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Asylum: The Family that Suffers Together, Stays Together

Posted by attorney Elizabeth Blandon

Asylum applicants must establish that the harm they would suffer is based on their race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or particular social group (“PSG"). Because family bonds are probably the strongest ties that keep members in a group, we argue that it is a credible ground for asylum. The following arguments can be raised when foreign nationals fear harm based on their family:

Political Opinion: Foreigners need not actually possess a political opinion to win asylum. They only need to prove that the political opinion was attributed to them by someone who wanted to harm them. This is known as the doctrine of imputed political opinion. Applicant may prove that as a result of their family’s political opinion, they were targeted because someone believed they shared this political opinion with their family. This argument has been very successful.

Particular Social Group: A person may apply for asylum because they experienced or fear persecution in their home country because they belong to a PSG. Although the argument that a family is a PSG has found little success in the federal courts of appeal, it has been successful at the Board of Immigration Appeals level. As a result, Immigration Judges agree to this argument and grant asylum based on it.

In Matter of Acosta, the Board of Immigration Appeals stated that “family" may be one of the characteristics used to define a PSG. In Aguirre-Cervantes v. INS, the ninth circuit found that a woman was part of a PSG with her immediate family. In this case, the woman had been abused for many years by her father. Her family, whom she lived with, had been subject to abuse by him as well. The Court found that her family did qualify as a PSG and that she was persecuted as a result of that membership. However, this decision was later vacated.

Because the law on this issue is in flux, each case must be examined carefully on its own facts. It is the opinion of this author that family membership does constitute a PSG because the family is the first group any individual belongs to. No group is more clearly defined.

Although the author is a Board-certified immigration expert, this guide is intended as general information and not specific legal advice. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship. Schedule a consultation with an attorney to address individual concerns. For other information about asylum, see the author’s blog at

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