This Political Dissident Faces Death Threats if He Goes Back to Nicaragua. Why Was His Asylum Claim Denied?
Mario Rajib Flores Molina put a great deal on the line to protest government corruption and the illiberal regime in his native Nicaragua, facing vandalism, beatings, and death threats. He eventually tried to reach safety in the United States, only for a federal immigration board to say his mistreatment didn’t “rise to the level of past persecution” since the death threats weren’t “especially menacing.” It ordered his removal to Nicaragua. But last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the board was wrong to deny him asylum.
In 2018, an opposition movement mobilized to protest President Daniel Ortega’s regime and pension reforms that saw taxes go up and benefits go down. The Nicaraguan parliament passed a law in response that allowed the government to prosecute protestors as terrorists. In the crackdown that followed, state officials killed hundreds.
Flores Molina took to the streets of Estelí, Nicaragua, to join the demonstrations, where the police and paramilitary officers regularly shot and killed protesters. His repeated participation eventually put him in the crosshairs of government officials. They singled him out on social media and threatened him with imprisonment in a facility known for brutal torture of political dissidents.
He fled twice to what he thought were safer locations within Nicaragua, but government loyalists found him both times. During the second encounter, six members of the pro-Ortega Sandinista Youth beat him, warning, “This is what happens to the ones that want to be part of the coup. And at the next encounter, we’re going to kill you.” He knew he had to leave Nicaragua for good. Flores Molina journeyed to the U.S.-Mexico border, presented himself at a port of entry, and requested asylum.
Those eligible for asylum in the U.S. may qualify if “they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to” political opinion, as Flores Molina did. An immigration judge found his testimony “consistent with the declaration he submitted in support of his application for relief” but held that he hadn’t demonstrated past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution. This wasn’t to say that Flores Molina hadn’t been threatened or abused—simply that those experiences didn’t qualify as persecution “for the purposes of asylum and withholding
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