A former Colombian police officer had spent his career fighting rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — also known as FARC — and now that he was retired, they promised to hunt him down.
The first death threat came in the form of a note slipped under the front door. “Now that you’re out of the police we will take care of the pending issues,” read the note. “We are returning to the area.” The paper bore the FARC logo. Over the next few months, FARC would send four more death threats to Edier de Jesus Rodriguez Bedoya.
Bedoya and his family lawfully entered the U.S. in May 2013, and applied for asylum. He told an immigration judge that FARC was systematically targeting retired Colombian police officers who had fought against them. He feared if he returned to Colombia, FARC would make good on its threats. But that wasn’t enough for the U.S. Department of Justice, whose Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected his asylum request.
This week, federal appeals court overturned that decision: “As we have repeatedly explained, a threat of death qualifies as past persecution,” wrote Judge Robert King for the unanimous three-judge panel. Although the written threats never explicitly said they would “kill” the officer, “their meaning is plain and unambiguous,” the court wrote.
It’s a rebuke of the BIA at a time when more and more claims are being denied. An analysis earlier this year by the nonpartisan human rights organization Human Rights First found far fewer people are being granted asylum than in the past. The current grant rate is 40 percent lower than the average during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, the group said.
Joe Biden has criticized the Trump Administration’s asylum policies, and has promised to increase the number of asylum officers, to take the burden off overwhelmed immigration courts.
This federal appeals court decision will help others who seek asylum in that jurisdiction, said immigration attorney Jim Hacking. “No aspect of legal immigration has been under greater assault than our asylum system,” he told NPR. “Hopefully, this case represents a solid first step to restoring sanity to the asylum process.”