U.S. Attorney General William Barr ruled Monday that that those who seek asylum because of a threat against another family member usually do not have enough of a reason to be granted asylum in the United States.
His decision was in regards to a case involving a Mexican man who sought asylum because his family was targeted after his father refused to let a drug cartel use the family store. That fear of endangerment traditionally has been the basis for legally recognizable claims for asylum.
He concluded that it wasn't in line with USA law which allows claims if someone is persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or belonging to a certain social group or political persuasion.
Unlike the federal judiciary, US immigration courts fall under Justice Department jurisdiction, and the attorney general can intervene in cases to set national legal precedent.
The decision is a continuation of tightening immigration and migration rules at the southern border since Trump has taken office.
The courts have always seen families as a "quintessential" social group, said Hillary Walsh, immigration lawyer.
Barr on Monday announced he was no longer allowing members of a family to be considered a "social group" if their lives are threatened simply because they are related to someone.
"The fact that a criminal group - such as a drug cartel, gang, or guerrilla force - targets a group of people does not, standing alone, transform those people into a particular social group", he argued.
Barr said an asylum seeker's family should be distinct "in the eyes of its society, not just those of its alleged persecutor".
Jeremy McKinney, a vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called Barr's ruling "a poorly reasoned decision from an administration that seems intent on ending legal asylum". A federal judge temporarily blocked that policy last week, but in a separate action Monday the Justice Department said it would seek an emergency appeal.
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