On June 11, 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a precedential opinion in Matter of A-B- overruling the Matter of A-R-C-G- landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which had recognized that domestic violence survivors may be eligible for asylum protection.
The road to this decision was nontraditional, to say the least. In March of 2018, Jeff Sessions certified the unpublished BIA decision in Matter of A-B- to himself. Ms. A-B- had fled El Salvador after suffering domestic abuse by her husband. Initially, the immigration judge who heard Ms. A-B-’s case denied her asylum application. However, Ms. A-B- appealed and the BIA applied its landmark decision Matter of A-R-C-G to reverse the judge’s denial of asylum. Attorney General Jeff Sessions then personally intervened in Ms. A-B-’s case, overruling Matter of A-R-C-G- and making sweeping and prejudicial statements about elements of asylum that were not even at issue in Matter of A-R-C-G- or Matter of A-B-.
Seven months have passed since that decision, and immigration practitioners and advocates have a better sense of how Matter of A-B- has been implemented and the various trends that have emerged at all levels of adjudication. We know that the impact of this decision has been devastating. Jeff Sessions’ decision to overturn Matter of A-R-C-G – and to make broad generalizations about domestic violence, gang violence, and other violence at the hands of non-state actors – has placed countless victims of domestic and other violence into the crosshairs, endangering their lives. Practitioners across the country have noticed the application of heightened legal and evidentiary standards, and even the systematic and categorical denial of asylum claims involving domestic and gang violence. Although these claims face an uncertain future, they are still winnable. Victims should continue to apply for asylum, as their case may be granted—which would offer them the protections and stability they so desperately need. It is up to us as their lawyers to continue fighting for our clients and to present the strongest legal arguments and strategies to continue winning asylum for these deserving applicants.
During a webinar on February 6th, the AILA Asylum Committee and the Immigration Justice Campaign will team up with advocates from the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), and Justice for Our Neighbors to unpack Matter of A-B- and to discuss what’s next in Matter of A-B- and the litigation challenging it in federal court, including the case of Grace v. Whitaker. In addition to these case updates, we will discuss how Matter of A-B- has been applied and the various trends that have developed, as well as provide strategies for representing asylum-seeking clients in the post-A-B- world.
In the words of Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The safety of the people shall be the highest law.” Together, AILA, the American Immigration Council, the Justice Campaign, and our partners are working each and every day to protect asylum seekers fleeing danger in their countries, neighborhoods, and within their own households. Last June, a politically-appointed individual in a position of immense power made a biased decision in violation of due process that has and will continue to upend the lives of countless vulnerable asylum-seekers, sending them back to the hands of their persecutors. Practitioners need to know where things stand so they can stand beside their clients.