Threatened Family Members no longer a basis for Asylum Cases


When applying for asylum, individuals must establish that they have suffered persecution due to:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group, and/or
  • Political opinion.

Regarding membership in a particular social group, it has been held that kingship (family members) were an example of a clearly identifiable social group. Thus, one can qualify for asylum if he/she is fearing persecution because of threats against his/her family members. This was affirmed by a BIA’s decision in Matter of C-A, 2006 that started:

We agree with the parties that the members of an immediate family may constitute a particular social group. We have long recognized that family ties may meet the requirements of a particular social group depending on the facts and circumstances in the case.”

This allowed individuals whose immediate family member was persecuted in their home country the possible chance to claim asylum.

Changes in Asylum Requests

The 2006 BIA’s decision was overruled on July 29, 2019, when U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, issued a decision in Matter of L-E-A. In his decision, the Attorney General noted that most nuclear families do not meet the requirements of a particular social group as they lack social distinction. He explained that:

“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. There is no evidence that Congress intended the term ‘particular social group’ to cast so wide a net,”

This decision is binding not only on defensive asylum cases (asylum petitions filed in court), but also on affirmative asylum cases (asylum petitions filed with USCIS) and credible and reasonable fear interviews. It effectively tightened the measure in the immigration and nationality law and would affect asylum rules and procedures. 

How Does This Affect Individuals Applying for Asylum?

As a result of the Matter of L-E-A decision, immigrants who fear persecution because of their family ties will unlikely be eligible for asylum, unless the family group in question is socially distinct.  Thus, although applying for asylum based on family ties is much more difficult, it is not impossible, and much more evidence will be required in order to overcome this hurdle.

Furthermore, for individuals residing in the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin), the circuit court has held that the circuit recognized a family as a cognizable social group under the INA, giving hope to those whose cases have been denied by the BIA under this new interpretation of membership in a particular social group. 

Contact a Chicago Immigration Attorney to file your Asylum petition

With the ever-changing development of asylum regulations and procedures, it is important to contact an immigration attorney with experience to handle your Asylum case. If you believe that you are eligible for Asylum, please contact Cipolla Law Group immediately. We are a full-service immigration law firm located in downtown Chicago. Our immigration attorneys have over 28 years of collective experience helping foreign nationals like you to live and work legally in the U.S.

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