South Texas College of Law
October 8, 2011
Utah Law Review, Vol. 2013, No. 1, 2013
Persecution is the core concept of asylum and refugee protection. Although thousands (if not tens of thousands) of decisions hinge on its meaning, a consistent definition is yet to emerge. Unmoored to any unified understanding of the term, immigration agencies and federal courts of appeals continue to articulate many different conceptions of persecution - conceptions that lack internal consistency and a coherent analytical foundation. Moreover, legal scholars have not attempted to aid adjudicators’ understanding of persecution because, by and large, scholars do not believe that a unified definition is possible. Meanwhile, the divergent definitions and understandings of persecution continue to produce unfair results for those seeking asylum, as asylum applicants receive disparate outcomes despite presenting claims based on similar situations. This Article challenges the conventional wisdom that persecution defies unified meaning. It provides a comprehensive assessment of persecution’s central underpinnings to isolate the three pillars that represent persecution’s fundamental core: harm, severity, and legitimacy. At the same time, this Article critiques a number of false dichotomies and shaky definitions that have troubled and obscured the persecution definition up to this point. Based on the analyzed core aspects of persecution and the elimination of erroneously included definitional components, this Article proposes that decision-makers define persecution as “the illegitimate infliction of sufficiently severe harm.” Because it is grounded in an examination of persecution’s true underpinnings, the proposed definition will aid courts in their review of asylum claims, and help administrators render consistent decisions. The stakes are simply too high, and the issue too prevalent, to let decades of abdication continue in any effort to form a unified definition.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 54
Keywords: asylum, refugee, persecution, persecute, persecuted, torture, definition, define, defining, meaning of persecution, withholding of removal, immigration, immigration and nationality act
JEL Classification: K00, K19, K33, K39, K41, K49Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 9, 2011 ; Last revised: August 27, 2012
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