If you or a loved one fears returning to your country, you may be thinking about applying for asylum, which is a form of protection from the US government that constitutes relief from removal. However, the US government only protects asylum-seekers who fear a type of severe harm called “persecution” and hold that fear of persecution for a particular reason. US law states that there are five reasons that will qualify a person for asylum: if a person fears persecution because of their:
Many people in society think of the first four reasons when they think of asylum protection; certainly, the prototypical asylum seeker has been an individual who expressed an opposing political belief against their government and had to flee after suffering violence against them by their government. While there are certainly still many individuals who come to the United States seeking protection from political oppression, asylum is more broad than just protecting political dissidents, individuals persecuted for their religion, or people hurt because of how they look or their country of birth.
The fifth ground that asylum what the law states as “membership in a particular social group” has traditionally been the amorphous ‘catchall’ that individuals who fear going back to their country for another reason try to obtain asylum protection. Unfortunately, USCIS and the immigration courts have had great difficulty in figuring out what exactly it means to be a member of a particular social group is because it is more amorphous than the other categories and subject to more politics at the national level.
There is no list of accepted particular social groups. The definition of a social group under the immigration law is that a person is a member of a social group of they have an “immutable characteristic” – meaning an aspect of their self that they cannot and should not be expected to change – and that the group is “particular” and “socially distinct.” Each of these terms have produced many legal arguments and it is important to have an attorney who is familiar with asylum law so they work with you to define a social group that will be recognized by USCIS or the Immigration Court that you are before.
Some particular social groups that have been accepted by immigration courts have included characteristics such as an asylum-seeker’s family’s sexual orientation, gender, family and/or tribal membership, past employment, membership in other organized groups, and in certain situations when an individual suffered domestic violence or violent acts by another private (non-governmental) actor.
Under the Trump Administration, there has been much discussion about the eligibility of individuals for asylum who are making particular social group claims. For example, you may have read news headlines alleging that victims of crime are no longer eligible for asylum. This is because in June 2018, the Board of Immigration Appeals (the court in DC above the immigration courts) issued a decision that attacked the ability of victims of crimes committed by non-governmental actors, like domestic violence abusers or gang members, to apply for asylum. While this decision raised significant controversy in the media and included language by the Board of Immigration Appeals that is negative for asylum-seekers, this decision did not change the underlying asylum laws of the United States or the principles of asylum enshrined in international law including the United Nations Refugee Convention.
However, even though there were not any critical changes made to the underlying immigration laws itself, the June 2018 case and the current political environment has made it all the more important to consult with an expert asylum attorney to accurately assess the strength of your asylum claim if you are applying as a member of a particular social group and assess the accompanying risks because of increase immigration enforcement. This is particularly true because different Immigration Judges and USCIS offices around the country treat asylum claims based on particular social groups differently. Some Immigration Judges are much harsher than others. Here at Poudat Vasquez, we believe that especially for victims of persecution who have already suffered significant persecution or fear future persecution, asylum-seekers should have as much information about the asylum process they can before applying in order to make the choices that are right for them.
We encourage you to call our office today to schedule a consultation with one of our expert immigration attorneys, Suzanne Vazquez and Maud Poudat and discuss your reasons for fearing return to your home country and whether that could form a basis of a particular social group. We know that it can be difficult to share your fears and the risks that you face, but a confidential consultation about your asylum claim will help you make choices to protect yourself and your loved ones. Call us today at 407.674.6968 for a consultation! You may also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the online form located at the top of this page.