Saturday, July 20, 2019
Asylum cases involving domestic violence or gang-related violence already had high burdens to overcome, but in the summer of 2018, their underlying theories were inverted and pulled out from underneath them with Matter of A-B-. The case involved a woman who had sought asylum in the United States for persecution by her ex-husband on account of her being a member of the particular social group of “El Salvadoran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationships where they have children in common.” Matter of A-B- narrowed the possible protected grounds for asylum and overruled BIA precedent that recognized certain survivors of gender-based domestic violence as meriting asylum. This decision also departed from precedent to severely restrict who would be recognized as persecutors.
United States’ asylum law was originally designed to protect against persecution committed by a government actor. However, it has long included that someone fleeing harm by a nongovernment actor could be granted asylum, assuming she met the other elements of asylum, if she could demonstrate that her home country’s government was unable or unwilling to protect her from this nongovernmental harm. Matter of A-B- purportedly raised that “unable or unwilling” standard to require that a government had “condoned” the nongovernmental or private harm or had demonstrated a “complete helplessness” to protect against it.
This Article challenges Matter of A-B-’s claims and suggests ways to demonstrate when actions and harms by nongovernment actors are not individual private crimes but products of systemic and cultural norms that are at the very least tolerated by the home country’s government. A central question in evaluating whether a government was unable or unwilling to control a nongovernment actor is whether the nongovernment actor has some de facto power of the state. For applicants, advocates, and adjudicators to analyze when a nongovernment actor has some de facto state power, this Article provides a robust set of factors to evaluate both when a nongovernment actor has usurped that power and when the government delegated or abdicated that power.