Trump Administration Imposes New Restrictions on Asylum for Victims of Violence

Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vacated a 2016 Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision and issued a new decision that will severely limit the circumstances under which victims of violence at the hands of non-government actors will be eligible for asylum.

Grounds for Asylum and Benefits

In order to be granted asylum in the United States, an individual must have suffered persecution or fear that s/he will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If granted asylum, the individual is granted work authorization, and members of the asylee’s immediate family are eligible for derivative asylum. An asylee is eligible for permanent residence after one year.

Particular Social Groups

Of these five asylum categories, membership in a “particular social group” had been considered the least clearly defined. Over the last several decades, however, a series of BIA decisions and the actions of previous administrations had provided some clarity on the issue. This classification had been frequently recognized for tribal members, certain social classes, family members of political dissidents, child soldiers, former members of the police or military, members of the LGBTQ community, and victims of domestic violence.

Matter of A-R-C-G

A 2014 BIA decision was particularly important to the availability of asylum claims for the victims of domestic violence. In Matter of A-R-C-G, the BIA held that an applicant can qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” The landmark case not only helped to protect such victims, but helped shore up some ambiguities in the law regarding victims of domestic violence, as well. The recent action of the Attorney General has effectively vacated Matter of A-R-C-G.

“Private Criminal Activity”

In his decision, the Attorney General stated that being a victim of crime at the hands of private actors alone is not enough for an asylum claim. The applicant must be able to demonstrate that the government either “condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.” Sessions declared that, “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”


Jeff Sessions’s decision immediately removes an avenue of protection for many of the most vulnerable seeking protection in a time of need. Beyond these immediate impacts, these actions will continue to erode the independence of immigration courts, opening them to further political influence from the Administration.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.