Every year, immigrants come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution and a new life. Nearly 30,000 asylum seekers came to the United States in 2019. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows members of particular social groups to enter the U.S. and apply for asylum, but what does this mean, and who does it apply to?
What Is a Particular Social Group?
Individuals suffering persecution due to the following characteristics are eligible for asylum:
- Membership in a particular social group
- Political opinion
Applicants can include spouses and unmarried children under 21 on their application. Membership in a particular social group (PSG) is the most challenging characteristic to define, and immigration officers and judges define this term in different ways.
Generally, a PSG is a group of people whose government views them as a threat. These people usually share common characteristics that are fundamental to their identity. These characteristics are taught, like political opinion, inherited, like race or nationality, or innate, like a shared experience.
Military and police members often fall into the last category because they have shared experiences in war, civil unrest, or other situations. They may also be targeted by other groups and persecuted for their shared experiences.
Particular Social Groups in Other Countries
Unfortunately, because PSG is loosely defined, the identity of a PSG may vary by region or country, depending on their circumstances. It’s not enough to be a member of a social group; there must be evidence of persecution or reasonable fear of future persecution.
For example, in 2006, the Mexican government declared war against narcotraffickers (Narcos) to fight back against drug violence. At the time, more than 2,000 Mexican police officers lost their lives in the fight against the Narcos. In addition to their shared experiences as police officers, these individuals also endured persecution because of their membership in a particular social group – Mexican police.
In this case, there is ample evidence to show that there was reasonable fear of persecution and public persecution against police. In particular, former members of the police have been targeted by the Narcos, who the government is unable to control. These former police officers are sufficiently defined and their identities are distinct from other professions. They are also highly visible in society as members of law enforcement. Therefore, those who may have fled to the U.S. qualify for asylum based on these grounds.
The ever-changing nature of social groups makes interpretation of the law difficult, and many asylum seekers may encounter challenges when applying. It is best to include evidence that clearly shows that you qualify for asylum because of persecution due to your membership in a PSG.
Applying for Asylum
The application process for asylum is tedious, so you should always consult an experienced attorney before navigating immigration to the United States.
To file for asylum, you must complete Form I-589 along with any evidence and supporting documents that prove that you are a member of a PSG. You must submit your Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal within one year of your arrival. There is no filing fee, and applicants under 12 do not need to be fingerprinted. All applicants will undergo a series of background checks to determine eligibility for asylum.
If you are applying for asylum, you likely feel isolated and fearful of your future. The asylum application process is complicated and can quickly become frustrating. Always consult a licensed attorney before you apply for asylum in the United States.
Contact the Law Offices of Yifei He, PLLC, for legal counsel regarding asylum, immigration, and particular social groups.