By Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (immigrationimpact.com)
Attorney General William Barr issued a decision that significantly restricts the ability of many current asylum seekers to win their cases on Monday. In Matter of L-E-A-, Barr issued a new immigration court decision that says people should generally not be granted asylum if they face persecution because of who their family is.
Many individuals currently qualify for asylum because they have been targeted for persecution based on who is in their family. For example, cartels often kill a target’s relatives to send a message or governments may go after a political dissident’s family as a means of leverage.
Despite the courts granting such “family-based” asylum claims for years, in Matter of L-E-A-, Barr declared that membership in a family would generally not qualify as “membership in a particular social group” for the purposes of asylum law. This essentially means that families are not “social groups” under the law.
Under Barr’s decision, “family-based” asylum could largely be eliminated. Barr left in place only a few exceptions. This includes individuals who come from families of “greater societal import” and people from clan-based societies where family groups are significantly larger than in most Western societies.
Although Barr did not give an exact definition for families that are of “greater societal important,” it suggests that he believes only some families matter enough to qualify for asylum. For example, the child of a rich and powerful family might qualify for asylum while the child of a poor family might not, even if the motive of the persecutor—and potential for harm or death—is the same.