In the United States, those applying for asylum must qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention definition of a refugee. This means that they must be able to prove a “well-founded fear” of returning to their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (PSG). While four of these grounds are fairly straightforward, the ‘membership in a particular social group’ criteria is often used as a catch-all of sorts. Its definition remains disputed in U.S. law.
Generally speaking, many judges define a particular social group as a group of people viewed as a threat by a government based on one characteristic they all share, usually an immutable (unchangeable) physical or mental trait or an experience. Examples in the past have included homosexuals, former gang members or people of a shared ethnicity. One trend that seems to help define the term further is that the characteristic shared must not be subjective. For example, “rich people” would be a poor attempt to define a particular social group, because “rich” is entirely subjective.
Another factor that many judges seem to consider is if the group is visible as a PSG within its own society. Victims of rape at the hands of soldiers may be a particular social group in the sense that they share a characteristic which is not transient or subjective, but they are often invisible in their home society. If a group is invisible in its home society, there is no real reason for them to fear persecution. In short, a particular social group is most likely to be recognized if it is comprised of people who share some kind of immutable characteristic (experience, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), and if it is at least somewhat visible in the home country.
Application in the System
The U.S. immigration system has only just begun to give credence to many particular social groups that one might assume were already classified as such. However, many cases do not reach the courts or are not appealed to a court where a final ruling can be made. There remains a fair amount of debate as to what actually constitutes a PSG, and rulings have been inconsistent, but the definition is widening, which can be a salvation for some that would otherwise have found it difficult to gain asylum.
The most recent example is in September 2014, when a court ruled in Matter of A-R-C-G- that female survivors of domestic violence in Guatemala who were “unable to leave their relationships” constituted a PSG for asylum purposes. While the Board of Immigration Appeals made it clear that particular social group status would still be determined on a case by case basis, A-R-C-G- makes it easier for those in gender-based PSGs to qualify, provided there is enough governmental involvement (or lack of control over those involved) in their persecution.
Contact an Experienced Asylum Attorney
It is always a good idea to apply for asylum under as many grounds as you think are possible, but “particular social group” has always been a bit of a wild card. Even with trends now changing to be a little more clearly defined for the potential asylee, having competent representation is critical. The Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC are ready, willing, and able to put the benefit of their years of experience to work for you. Contact us today to discuss your options.
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