On June 16, 2021, the US Attorney General announced two legal changes that could allow domestic violence and gang violence victims to receive asylum protection in the United States.
A former attorney general had stated that “victims of private criminal activity” - including victims of gang violence and domestic violence - can NOT qualify for asylum except under exceptional circumstances. Additionally, a 2019 attorney general decision made it nearly impossible for individuals to receive asylum protection from violence targeting their families.
The Attorney General’s recent announcement reversed those two decisions, opening a possible legal pathway to humanitarian protection for many individuals fleeing horrific violence.
Uncontrolled gangs and criminal groups place some central American countries among the most dangerous in the world. In Honduras - a country with a population less than that of the state of Georgia - there were 3,496 homicides last year. These countries also have some of the highest femicide rates in the world.
Laws that protect women from domestic violence are rarely enforced. Even children are targets of violence. Many are threatened, harmed, or killed if they or their family members refuse to participate in gang violence and other criminal activity.
In addition to meeting other requirements, individuals fleeing violence can only qualify for US asylum protection if they were harmed or threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.” Often, those persecuted by gangs or by abusive spouses, parents, or partners can only receive asylum if they are members of a particular social group.
According to the Attorney General, defining “particular social group'' is a job that should be done by the Department of Homeland Security in response to public input - not something that an attorney general should decide on his own. In coming months, the Department of Homeland Security will provide further clarification on asylum requirements.