The case of Jose Fuentes-Colocho highlights the complexities of cases involving youth fleeing gang violence. Fuentes-Colocho sought refuge from El Salvador as a teenager after being repeatedly persecuted by Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). MS-13 is no longer just a street gang; it is now the organized insurgency which destabilizes El Salvador’s political scene. It controls municipalities and government officials must negotiate with gang members. Due to his outspoken opposition to MS-13 as leader of a local organization, Jose was beaten unconscious on several occasions and was forced to watch MS-13 members rape his female friends.
Deborah Anker, Nancy Kelly, John Willshire-Carrera, and L. Rachel Lerman (Partner at Akin Gump LLP) recently wrote an amicus brief arguing that MS-13 is a political entity and that Jose Fuentes-Colocho’s opposition to MS-13 constitutes political opinion. Professor Anker believes Jose’s political opinion is a central reason why he was targeted for gang violence. “This is an important case because most of the cases have been argued under the social group ground, which hasn’t been successful,” Anker remarks. “I think political opinion is the way to go in cases like this.” Despite Fuentes-Colocho’s credible testimony, the Immigration Judge expressed that Jose could not ‘explain’ how his opposition to MS-13 was indeed political in nature. The Judge concluded that he was a victim of mere ‘random acts of violence’. HIRC is hoping the decision will be overturned. The case is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit.