Our Work » Litigation » Matter of A-B-

Matter of A-B-

Case Status: 
Issue Area: 

27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018); 28 I&N Dec. 199 (A.G. 2021)

Following years of hard-fought litigation and advocacy, on June 16, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated the Matter of A-B- ruling, restoring critical pathways to protection for refugee survivors of gender-based violence and gang brutality.

What happened in this case and why did we challenge it?

The Trump administration’s Department of Justice issued several restrictive rulings that played a key role in the administration’s broader assault on our asylum system, immigrant rights, and women’s rights. Most notably, in June 2018 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided Matter of A-B-, which overturned the applicant’s grant of asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and vacated an earlier BIA precedent that had confirmed that domestic violence survivors could qualify for asylum in the United States. In Matter of A-B-, Sessions proclaimed that “generally” domestic violence cases should not be approved. The week before President Biden's inauguration, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen again intervened in Ms. A.B.'s case, further attemping to shut the door on women fleeing gender violence.

For over three years, we defended Ms. A.B.’s right to seek asylum and to have her case heard in a fair process that was not tainted by misogynistic, anti-immigrant bias. The Matter of A-B- decision harkened back to a dark period when violence against women was seen as a “private” issue. It was out of step with the practice of other asylum countries as well as the guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In addition to defending Ms. A.B. herself, we successfully challenged the use of Matter of A-B- in the initial screening interviews for “credible fear” at the border in Grace v. Barr. We also appeared as amicus (friend of the court) in several courts of appeals where domestic violence survivors’ cases have been denied on the basis of Matter of A-B-, where we contributed to victories limiting the reach of A-B- at the First and Ninth Circuits.

What’s the status of this case?

Due to the hard work of advocates standing up for the rights of women seeking asylum, President Biden pledged to restore asylum for domestic violence survivors and those fleeing gang bruality. And in one of his first Executive Orders directed the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to review our laws and ensure they align with the international obligations of the United States. We wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that he vacate the A-B- ruling and other rulings that undermined protections. Advocates, allies, and national leaders came together in strong support of that request, urging Garland to do the right thing.   

  • On May 7 over 350 human rights organizations, law school clinics, and practitioners sent a letter to Garland supporting that request

  • On May 13 Senator Dianne Feinstein also wrote to Garland, urging him to vacate the rulings in A-B- and L-E-A-.

  • On May 21 the New York City Bar Association’s Immigration and Nationality Law Committee wrote to Garland requesting he reverse Trump-era decisions that have curtailed access to asylum and undermined due process.

  • On May 25 the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges sent Garland a letter requesting that he review and rescind 17 Trump-era Attorney General decisions, including Matter of A-B-Matter of L-E-A-, and Matter of A-C-A-A-.

On June 16, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated his predecessor's decision, retoring protections for survivors. The Department of Homeland Security then joined our request for the Board of Immigration Appeals to grant her asylum, which it did, finally providing her the protection she deserves. Ms. AB is now petitioning for her children to join her who remain in El Salvador in harm's way. Due to the unjust treatment of her case, she has been separated from them for many years.

Whose life is at stake?

Ms. A.B. is a domestic violence survivor from El Salvador who endured fifteen years of brutal violence at the hands of her then-husband. She sought to escape her abuser by moving to another city in El Salvador, but he tracked her down. She also sought police assistance, to no avail. When she obtained a divorce, this only exacerbated his threats. Finally, she had no choice but to flee to the United States. Click here to hear Ms. A.B. tell her story in her own words. The outcome of her case impacts women like her who turn to the United States for safe haven. 

Watch organizer with Mujeres Unidas y Activas Blanca tell her story and what the victory in A-B- means for her by clicking here

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel, and at different stages in the case has worked together with Ben Winograd of the Immigrant and Refugee Appellate Center LCC and Andres Lopez. Several organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs at various states in this case including former immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals; the American Bar Association; Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Benedictine Sisters of the Federation of St. Scholastica, Conference of Benedictine Prioresses, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, HIAS, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Council of Jewish Women, National Justice for Our Neighbors, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Methodist Immigration Task Force, and World Relief; Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights First, and Kids in Need of Defense; Innovation Law Lab; National Immigrant Justice Center; Tahirih Justice Center, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, ASISTA Immigration Assistance, and Casa de Esperanza; and immigration law professors.  

How can you help?

  • Despite reversal of the regressive A-B- decision, asylum seekers still face an uphill battle to having their claims recognized. The Trump administration's legacy of policy's undermining our asylum system are still undermining protections for refugees in the United States. Learn more and take action at WelcomeWithDignity.org. 
  • You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information?

