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Persecution Based on Family Ties Will No Longer Qualify as Grounds for Asylum, the Attorney General Rules

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Migrants seeking asylum in the United States are seen in the Juventud 2000 migrant shelter in Tijuana on March 5th, 2019.

Overruling a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals and more than 30 years of legal precedent, United States Attorney General William Barr ruled on Monday that persecution based on family ties no longer qualifies as grounds for asylum, with very few exceptions. The ruling represents another blow to Central American asylum seekers fleeing gang and domestic violence, particularly unaccompanied minors.

Last December, Matthew Whitaker, then the acting attorney general, referred a case known as “Matter of L-E-A” to himself for revision. The question at hand was whether, and under what circumstances, a migrant “may establish persecution on account of membership in a ‘particular social group'” (one of the grounds for asylum in addition to race, religion, nationality, and political opinion) defined as family unit. In his decision, Barr wrote that most nuclear families are not “inherently socially distinct,” and that “the fact that a criminal group—such as a drug cartel, gang, or guerrilla force—targets a group of people does not, standing alone, transform those people into a particular social group.”

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