Attorney General William Barr Puts Additional Limits On Asylum Claims

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Attorney General William Barr ruled Monday that being a member of a family harassed by gangs is not enough to qualify for asylum.

In a ruling that will likely block a large number of immigrants from lodging successful asylum claims moving forward, Barr overturned a previous decision made by Board of Immigration Appeals, which found that being a member of family targeted by gangs or other criminal organizations could qualify them as a “particular social group” worthy of U.S. asylum.

The White House’s top lawyer argued that the decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals was too broad, making it so that “virtually every alien” could make an asylum claim under such conditions.

“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,'” read Barr’s conclusion, according to a Justice Department official.

“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,” Barr’s findings continued.

Barr said that, while there can be specific situations when belonging to a prominent family can suffice, such a broad standard cannot be applied automatically.

The ruling pertains to a case known as “Matter L-E-A,” which involves a Mexican national caught twice entering the U.S. illegally. Upon his second deportation proceedings, the individual, simply referred to by the initials L-E-A, claimed asylum. He argued that his father’s store was being targeted by a cartel that wanted to force the store into selling drugs, which ultimately led to the cartel harassing him specifically.

While the Board of Immigration Appeals denied his asylum claim, it did find that L-E-A was part of a recognizable group. Barr on Monday ruled that board was incorrect in the second part of its decision.

Attorney General William Barr looks on as the president delivers remarks on citizenship and the census on July 11, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

US Attorney General William Barr looks on as the US president delivers remarks on citizenship and the census in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The ruling comes after a string of wins for the White House’s immigration agenda.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced that his administration reached a safe third country agreement with Guatemala, requiring U.S.-bound illegal immigrants who cross Guatemala first to apply for asylum in that country instead of lodging their claims at the U.S border.

Also on Friday, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision, allowing the federal government to use $2.5 billion in military funds to build 100 miles of additional border wall. (RELATED: DHS Credits Illegal Immigration Crackdown For Drop In Border Apprehensions)

Earlier in July, Acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer approved the deployment of 1,200 active-duty troops and another 1,000 Texas National Guard personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

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