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Manager, at krongbrianna@uclawsf.edu.

Resources for Advocates

Press Releases

Advocates Urge Attorney General Garland to End Policies That Endanger Women and Families Seeking Asylum | June 11, 2021

Advocates and Asylum Seekers Urge Swift Action from Garland to Protect Women and Families Seeking Asylum | April 27, 2021

Federal Court Upholds Asylum for Domestic Violence Survivors | April 27, 2020

Groups Urge Trump administration to Halt Border Expulsions, Protect Domestic Violence Survivors | April 16, 2020

San Francisco, Los Angeles Leaders Call on Federal Government to Restore Asylum for Domestic Violence Survivors | November 22, 2019

CGRS Files Suit Seeking Information on Sessions’ Intervention in Matter of A-B-  | March 7, 2019

CGRS and HRW Release Video, Call on Government to Restore Protections for Domestic Violence Survivors | January 23, 2019

Attorney General Sessions Attempts to Close the Door to Women Refugees | June  11, 2018

Select Media Coverage

"Her case ended in a joyful airport reunion, but the future of asylum is uncertain," Joel Rose, NPR, March 20, 2023

"Asylum Seekers, Advocates Urge Garland to End Trump’s Cruel Policies Towards Survivors," Brianna Krong and Lourdes Martinez, Ms., May 18, 2021

"One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors," Karen Musalo and Steve Legomsky, The Hill, May 9, 2021

"Domestic Abuse Survivors Fear Deportation Under Trump Policy Biden Has Yet To Reverse," Joel Rose, NPR, April 30, 2021

"Immigrant Advocates Urge Biden Administration to End Trump Restrictions on Asylum for Domestic Violence Victims," Farida Jhabvala Romero, KQED, April 28, 2021

"Attorneys urge AG Merrick Garland to dump Trump's asylum restrictions," Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News, April 26, 2021

"As Trump Doubles Down, Courts Side with Immigrant Women Seeking Asylum," Blaine Bookey and Brianna Krong, Ms., August 21, 2020

“Trump administration claims victory in rulings on asylum restrictions, but courts differ,” Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 2020

“Here’s Why the Rejection Rate for Asylum Seekers Has Exploded in America’s Largest Immigration Court in NYC,” Paul Moses and Tim Healy, Daily Beast, December 2, 2019

“Woman Was Denied Asylum in U.S. While Fleeing Sexual and Physical Violence,” NowThis News, January 29, 2019

“As More Migrants Are Denied Asylum, An Abuse Survivor Is Turned Away,” Joel Rose, NPR, January 18, 2019

"They’re Refugees, Fleeing Gang Violence and Domestic Abuse. Why Won’t the Trump Administration Let Them In?," Laura Gottesdiener and John Washington, The Nation, November 28, 2018

“Trump Administration’s Limits On Asylum For Domestic Violence Put Guatemalan Women in Peril,” Cora Currier, The Intercept, November 2, 2018

Jeff Sessions Has Been Targeting Asylum-Seekers Fleeing Domestic Violence. It’s Been ‘Devastating,’” Noah Lanard, Mother Jones, July 26, 2018

“‘If they send me away, my life is gone’: Meet the U.S. asylum seekers at risk in new crackdown,” Matt Kwong, CBC News, June 13, 2018

“‘Back to the Dark Ages’: Sessions’s asylum ruling reverses decades of women’s rights progress, critics say,” Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, June 12, 2018

“Victims of Domestic Abuse, Gangs To Be Denied Asylum In U.S.,” Joel Rose, NPR, June 12, 2018

"This Salvadoran Woman Is At The Center Of The Attorney General's Asylum Crackdown," Joel Rose, NPR, May 22, 2018

"Her Husband Beat Her and Raped Her. Jeff Sessions Might Deport Her," Jane Fonda and Karen Musalo, New York Times, May 17, 2018

“A War on Women at the US Border,” Michelle Chen, The Nation, May 8, 2018

Legal Documents

Attorney General Merrick Garland Decision Vacating Matter of A-B-, June 16, 2021

Request for Vacatur to Attorney General Merrick Garland, April 13, 2021

Attorney General Rosen Decision in Matter of A-B-, January 14, 2021

Amicus Briefs to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of A-B-, January 2020

Respondent's Brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of A-B-, December 16, 2019

Attorney General Sessions Decision in Matter of A-B-, June 11, 2018

Respondent’s Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018

Amicus Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018

DHS Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018


Photo credit: Melissa Golden for NPR