Defining violence: Annual U.S. Human Rights Reports and Asylum Outcomes

Authors: Alisa Hartsell*, Texas State University - San Marcos
Topics: Legal Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: Immigration, Asylum seekers, Human Rights, U.S. politics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The legal interpretation of who qualifies for asylum under US law has seen major changes recently. Who ultimately gains asylum is tied in part to the United States’ State Department Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. This paper examines the language in these documents on asylum and relief outcomes in federal Immigration Courts. According to the US State Department and interviews conducted with immigration attorneys; lawyers, judges, and federal courts use these documents as resources for decision making in asylum cases. These “Annual Human Rights Reports” describe human rights and working conditions, including conflicts and violence that may lead individuals to seek asylum. This analysis explores the idea that language that focuses more on the government’s impact on the people (human rights violations) instead of on groups of peoples’ impact on vulnerable populations (gang violence) will be more likely to receive asylum in immigration courts. It asserts that by examining how the US federal government understands conflicts in foreign countries, we can better understand how US asylum law is interpreted. To understand how the federal judges, immigration judges, and attorneys interpret the “state” of a country, this paper will use discourse analysis of US Human Rights Reports used in determining migrants’ fear credibility, focusing on the top five countries gaining asylum for the last five years. The language in the reports then will be compared against how asylum is currently interpreted and to actual immigration court outcomes from EOIR dataset and TRACs immigration tools.

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