DOJ moves to limit asylum claims based on family relationships

There should be little debate that loopholes in our nation’s asylum laws are being fully exploited by migrants seeking entry into the United States, and one aspect of the Trump administration’s efforts at stemming the flow of illegal immigration and fraudulent asylum claims is to close those gaps and limit the number of individuals who are eligible to seek such protection.

With that in mind, Attorney General William Barr just issued a ruling in which he determined that merely being a member of a specific family — even one targeted for persecution by a gang or drug cartel — didn’t automatically equate to being part of a “particular social group” that would confer eligibility to make an asylum claim in the U.S.

Overturning precedent

Under current immigration laws, a migrant can claim asylum if he or she has already faced or likely will face persecution in their home country on the basis of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The “particular social group” clause came up for consideration by Barr as part of a review of a Board of Immigration Appeals ruling which seemingly set the precedent that mere membership in a family targeted by local criminals or drug cartels constituted membership in a “particular social group,” and thus making those individuals eligible to apply for asylum.

The case at issue centered on a Mexican national who entered the U.S. illegally in 2011.

This particular asylum seeker’s claim was based primarily on the fact that a drug cartel back home had targeted his father — a local general store owner — as well as the rest of the man’s family for retaliation after the father had refused to sell drugs for the organization.

Barr’s conclusion

But in his 17-page ruling on the matter, Barr concluded that the Board — which had kicked the case back down to the immigration court — created too broad of a precedent-setting definition of “particular social group” to include the “immediate family” of someone targeted by criminals or drug cartels.

Barr wrote that for a “specific family group” to qualify as a “particular social group” they would need to have some “particularity” that rendered them “socially distinct” among the broader populus, and while some families and clans in certain countries would qualify, it wasn’t a blanket qualification for all families across the globe.

“But the respondent did not show that anyone, other than perhaps the cartel, viewed the respondent’s family to be distinct in Mexican society,” Barr wrote. “If cartels or other criminals created a cognizable family social group every time they victimized someone, then the social-distinction requirement would be effectively eliminated.”

“Further, as almost every alien is a member of a family of some kind, categorically recognizing families as particular social groups would render virtually every alien a member of a particular social group. There is no evidence that Congress intended the term “particular social group” to cast so wide a net,” the attorney general added later.

Part of broader crackdown

Ultimately, Barr prudently concluded that merely belonging to the “immediate family” of someone targeted by criminals or a drug cartel does not necessarily constitute membership in a “particular social group” and therefore couldn’t be cited, without more, as a singularly acceptable reason for an asylum claim.

This ruling by the attorney general is just one of many recent moves made by the Trump administration to crack down and reduce the number of fraudulent asylum claims by lowering the number of total asylum seekers overall, either by limiting eligibility or by entering into safe third country agreements, such as the recent pact reached with Guatemala.

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