Death Threats, Even In Writing, Can Be Grounds For Asylum, Appeals Court Says

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A former FARC guerrilla member waves a FARC political party flag during a demonstration in Bogota on Nov. 2. A federal court overturned an asylum decision Wednesday, holding that FARC death threats counted as persecution.×

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In its opinion, the Fourth Circuit recounted Bedoya’s story. In 1995, then Officer Bedoya had investigated FARC rebels, passing along intelligence to the Colombian Army and leading to the death of at least three FARC guerillas. A year later, FARC killed Bedoya’s friend for lying about Bedoya’s identity in an attempt to protect him.

In 2012, after two decades of service, Officer Bedoya had retired from the National Police of Columbia. But FARC hadn’t forgotten. The following January, they sent the first death threat, adding that «the matter on 1995 is still pending.» Two months later, another note, bearing the same FARC logo. «You do not seem to believe,» it said. «You better know that we are close to you.»

Bedoya began fearing for his safety, and that of his family. He contacted local authorities, but they declined to open an investigation. A short time later, the text messages started.

«Doesn’t matter how much you hide, we will hunt you,» the first text said. «And if not, we will catch one of your children and let’s see if you appear.» Later that day, a second text: «Including the daughter you have in Medellin.»

Fearing for his life, Bedoya purchased airline tickets to the U.S. Just days later, he received a third text, from the same unknown number: «Let it be at the end of the month.»

Bedoya and his family lawfully entered the U.S. in May 2013, and applied for asylum. FARC was systematically targeting retired Colombian police officers who had fought against them, he told an immigration judge. If Bedoya returned to Colombia, he feared, FARC would make good on its threats.

The immigration judge denied his petition. Bedoya hadn’t shown that he had suffered past persecution, the judge concluded. And the 2013 threats didn’t count as persecution because they were in writing, the judge said; FARC had never approached Bedoya in person.

Bedoya appealed the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals at the Department of Justice, which agreed with the immigration judge.

On Wednesday, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the BIA had gotten it wrong: Death threats alone count as persecution, even if they’re not delivered in person.

«Written home-delivered death threats and text messages can easily be more menacing than verbal threats, in that they show that the writer and sender knows where his target lives and the relevant personal cellphone number,» Judge King wrote.

Wednesday’s decision will help others who seek asylum in that jurisdiction, said immigration attorney Jim Hacking. «No aspect of legal immigration has been under greater assault than our asylum system,» he told NPR. «Hopefully, this case represents a solid first step to restoring sanity to the asylum process.»

  • asylum
  • Immigration

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