By Alicia A. Caldwell and Louise Radnofsky
WASHINGTON—Attorney General William Barr is moving to cut off asylum for people whose claims are based on being related to persecuted family members in the Trump administration’s latest effort to restrict who is eligible to seek refugee status in the U.S.
Mr. Barr overturned a decision on Monday from the Board of Immigration Appeals, which had ruled that a Mexican man could apply for asylum on the basis of his father being targeted by a Mexican cartel.
Federal law gives the attorney general the authority to overrule the immigration appeals board’s decisions. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people Monday’s ruling could affect.
Asylum eligibility usually hinges on whether people are afraid to return to their country of origin because they face persecution on the basis of factors such as race, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Membership in a family, Mr. Barr said, didn’t count as membership in a social group that might make the Mexican man eligible for asylum.
“An applicant must establish that his specific family group is defined with sufficient particularity and is socially distinct in his society,” Mr. Barr said. “In the ordinary case, a family group will not meet that standard, because it will not have the kind of identifying characteristics that render the family socially distinct within the society in question.”
Immigrant-rights advocates have regularly accused the Trump administration of stretching its authority to change immigration policy in ways Congress wouldn’t allow.
David Leopold, an Ohio-based immigration lawyer, said he saw Mr. Barr’s latest ruling in that light.
“It’s kind of a surreptitious attempt to change the asylum law because they are not changing the law, they are prejudging the facts and that is not the job of the attorney general,” Mr. Leopold said.
The ruling expands on a similar decision from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Central American women who were the victims of domestic violence would no longer be considered members of a particular social group for purposes of asylum law. In that 2018 ruling, Mr. Sessions said domestic and gang violence constituted “private violence.”
In December, a federal judge blocked the administration from immediately disqualifying such asylum seekers and moving to quickly deport them.
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