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January 30, 2019

Central Americans Were Increasingly Winning Asylum Before President Trump Took Office

Between fiscal years (FY) 2010 and 2016, the percentage of asylum seekers from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras granted protection rose by 96 percent, according to data from the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) Asylum Decision tool. This rise was consistent with an upsurge in the power and brutality of the gangs that exercise control over territory throughout those countries as well as extremely high rights of gender-based violence.

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However, asylum rates for Central Americans have fallen considerably since President Trump took office, when he began repeating false assertions that asylum seekers abuse “loopholes” in the system and “lodg[e] meritless claims.” Former Attorney General Sessions also sought to delegitimize and undermine asylum requests by Central Americans and others requesting protection at the southern border in remarks to immigration court judges (who work under the Attorney General in the Department of Justice (DOJ)). Sessions repeatedly blamed “fraud and abuse in the asylum system” for immigration court backlogs and inaccurately claimed that only 20 percent of asylum applications are meritorious.

Then in June 2018 Session’s decision in Matter of A-B- sent the percentage of Central Americans granted asylum into a nosedive. That decision attempted to block asylum for people seeking refuge from domestic abusers and to further limit asylum for those fleeing other non-government persecutors like the violent gangs who kidnap, rape, and murder people in the territory they control across Central America. A federal court has already ruled that the government cannot rely on Matter of A-B- to issue blanket denials of asylum claims based on domestic and gang-related violence during credible fear screenings.

As this fact sheet demonstrates, a number of other factors, including representation rates, the judge assigned to a case, and narrow interpretations of law impact the ability of Central Americans to gain asylum. Nonetheless, the percentage of asylum seekers from Central America and the rest of the world who are granted protection in the United States is significantly higher than the administration falsely claims.

Analysis of government data shows:

Central American Asylum Grant Rates were RISING from 2010 to 2016

The percentage of asylum seekers granted protection from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras was on the rise in recent years, increasing from an average grant rate of 13.6 percent in FY 2010 to 26.7 in FY 2016 according to TRAC data—a 96 percent increase in grant rates. This increase is consistent with dangerous conditions in the region, including powerful and brutal gangs that control territory throughout the region as well as high levels of gender-based violence, as has been well documented by the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, Amnesty International, and others. However, this upward trend reversed course with the Trump Administration.

The decline in grant rates for Central American asylum applications corresponds with the Trump Administration’s efforts to limit asylum eligibility and accounts for a decline in total asylum grant rates between 2017 and 2018.