By James O. Hacking, III
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided an asylum case related to the changing political conditions in Venezuela. The 8th Circuit denied the asylum claim of Ninoska Lopez-Amador. Lopez-Amador was a relatively wealthy mid-level executive for a phone company in Venezuela.
She came from a politically active family that is opposed to the government of Hugo Chavez. Lopez-Amador is also a lesbian and claimed that she would likely face persecution if returned to Venezuela because of her sexual orientation.
Lopez-Amador came to the United States in 2002 as a tourist. After failing to change her status to that of a student, she applied for asylum.
In her initial application, completed without the help of an attorney, Lopez-Amador claimed that her sexual orientation was the reason she had a well-founded fear of persecution. In a later application, completed with the assistance of an attorney, Lopez-Amador claimed that she was a long time member of the Democratic Action Party, who oppose Chavez's government and had been shot at by snipers when police broke up an anti-Chavez rally that she attended.
She also described being stopped and questioned at checkpoints in Caracas after the rally and stated that she was harassed by a police officer because of her sexual orientation when she was holding hands with her lesbian partner while walking in a park.
After her initial asylum claim failed, Lopez-Amador moved to re-open her case. She claimed that the political situation had changed in Venezuela since the denial and presented a letter from the Organization of Venezuelans in Exile, which stated that the Venezuelan government recently compiled a list of Venezuelans who had applied for asylum in the United States and was using the list to revoke the passports of those Venezuelans. She also presented evidence showing that violence against lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual communities was on the rise in Venezuela.
These new arguments were also to no avail, as the 8th Circuit agreed with the BIA that Lopez-Amador would not likely face persecution if she was returned to Venezuela. They held that loss of her passport and being forced to sell her second condominium did not rise to the level of persecution.
In order to prove a well-founded fear of persecution, you have to prove either that you were subjected to really harsh treatment, on the level of torture. Without past persecution, an asylum applicant has to prove that persecution is likely if they return to their home country.
In order to prove this, they generally must point to specific threats or a history of persecution of people from the same race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. If a reasonable person would not fear persecution due to the evidence presented, then the asylum claim will fail.