In its latest attack on asylum seekers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new guidance to asylum officers that will make it much harder for victims of domestic violence and gang violence to obtain asylum. The guidance follows a strongly worded opinion known as “Matter of AB” issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month.
In order to establish eligibility for asylum, an applicant must have a reasonable fear of persecution on account of a protected ground: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Membership in a particular social group is not defined in the law or regulations. It is instead shaped by case law, which is where asylum claims relating to domestic and gang violence have developed over time.
However, the guidance issued by USCIS to all employees attempts to severely undercut those claims, noting:
In general… claims based on membership in a putative particular social group defined by the members’ vulnerability to harm of domestic violence or gang violence committed by non-government actors will not establish the basis for asylum, refugee status, or a credible or reasonable fear of persecution.
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