Justice Dept. vacates 2 Trump-era restrictions on asylum seekers

The Biden administration Wednesday vacated two rules that restricted asylum for those applying as refugees to the United States. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI
The Biden administration Wednesday vacated two rules that restricted asylum for those applying as refugees to the United States. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

June 17 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has vacated two Trump-era rules barring victims of domestic and gang violence asylum in the United States as the Biden administration continues to undo its predecessor's immigration policies.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday instructed immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals to no longer follow Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A- when adjudicating pending or future cases as they undergo a rule-making process that includes public comment, reverting the immigration system to prior precedent.


"These decisions involve important questions about the meaning of our Nation's asylum laws, which reflect America's commitment to providing refuge to some of the world's most vulnerable people," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a memo concerning the rules' revocation. "Congress has authorized grants of asylum to those who, among other things, can show that they are fleeing persecution on account of their membership in a 'particular social group.'"


Both controversial rules concern who can apply for immigration do to their association with a "particular social group" based on their religion, nationality and the like.

The rules were vacated Wednesday as Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas are working to rewrite who qualifies for specific social groups at the direction of President Joe Biden through a February executive order.

Concerning Matter of A-B-, the rule was issued by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018 after reviewing an unpublished decision by the board granting asylum to an El Salvadoran women claiming persecution based on her membership in a particular social group as she was unable to leave her domestic relationship.

The board found that the woman belonged to a group similar to "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship," which it regards as "a particular social group."

However, the new rule stated that victims of "private criminal activity" will not be granted asylum except in the most exceptional circumstances, all but guaranteeing the rejection of claims from those fleeing domestic and gang violence.

The second rule, Matter of L-E-A-, was issued by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 denying asylum to those persecuted for being a member of a nuclear family, meaning if one was in danger due to a threat directed at another member of their family they would not gain entrance to the United States as a refugee.


The move on Wednesday was cheered by immigration advocates who also urged the Biden administration to do more to fix the U.S. asylum system.

"Today's announcement will help undo some of the damage caused by the Trump administration's attacks on asylum, and we join our colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to accelerate and deepen their efforts in this regard," Cody Wofsy, staff attorney with American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement.

Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and a co-counsel for the Matter of A-B- case, called it the right move and that she is "thrilled" for her client as well as for those fleeing persecution who now "have a fair chance to seek refuge in the United States."

"Now it's time to build on this progress," she said. "We're ready to work with the administration to create an asylum system that provides every person a fair opportunity to apply for protection, inline with our human rights obligations."

Since being inaugurated in January, Biden has taken several measures to undo the immigration policies of former President Donald Trump, including ending his controversial "Remain in Mexico" rule as well as restarting an Obama-era program to reunite children in South American nations with their parents legally residing in the United States.


On Tuesday, the Departments of State and Homeland Security expanded the Central American Minors Program to allow guardians to apply for children they care for to join them in the United States.

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