U.S. restricts asylum claims based on family relations

by Kim Boateng Last updated on August 9th, 2019,

Washington: A decision issued Monday by Attorney General William Barr will restrict the ability of migrants to claim asylum based on their family relations.

In a precedent-setting immigration court opinion, Barr said that simply being part of a nuclear family targeted for persecution doesn’t qualify as a “particular social group” eligible for asylum in the United States.

“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,” the attorney general wrote.

President Donald Trump has sought to restrict access to asylum, which his administration views as a magnet that draws migrants north from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessionsissued a similar immigration court decision in June 2018 that blocked asylum for victims of domestic violence and gang violence, a move that drew condemnation from pro-migrant advocates. A federal judge based in Washington, D.C., blocked key parts of a policy related to the decision six months later.

Barr’s ruling will guide future decisions in the immigration courts, which are not part of the federal judiciary and fall under the purview of the Justice Department. Barr highlighted that authority in the ruling Monday, saying “the attorney general has primary responsibility for construing and applying provisions in the immigration laws.”

To receive asylum in the U.S., applicants must prove they faced persecution in their home countries based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Barr’s decision Monday will limit the ability of a familial relationship to qualify as “membership in a particular social group.“ The number of asylum seekers who could be affected each year was not immediately clear.

The attorney general issued the decision in a case that involved a deported Mexican immigrant who claimed drug cartel members had targeted him because they wanted to sell drugs in his father’s Mexico City store.

The Board of Immigration Appeals found that the man’s relationship with his father qualified as a “particular social group,” but ultimately denied the asylum request because the man could not prove he was persecuted over the relationship.

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