Our Work » Litigation » Matter of L-E-A-

Matter of L-E-A-

Case Status: 

En español aquí

27 I&N Dec. 581 (A.G. 2019)

UPDATE: After nearly two years of hard-fought litigation and advocacy, on June 16, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated the Matter of L-E-A- ruling, restoring critical pathways to protection for refugee families.

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it?

In July 2019 the Attorney General intervened to overrule a 2017 Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision in the same case that had recognized that immediate family members form a “particular social group” under U.S. law. The Attorney General wrote that most nuclear families, including the applicant’s family, do not qualify as particular social groups. Breaking from decades of precedent and the agency’s longstanding position, the Attorney General posited that only certain very well-known families, those with “greater societal import,” might fit within this category.

We are helping to challenge this ruling because it contradicts the statutory text and Congressional intent as well as BIA and federal appellate court case law going back to 1985. It is also inconsistent with the guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Matter of L-E-A- is a critical case for asylum seekers, especially those from Central America, since gangs often target the family members of the people they have originally singled out. With this decision, the administration is attempting to cut off that avenue for protection.

What’s the status of this case?

Mr. L.E.A. is back fighting his case before the immigration court. Meanwhile, attorneys are litigating challenges to L-E-A- and the BIA’s application of the decision to deny protection in their cases before the federal courts of appeals.

Whose life is at stake?

The asylum applicant is Mr. L.E.A., whose father was a small businessman in Mexico who refused to sell illegal drugs at his neighborhood store when asked to do so by La Familia Michoacana, a criminal cartel. Members of the cartel fired shots at Mr. L.E.A. Later, they asked Mr. L.E.A. himself to sell the drugs at his father’s store. He refused, and shortly afterward, cartel members attempted to kidnap him. Fearing that the cartel would kill him, he fled.

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies appeared as amicus (friend of the court) in this case. We filed amicus briefs before the BIA in 2016 in the original case, and before the Attorney General in 2019 when he certified it to himself for consideration. The applicant is represented by CLINIC and Mei F. Chen.

How can you help?

Take the #WelcomeWithDignity pledge and join our movement to defend the right to seek asylum. 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

CGRS has produced several resources to support attorneys litigating family-based asylum claims post-Matter of L-E-A-. Click here to request the most recent advisories relevant to your client’s case.

Legal Documents

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

Attorney General Decision in Matter of L-E-A-, July 29, 2019

CGRS amicus brief to the Attorney General in Matter of L-E-A-, March 13, 2019

CGRS amicus brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of L-E-A-, March 7, 2016

Please visit CLINIC’s website for additional relevant documents.

Press Releases

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

Trump administration Attempts to Eliminate Asylum Based on Family Group in Latest Attack | Jul 30, 2019

Select Media Coverage

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

“U.S. attorney general says fear of reprisals over threats to family not reason for asylum,” Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 2019


Photo credit: Brooke Anderson Photography