The current presidential administration has been engaged in an unprecedented assault on the right to apply for asylum and to have adequate procedures to handle asylum claims. One particularly painful example is the decision of Attorney General William Barr in a case called Matter of L-E-A-. In this case, the Attorney General overturned the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and issued his own decision to replace it.
The Attorney General’s decision makes it more difficult for certain people to apply for asylum. Asylum applicants must show that the persecution they suffered in the past, or that they fear in the future, is because of one or more of the following five reasons:
- political opinion
- membership in a particular social group
The reason of “membership in a particular social group” is complicated. One such group is family. For example, a person might be targeted by her country’s government or by gangs or rebel groups in her country because of her connection to her family. Perhaps the person’s father is involved in politics, and the government targeted her to retaliate against her father’s political activities. For years, the BIA and numerous federal courts of appeals concluded that a person like this woman is a member of the particular social group consisting of her immediate family. In other words, she would be eligible to seek asylum because she was targeted for being her father’s daughter.
In Matter of L-E-A-, the Attorney General just made it considerably more difficult for a person like this to seek asylum. The Attorney General indicated in the new opinion that if a person claims family as a particular social group, that group would be established for the asylum claim only if the group is “distinct in the society.” It is not enough, according to the Attorney General, that the family is “set apart in the eye of the persecutor.” The family must be perceived as distinct within the society. The Attorney General says that the “average family … is unlikely” to be “recognizable by society at large.”
If, at this point, you are scratching your head and wondering what the Attorney General means, you are not alone. In my view, the Attorney General is trying to close the door on many people who otherwise would have valid asylum claims.