent years, increasing numbers of asylum-seekers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador crossed into the United States, fleeing gang violence that has driven homicide rates to record levels. These countries, known collectively as the “Northern Triangle,” now make up one of the most violent regions in the world. Transcending petty crime, gangs control entire communities in the Northern Triangle where they operate as de facto governments beyond law enforcement’s control. Gangs practice forced recruitment in these communities, creating a join-or-die gang culture where resisting recruitment is tantamount to opposition. Opposition, in turn, is met with brutal retaliation. The young men and women who refuse to join are fleeing to the United States and seeking asylum. However, United States courts routinely reject these asylum applicants under a restrictive interpretation of political asylum, failing to recognize the current realities of gang culture in the Northern Triangle. This Comment reviews gang-based political asylum claims under the courts’ restrictive interpretation, analyzes these cases in their socio-political context, and explores a path to political asylum under a holistic asylum framework. Ultimately, this Comment advocates for an approach that properly accounts for the socio-political realities of the region while realigning federal asylum law with its original humanitarian and protective purpose.