Justice Dept. Delivers a Victory for Asylum Reform

Press Releases

July 30, 2019

Attorney General, agreeing with IRLI, restores true definition of family-based persecution

WASHINGTON—Attorney General William Barr has issued a decision on a case that could have deep ramifications for our asylum system, the abuse of which is one of the biggest reasons for an overflow of migrants at our southern border.

The issue is family-based persecution. Some courts have held that even average nuclear families count as “particular social groups” for purposes of asylum law. In practice, that has meant that just about everyone whose family members have been crime victims in certain countries may be eligible for asylum in the United States.

In a brief that the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) had submitted to the Attorney General in this case, IRLI argued that the above interpretation is far too broad. The vast majority of families lack the social visibility and political power that could make them targets of government persecution.

The Attorney General agreed, explaining that, under the law, all asylum applicants seeking to establish membership in a “particular social group,” including groups defined by family or kinship ties, must establish that the group is defined with particularity, is composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, and is socially distinct within the society in question. Applying this definition, Barr held that nuclear families typically are not socially distinct enough in their societies to meet the definition of “particular social group.”

“The purpose of asylum is not to provide people with the safest possible country to live in, or to be a channel for economic migration,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Asylum is there to give people refuge when the government of their country makes life dangerous for them because of who they are. We applaud the Attorney General for taking this step to stem the flow of meritless claims at the border, and to preserve asylum for those who truly need it.”

The case is Matter of L-E-A, 27 I&N Dec. 581 (A.G. 2019)

For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • [email protected]

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