What constitutes "strong case" that persuades people to grant political asylum to people requesting it? Does it usually have to elicit more public outrage because of blood, tortures and detention experienced and described? If a person has experienced actual persecution, does it make the case "stronger" than if they only have well-founded fear? or is it about having strong arguments along the line of appreciation the person has for free choice and dislike of authoritarian traits in people he has to deal with in everyday life? If we have strong evidence of minor discrimination, is it stronger than weak evidence of some great evil that happened to them?


1 Answer 1


What makes political asylum case "strong"?

As hinted in a comment (now deleted), international law only describes asylum in general terms. If you want to get more specific how a country interprets that, you have to look up their own judicial history in such matters. But since info about the US is readily available in English, here's an outline:

Although persecution is not specifically defined within the INA [Immigration and Naturalization Act], the courts have held that “a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group is always persecution.” The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has endorsed a similar standard in its Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. [...] Persecution is usually physical but can also be emotional or psychological.

Recognizing persecution is extremely fact-dependent and fact-specific. Although asylum adjudicators will determine what constitutes persecution on a case-by-case basis, they have consistently recognized certain types of behavior as persecution. The following five broad categories describe abuse that adjudicators may find rise to the level of persecution:

  1. serious physical harm;
  2. coercive medical or psychological treatment;
  3. invidious prosecution or disproportionate punishment for a criminal offense;
  4. severe discrimination and economic persecution, and
  5. severe criminal extortion or robbery.

[...] successful applicants must demonstrate that the persecution was motivated by one of the five protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a PSG [particular social group] or political opinion).

Each of the 5 categories is then further detailed in there with case law, but that gets too long for us delve into here.

You then ask

is it about having strong arguments along the line of appreciation the person has for free choice and dislike of authoritarian traits in people he has to deal with in everyday life?

if we have strong evidence of minor discrimination, is it stronger than weak evidence of some great evil that happened to them?

I'm not sure how you define "minor discrimination" but let's just answer this with an example:

Pitcherskaia, a lesbian from Russia, was arrested and imprisoned on several occasions for protesting violence and discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia. The militia threatened her with forced institutionalization and required her to attend therapy sessions. She was prescribed sedative medication which she successfully refused. In addition, an ex-girlfriend of hers was institutionalized against her will and was subjected to electric shock treatment and other treatments meant to ‘cure’ her of her sexual orientation. The Ninth Circuit ruled that it is not necessary for the persecutor to intend harm in order for unwanted medical or psychological treatment to amount to persecution, as long as the victim experiences the treatment as harmful. The proper test is whether or not a reasonable person would have found the suffering inflicted as offensive.

The elaboration in there on economic persecution is also interesting in this regard:

Generally, harassment and discrimination will not constitute persecution. Persecution is regarded as an extreme concept that differs from general discrimination against minority groups, which requires “more than a few isolated incidents of verbal harassment or intimidation, unaccompanied by any physical punishment, infliction of harm, or significant deprivation of liberty.” Severe forms of discrimination may however amount to persecution in some instances. Discrimination will amount to persecution “if measures of discrimination lead to consequences of a substantially prejudicial nature for the person concerned, e.g. serious restrictions on his right to earn his livelihood, his right to practice his religion, or his access to normally available educational facilities.” Cumulative discrimination that is increasing in severity will have a higher chance of being considered persecution. For instance, the inability to travel safely within a country and forced expulsion from the country amount to persecution.

One form of severe discrimination recognized by the courts is in the form of economic persecution. Economic persecution requires a probability of deliberate imposition of substantial economic disadvantage based on a protected ground. [...]

There are bunch of examples relevant to that discussed in there, but I'll omit the details here, as they were alas mostly negative ones, when asylum was not granted, e.g. to a lesbian dentist who could not find clients. As some HIV-related cases discussed there show, establishing discrimination purely based on social stigma can be difficult, in U.S. courts.

As for how evidence is weighted for credibility, there isn't a lot of discussion in that source, but it's mentioned that:

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) “not only encourage[s], but require[s] the introduction of corroborative testimonial and documentary evidence, where available.” Testimony, however, can be sufficient to sustain the applicant’s burden of proof if the testimony is credible.

That gets us to

Establishing a Well-Founded Fear

In order to demonstrate a well-founded fear of return, an asylum applicant must establish that they have both a subjective and objective fear of returning to their country of origin. The subjective component requires that the applicant demonstrate a genuine fear of persecution. “An asylum applicant’s candid, credible, and sincere testimony demonstrating a genuine fear of persecution satisfies the subjective component of the well-founded fear standard.” The UNHCR stated that “an evaluation of the subjective element is inseparable from an assessment of the personality of the applicant, since psychological reactions of different individuals may not be the same in identical conditions.” Although not binding on U.S. asylum applications, the Handbook is persuasive authority.

The test for the objective component is whether a reasonable person in the applicant’s circumstances would fear persecution. [...] According to the Supreme Court, a chance of persecution that is as low as ten percent may result in a well-founded fear sufficient for asylum. As long as the objective component is established by the evidence, it need not be shown that the situation will probably result in persecution. It “is enough that persecution is a reasonable possibility.”

Past Persecution

An applicant may be granted asylum based on past persecution alone. If an applicant sufficiently demonstrates past persecution, they are presumed to have a well-founded fear of persecution. The presumption of a well-founded fear of persecution, however, can be rebutted if a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that there has been a fundamental change in circumstances or that the applicant could reasonably relocate to another part of the country of origin.

Making a case for a well-founded fear of persecution based on past persecution may be weakened if the applicant remained in their country of origin for a lengthy period of time after the initial persecution without any additional incidents. Adjudicators may also find it damaging to a case if the applicant has returned to the country of origin since arriving in the United States.

As detailed there with some case law, the latter however is not entirely disqualifying, but rather weighted against other evidence. Anyhow,

If the applicant’s fear of future persecution is unrelated to the past persecution, the applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that the fear is well-founded. Establishing past persecution generally provides the strongest case for an asylum claim because it puts the burden on DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to demonstrate that the fear is not well-founded.

Also, as I vaguely recall you had something like this in an older iteration of your question:

Crime [alone] will most likely not reach the level of persecution. If, however, the applicant can demonstrate that a robbery or assault was motivated by a protected characteristic and that the police failed to provide protection, it may constitute persecution.

A gay man from Mexico failed to gain asylum because the BIA found that incidents where police had called him immoral and extorted money from him, thieves had robbed him while calling him gay, and a group of men had beat him up while yelling ‘faggot’ did not constitute persecution, but were rather only harassment and discrimination.

Proving that robbery and extortion amount to persecution will be difficult if the country in question is experiencing civil unrest and economic strife, conditions which greatly increase the incidence of both forms of crime against the general population.

So, while one should not infer too much from that one case, it seems that violence by non-state actors is harder to prove as motivated by belonging to protected categories.

  • I can't help thinking these definitions are walking a tightrope, trying to avoid including the "systemic racism" in the US as persection that warrants asylum.
    – Barmar
    Oct 18, 2023 at 23:26
  • @Barmar: more likely they are tying to exclude the average person in Latin America from qualifying. Because police corruption and crime are rampant there. So they want more than that plus homophobic insults, which are also probably a bit common in the region. Oct 19, 2023 at 14:14

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