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REAL ID Act Makes It Easy To Deny Asylum To Those In Need

by Kim Salinas

This op-ed is written in memory of Edgar Chocoy who lived from May 26, 1987 to March 25, 2004.

I read the REAL ID Act today and thought of Edgar Chocoy. The REAL ID Act is a proposal making its way through Congress. It is being promoted as a way to ensure the safety of Americans against terrorists and other undesirables from other countries, yet it has little to do with making Americans more secure and everything to do with making it easier to deny asylum to deserving applicants. It would make it easier to send people back to countries where they may be persecuted, tortured or killed.

The last day I saw Edgar was in a U.S. immigration court. Sixteen years old, he was begging a judge to not send him back to a country where he would be killed. I thought of Edgar and how he left Guatemala at age 14 and traveled alone to America, a country he thought would protect him.

Asylum laws are based upon the concept that people should not be returned to countries where their life or freedom would be threatened. They are laws to protect refugees, laws to protect people fleeing persecution. U.S. obligations toward people seeking asylum stem from a combination of national and international laws, agreements, protocols and documents, as well as international custom.

I thought of Edgar and how he was shot in the chest the first day he ventured out of his aunt's house after being deported. Shot by the people he told the judge would kill him. What were his last thoughts as he died? Did he remember pleading for his life in front of a judge? Did he wonder why we didn't save him?

Edgar didn't cry when the judge ordered him to return to the country of his persecutors. When he sentenced him to death. Edgar didn't cry because he always knew he didn't have a chance.

He didn't have a chance growing up in the slums of Guatemala City without a mother or father; when the gangs of Guatemala forcibly recruited him at age 12; when he tried to leave the gang at age 14, and they tried to kill him.

"I wanted to play soccer and video games and have a home with parents" he had told me as I prepared his case. "They wouldn't let me." "I just want another chance" were the last words Edgar wrote in his declaration to the judge. But he never really believed he'd get it.

Edgar didn't cry, but I did. I cried because I had cajoled and pleaded with Edgar to fight for his right to seek asylum when he told me no one would give him a chance. I had believed in justice and that the truth would prevail and that our legal system would not send a child to his death. I cried because I was wrong.

The REAL ID act removes many due process safeguards and places refugees at greater risk of return to their persecutors. It would make it easier for judges to deny asylum to people who flee danger. It would allow people to be deported back to a country where their life is in danger even though their asylum claim is still pending.

Restrictive immigration policies don't make us safer. They don't protect American workers. They don't make our economy stronger or protect our environment. Restrictive immigration policies kill children like Edgar Chocoy.

For more information on the REAL ID Act and other immigration-related legislation go to: or

Originally published March 25, 2005

About The Author

Kim Salinas is an immigration attorney in Fort Collins, TX.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.