Having a family targeted by organized crime does not rise to the level of grounds for asylum under federal law, according to a new immigration ruling from Attorney General William Barr issued on Monday.
On paper, the requirements for obtaining asylum in the United States are fairly narrow. After all, if they weren’t so narrow, the asylum system might be overrun with people fleeing street crime or bad economic conditions. As President Obama explained back in 2014 when he faced a border crisis similar to the current one, “typically refugee status is not granted just based on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty.”
Under current, decades-old federal law, asylum applicants have to prove that they have been persecuted or face a reasonable fear of persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
In the case being ruled on here, the respondent claimed that he belonged to a “particular social group” because his father owned a local store targeted by a drug cartel. The attorney general found that that claim didn’t fit the law.
“While the Board has recognized certain clans and subclans as ‘particular social groups,’ most nuclear families are not inherently socially distinct and therefore do not qualify as ‘particular social groups,’” the ruling determined.
“The respondent did not show that anyone, other than perhaps the cartel, viewed the respondent’s family to be distinct in Mexican society,” the ruling explained. “If cartels or other criminals created a cognizable family social group every time they victimized someone, then the social-distinction requirement would be effectively eliminated.”
“Further, as almost every alien is a member of a family of some kind, categorically recognizing families as particular social groups would render virtually every alien a member of a particular social group,” the ruling added elsewhere. “There is no evidence that Congress intended the term ‘particular social group’ to cast so wide a net.”
Barr made the ruling in his role as chief immigration judge. Both the Board of Immigration Appeals and U.S. immigration courts are under the authority of the Department of Justice, rather than the judicial branch. A regulation put forward earlier this summer cemented the attorney general’s ability to make binding, precedent-setting decisions on immigration matters like this one.
The move comes just two weeks after DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security announced a new regulation to cut down on frivolous asylum claims by requiring that potential asylees first seek refuge in the first safe country they come to. A separate report says that regulations requiring applicants to stay in Mexico while applying for asylum is making other migrants give up and head back home to Central America.