AG Reins In Application of the 'Particular Social Group' Standard for Asylum

By Dan Cadman on July 30, 2019

Attorney General Barr has made an important decision in one of the series of cases certified to himself, Matter of L-E-A-, and in doing so reversed a key finding of the Board of Immigration Appeals that a family can form a "particular social group" for purposes of meeting the asylum test.

I'm sure that my colleague, Art Arthur, will weigh in on this as well, and I cede to his superior legal grasp, but I do have a few thoughts on the matter.

The first is that I agree with the attorney general that a family, indistinguishable from any other family in a particular society but for the fact that it's being plagued by a criminal gang – as many in that society may also be – doesn't constitute a particular social group, and to define it as such is to bend the intent of the law governing the granting of refuge and asylum.

My second point is a follow-on of this issue of crime and gangs. Those are serious problems and they plague many societies, including our own. How ironic that so many aliens seek asylum ostensibly because they are being "targeted" by gangs, and sometimes obtain asylum on that basis – only to be targeted by gangs (many of them the very same transnational gangs such as MS-13 or U.S. offshoots of Mexican cartels) when they resettle in East L.A., or Chicago, or Washington, D.C., or St. Louis, or even Long Island, or any of dozens of other U.S. cities and towns, large and small. Just look at the daily news.

Ask yourself what problem has been solved by an overgenerous system whose adjudicators (asylum officers and immigration judges and BIA members, and even federal circuits of appeal) understand gang violence in the United States as an undeniable ill, but would never conceive of it as a basis on which someone would be granted (if such a thing were possible) "asylum from Chicago". The very notion sounds ridiculous. So why do they see it through different eyes simply because we can substitute the country names "Mexico" or "El Salvador" for the city name "Chicago"?

This leads me to my third point, something I've commented upon before, which is that the elastic phrase "particular social group" has been stretched nearly to breaking point in past decisions to justify asylum for a whole host of societal ills which have little or nothing to do with persecution as such. That the attorney general is taking a step to rein in this overuse is welcome and long overdue. Not every social problem confronting other countries should form a basis for asylum, especially when if we are honest with ourselves, we too are confronting the very same problems.