DOJ Reverses Trump-Era Restrictions on Asylum for Survivors of Violence

On June 16, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) overturned Trump-era policies that placed limits on asylum cases involving survivors of domestic violence and gang violence. The previous rulings by Jeff Sessions and William Barr were vacated by Attorney General Merrick Garland – therefore, expanding the availability of asylum protections to survivors of such violence.

In February, President Joe Biden signed an executive order, telling both the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to rewrite the qualifying rules for asylum. However, the process itself will take months or perhaps years, which is why immigrant advocates urged the current administration to take swift action to help abuse survivors who were still a risk of deportation due to active Trump-era policies.

In order to qualify for asylum in the United States, applicants must show they suffered persecution because of their nationality, race, religion, political views, or membership of a “particular social group.” Over the years, the last category has been intensely argued.

In 2018, former AG Sessions ruled that survivors of domestic and gang violence generally don’t qualify as a “particular social group,” claiming that the U.S. is not responsible for solving problems people face all over the world. The decision overturned a 2014 appellate opinion that found women who were victims of domestic violence could qualify as a member of a “particular social group” based on U.S. law.

In the other opinion, former AG Barr ruled that a nuclear family—”in the ordinary case” —would not be considered a “particular social group,” which restricted claims made by those seeking asylum due to persecution stemming from family ties. However, Garland said that Barr’s 2019 analysis was “inconsistent” with prior rulings that found families could be particular social groups.

According to CBS News, the 2019 guidance issued to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers was revoked in May. USCIS has yet confirmed if asylum officers were given new guidance involving claims with survivors of domestic and gang violence.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued a memo regarding the lifting of asylum restrictions, saying Garland’s rulings would give the Biden administration an opportunity to address how the U.S. immigration system handles asylum claims. Additionally, Gupta ordered DOJ attorneys to stop defending Trump administration asylum limitations in current lawsuits from immigrant advocates.

If you or a loved one is interested in filing for asylum in Illinois, Arizona, or Texas, contact Gambacorta Law today at (847) 443-9303 to let our experienced legal team help you from start to finish. We have offices in Skokie, Mesa, and Houston.