Immigration Law

Garland vacates DOJ opinions restricting asylum in cases of domestic abuse and gang violence

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Attorney General Merrick Garland has vacated opinions by his Trump-era predecessors that made it more difficult to obtain asylum as a result of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Garland vacated two opinions, Matter of A-B and Matter of L-E-A (here and here), report the New York Times, Law360 and Reuters. Garland said the asylum issues should be resolved through federal rulemaking and, in the meantime, the law should revert to prior precedent. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta explains Garland’s June 16 decisions in a memorandum.

The attorney general has the power to review decisions by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals because immigration courts are housed within the Justice Department, Law360 explains.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had written in Matter of A-B that asylum isn’t generally available when violence is perpetrated by private rather than governmental actors. A follow-up opinion by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, known as Matter of A-B II, sought to provide additional guidance. Garland vacated both decisions. The case involved an El Salvadoran woman who said her husband had abused her.

Former Attorney General William Barr wrote in Matter of L-E-A that immediate family members generally don’t constitute a social group under a law granting asylum to those fearing persecution because of social group membership. Garland vacated Barr’s decision. The case involved a Mexican man who feared retribution because his father refused to let his store be used for cartel drug sales.

Gene Hamilton, a former Justice Department counselor under Trump, said Garland’s actions will cause “unprecedented damage” at the Southern border, according to Reuters.

But University of California at Hastings law professor Karen Musalo, who represented one of the asylum seekers, told the New York Times that Garland has restored “the possibility of protection to those whose very lives are in the balance.”

“Every woman fleeing domestic violence and every individual fleeing gang violence now has the opportunity to have their case decided fairly,” Musalo said.

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