A.G. Barr Narrows Who Can Ask for Asylum

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On July 29, 2019, Attorney General William Barr issued an order narrowing the scope of which particular social groups can apply for asylum. Under the new rule, family members of those persecuted can no longer be considered a particular social group. For example, if a son’s father was targeted by drug cartels, the son can no longer claim to be a member of a particular social group simply being related to someone who was persecuted. The change in the rule comes in response to a case of a Mexican man (known in court documents as “L-E-A”) who was seeking asylum because his father refused to let the drug cartels use his store as part of their operations. In order to apply for asylum, the petitioner must prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on their belonging to a certain religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The “particular social group” category has traditionally been used to allow members of persecuted classes, such as survivors of domestic abuse, who have no other outreach for help. Earlier the administration has already made attempts to narrow the definition of particular social group by specifically disallowing survivors of domestic abuse from being considered as members of a social group. As attorney general, the Mr. Barr holds the power to refer any immigration case to himself and make a ruling on the case and any additional policy changes he deems fit because the immigration courts, and subsequently the Board of Immigration Appeals, are under the Department of Justice. In addition to narrowing the confines of particular social groups, the administration is currently fending off legal challenges to its other attempts to narrow the rules of asylum and deter migrants from making the trek to the border. Most recently, a San Francisco federal judge has blocked the administration’s attempt requiring immigrants to first apply for asylum in a different country to be eligible for asylum in the United States. Likewise, this attempt to narrow the definition of particular social group is likely to meet legal challenges.