Tills Visa Law

Stephen K. Tills, Attorney at LAW

Change to Asylum Policy aimed at Central American Asylum seekers

Attorney General Sessions announced today that U.S. asylum will no longer be available to persons fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse caused by private persecutors. The policy appears to be aimed squarely at those seeking asylum from Central America, mainly Guatemala, Honduras, El  Salvardore, and Nicaragua.  What do those countries have in common?  Their governments are unable to control drug-trafficking cartels and gangs like the ‘Mara”, and have a poor record of preventing domestic violence.   The U.S. is now denying asylum eligibility to those seeking protection on those grounds where the persecutor is a private actor.

asylum USA Immigration from Central AmericaMembers of a caravan of migrants from Central America and supporters gather on both sides of the border fence between Mexico and the U.S. as part of a demonstration, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday. | REUTERS

The concept of asylum has traditionally been known as political asylum.  But under U.S. asylum law there are 5 separate grounds for asylum:  political, religious. nationality, race, and membership in a particular social group (PSG).  The asylum claimant must show that the persecution is caused by the government in their native country, or by a group that the government is unable to control.   The claim for protection from gangs and domestic violence is usually couched in terms of a PSG since it does not involve a political motive, nor fit within the other categories. However, these claims often involve private actors, especially claims involving domestic violence.

To make a claim for asylum,  the applicant must establish that a reasonable person in their position would have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to their country.  The claims are presented to asylum officers and Immigration Judges and must establish that their claims fall within one of the 5 grounds.  Those fleeing from gangs and domestic abusers have sought protection by having “Membership in a particular social group”, since their fear involves persecution by private actors.      But, recently, the Attorney General certified to himself that female domestic violence survivors may not fall within this ground of asylum, and with this new decision,  Attorney General Sessions has now eliminated asylum protection for those seeking protection from gang violence as well.

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