In re A-B

Decision Date11 June 2018
Docket NumberInterim Decision #3929
Citation27 I&N Dec. 316
PartiesMatter of A-B-, Respondent
CourtU.S. DOJ Board of Immigration Appeals

(1)Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 338 (BIA 2014) is overruled. That decision was wrongly decided and should not have been issued as a precedential decision.

(2)An applicant seeking to establish persecution on account of membership in a "particular social group" must demonstrate: (1) membership in a group, which is composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, is defined with particularity, and is socially distinct within the society in question; and (2) that membership in the group is a central reason for her persecution. When the alleged persecutor is someone unaffiliated with the government, the applicant must also show that her home government is unwilling or unable to protect her.

(3)An asylum applicant has the burden of showing her eligibility for asylum. The applicant must present facts that establish each element of the standard, and the asylum officer, immigration judge, or the Board has the duty to determine whether those facts satisfy all of those elements.

(4)If an asylum application is fatally flawed in one respect, an immigration judge or the Board need not examine the remaining elements of the asylum claim.

(5)The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.

(6)To be cognizable, a particular social group must exist independently of the harm asserted in an application for asylum.

(7)An applicant seeking to establish persecution based on violent conduct of a private actor must show more than the government's difficulty controlling private behavior. The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.

(8)An applicant seeking asylum based on membership in a particular social group must clearly indicate on the record the exact delineation of any proposed particular social group.

(9)The Board, immigration judges, and all asylum officers must consider, consistent with the regulations, whether internal relocation in the alien's home country presents a reasonable alternative before granting asylum.


On March 7, 2018, I directed the Board of Immigration Appeals ("Board") to refer for my review its decision in this matter, see 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), and I invited the parties and any interested amici to submit briefs addressing questions relevant to that certification. Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (A.G. 2018). Specifically, I sought briefing on whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable "particular social group" for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.

For the reasons set forth in the accompanying opinion, I vacate the Board's December 6, 2016 decision and remand this case to the immigration judge for further proceedings. Consistent with the test developed by the Board over the past several decades, an applicant seeking to establish persecution on account of membership in a "particular social group" must satisfy two requirements. First, the applicant must demonstrate membership in a group, which is composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, is defined with particularity, and is socially distinct within the society in question. And second, the applicant's membership in that group must be a central reason for her persecution. When, as here, the alleged persecutor is someone unaffiliated with the government, the applicant must show that flight from her country is necessary because her home government is unwilling or unable to protect her.

Although there may be exceptional circumstances when victims of private criminal activity could meet these requirements, they must satisfy established standards when seeking asylum. Such applicants must establish membership in a particular and socially distinct group that exists independently of the alleged underlying harm, demonstrate that their persecutors harmed them on account of their membership in that group rather than for personal reasons, and establish that the government protection from such harm in their home country is so lacking that their persecutors' actions can be attributed to the government. Because Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I&N Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), recognized a new particular social group without correctly applying these standards, I overrule that case and any other Board precedent to the extent those other decisions are inconsistent with the legal conclusions set forth in this opinion.


The Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") authorizes the Attorney General to grant asylum if an alien is unable or unwilling to return to her country of origin because she has suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(42)(A), 1158(b)(1)(a), (b)(i). A recurring question in asylum law is determining whether alleged persecution was based on their membership in a "particular social group." Over the past thirty years, this question has recurred frequently before the Board and the courts of appeals, and the standard has evolved over time.

The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her—either directly through its own actions or indirectly by being unwilling or unable to prevent the misconduct of non-government actors—based upon a statutorily protected ground. Where the persecutor is not part of the government, the immigration judge must consider both the reason for the harm inflicted on the asylum applicant and the government's role in sponsoring or enabling such actions. An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances. Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune. It applies when persecution arises on account of membership in a protected group and the victim may not find protection except by taking refuge in another country.

The INA does not define "persecution on account of . . . membership in a particular social group." The Board first addressed the term in Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 233 (BIA 1985), where it interpreted a "particular social group" in a manner consistent with the other four grounds of persecution identified in section 1101(a)(42)(A)—race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. Id. The Board concluded that a "particular social group" required a "group of persons all of whom share a common, immutable characteristic" that "the members of the group either cannot change, or should not be required to change because it is fundamental to their individual identities or consciences." Id. The Board noted that the "shared characteristic might be an innate one such as sex, color, or kinship ties, or in some circumstances, it might be a shared past experience such as former military leadership or land ownership." Id.

In Matter of R-A-, 22 I&N Dec. 906, 917-23 (BIA 1999) (en banc), the Board considered whether a victim of domestic violence could establish refugee status as a member of a particular social group consisting of similarly situated women. The Board held that the mere existence of shared circumstances would not turn those possessing such characteristics into a particular social group. Id. at 919. Rather, the members of a particular social group must not merely share an immutable characteristic, but must also be recognized as a distinct group in the alien's society, id. at 918-19, and the persecution must be motivated by membership in that social group, id. at 919-22. Attorney General Reno vacated that decision for reconsideration inlight of a proposed regulation, see 22 I&N Dec. 906, 906 (A.G. 2001), but no final rule ever issued, and the case was eventually resolved in 2009 without further consideration by the Board. Despite the vacatur of R-A-, both the Board and the federal courts have continued to treat its analysis as persuasive.

In the years after Matter of R-A-, the Board refined the legal standard for particular social groups. By 2014, the Board had clarified that applicants for asylum seeking relief based on "membership in a particular social group" must establish that their purported social group is "(1) composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2) defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within the society in question." Matter of M-E-V-G, 26 I&N Dec. 227, 237 (BIA 2014). Applicants must also show that their membership in the particular social group was a central reason for their persecution. See 8 U.S.C. § 1158(b)(1)(B)(i); Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208, 224 (BIA 2014). Where an asylum applicant claims that the persecution was inflicted by private conduct, she must also establish that the government was unable or unwilling to protect her. See, e.g., Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. at 222.

Later that year, the Board decided A-R-C-G-, which recognized "married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship" as a particular social group—without performing the rigorous analysis required by the Board's precedents. 26 I&N Dec. at 389; see id. at 390-95. Instead, the Board accepted the concessions by the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") that the respondent suffered harm rising to the level of past persecution, that she was a member of a qualifying particular social group, and that her membership in that group was a central reason for her persecution. Id. at 395.

I do not believe A-R-C-G- correctly applied the Board's precedents, and I now overrule it. The opinion has caused confusion because it recognized an...

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