As my friend Paul Schmidt announced on his excellent blog immigrationcourtside.com, immigration judges in San Francisco and Arlington, VA recently issued written decisions granting asylum to victims of domestic violence. Notably, the decisions concluded that “Mexican females” and “women in Honduras” constituted cognizable particular social groups under applicable case law, including the former Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B-.
Asylum advocates have sought for many years to have the Board of Immigration Appeals recognize a particular social group defined by gender alone. However, the BIA has declined to consider the issue.1 The need for such guidance from the Board has increased significantly since the issuance of Matter of A-B- last June. Even under the holdings of that decision, gender continues to meet all of the criteria for a cognizable particular social group, as gender is an immutable characteristic fundamental to one’s identity, is sufficiently particular to provide a clear benchmark for inclusion, is socially distinct in all societies, and is not defined by the harm which gives rise to the applicant’s fear of persecution.
In the seven months since Matter of A-B- was issued, the BIA has yet to respond with a precedent decision affirming the continued viability of domestic violence-based asylum claims. Nor has the BIA affirmed that gender alone may constitute a cognizable particular social group for the above reasons, in spite of the fact that its members have had years to consider the issue, and could rely on so many outstanding legal sources on the topic. The BIA showed an ability to respond quickly in issuing a precedent decision in only two months time following the Supreme Court’s decision in Pereira v. Sessions. So the present silence should be interpreted as a specific choice by the BIA to remain silent, likely motivated by its fear of upsetting its higher-ups in the present administration.
In the absence of guidance from the BIA, and while waiting for appeals to work their way through the circuit courts (I am aware of appeals relating to this issue currently pending in the First and Fourth Circuits), the two recent immigration judge decisions are encouraging. In the San Francisco case, Judge Miriam Hayward (who has since retired from the bench) found “Mexican females” to constitute a cognizable particular social group. In Arlington, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Deepali Nadkarni made the same finding for the group consisting of “women in Honduras.” Redacted copies of their written decisions may be read here: http://immigrationcourtside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SF-IJ-Hayward-DV-PSG-grant.pdf; http://immigrationcourtside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Nadkarni-Grant-Women-in-Honduras-PSG.pdf
In addition to their particular social group analysis, both decisions conclude that at least one central reason for the persecution suffered was the asylum applicant’s membership in the gender-defined group. For example, in the San Francisco case, Judge Hayward found such nexus was established by a combination of specific statements made by the male persecutor (i.e. “a woman’s only job was to shut up and obey her husband,” and “I’m the man and you’re going to do what I say”); a report of an expert on domestic violence citing gender as a motivating factor for domestic violence; and a statement in a multi-agency report that violence against women in Mexico “is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships of power.”
In her decision, Judge Nadkarni held that the size of the group defined by gender does not prevent it from being defined with particularity, and noted that the BIA “has routinely recognized large groups as defined with particularity.” It also bears mentioning that the ICE prosecutor in Judge Nadkarni’s case “conceded that the Honduran police was unable or unwilling to protect the respondent...” Without such concession in her case, Judge Hayward found that country reports and Mexican law itself were sufficient to establish that the government was unable or unwilling to protect the respondent even under the heightened standard expressed by the former AG in Matter of A-B-.
As I stated in an earlier article, immigration judges have received no guidance or training from EOIR in analyzing domestic violence claims in the aftermath of Matter of A-B-. As a result, some immigration judges remain uncertain as to whether the law allows them to grant such claims at present. It is hoped that these decisions will serve as a useful template for judges. It seems particularly instructive that one such decision was issued by Judge Nadkarni, a management-level judge who supervises all immigration judges sitting in the Arlington, Batavia, Buffalo, and Charlotte Immigration Courts, as well as the Headquarters court which hears cases remotely by televideo. Judge Nadkarni is the direct boss of V. Stuart Couch, the Charlotte-based immigration judge whose refusal to grant asylum as directed by the BIA in Matter of A-B- led to the former Attorney General’s certifying that case to himself.
Congratulations to attorneys Kelly Engel Wells of Delores Street Community Services and Mark Stevens of Murray Osorio PLLC for successfully representing the asylum applicants.
In light of these decisions, and in the absence of guidance from EOIR, our group of former immigration judges and BIA members would be happy to provide sitting judges with outside training and resources on this topic. Interested judges may contact me, and perhaps we can set up group training sessions for furloughed judged during the present shutdown.
See, e.g. Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388, 395, n. 16, acknowledging the argument of amici “that gender alone should be enough to constitute a particular social group in this matter,” but declining to reach the issue.
Copyright 2019 Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.