Sessions Safeguards the Asylum Program

Press Releases

June 12, 2018

Agrees with IRLI that domestic violence victims are not a “particular social group”

WASHINGTON–Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions overruled a line of wrongly-decided Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions that permitted asylum based on claims of private domestic violence. To qualify for asylum in the U.S., an alien must meet the definition of “refugee” by proving persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In finding that victims of domestic violence were not a “particular social group” for asylum purposes, the Attorney General agreed with a brief the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) had filed in the case.

The Attorney General found that victims of such private violence could not constitute a particular social group because the proposed group’s identity was not independent of the harm suffered – a basic requirement of asylum law. Also, groups consisting of crime victims come from all walks of life, and thus are neither particular nor socially distinct. In so ruling, the Attorney General protected the particular social group category from becoming a “catch-all” that would destroy all other categories upon which asylum may be granted.

“Sadly, domestic violence occurs in all religious and racial groups, in all nations, and in all social classes,” commented Christopher Hajec, IRLI’s director of litigation. “Its victims are not a socially distinctive group any more than victims of other crimes are. If asylum could be based on being a crime victim, legitimate asylees – those persecuted in their home countries because of their race, religion, tribe, or other distinctive group membership – would be crowded out, and denied a place of refuge in this country.”

“Had Sessions ruled otherwise, false – but hard to disprove – claims of crime victimhood undoubtedly would have proliferated at the border, and the asylum program would have been swamped,” said Dale Wilcox, IRLI’s executive director and general counsel. “While we feel for those suffering from criminal actions and those in domestic abuse situations, they are not asylees. This nation has always been the last, safest refuge for victims of tyranny,” Wilcox continued. “Broadening the definition of ‘refugee’ out of all recognition would make it utterly impractical to maintain that tradition.”

The case is Matter of A-B-, 27 I. & N. Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018).

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

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