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Matter of A-B-

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

What is the government doing and why are we challenging 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 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

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.

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.

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