IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Garland overturns two Trump-era rules that made it hard for immigrants to win asylum

An order by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had made it difficult for victims of domestic violence or gang violence to qualify for asylum.
Image: Migrants from Central America walk across the Paso del Norte international border bridge in Ciudad Juarez
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent speaks with migrants from Central America before they cross the Paso del Norte international border bridge toward the U.S. in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Tuesday.Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated two Trump-era immigration orders Wednesday that had made it difficult for many immigrants entering the U.S. to win their asylum cases.

Garland said in a statement that immigration court judges should ignore both decisions until they undergo a rulemaking process with public comment.

The first, known as the Matter of A-B, issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, made it nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence or gang violence to qualify for asylum. Sessions had said women unable to leave violent relationships did not count as a "particular social group" under the definition of asylum.

The second decision Garland vacated, the matter of L-E-A, issued by former Attorney General William Barr in 2019, said that membership in a nuclear family did not qualify as a social group and that therefore people whose families were threatened did not qualify.

Both decisions, made through the attorney general's unique "certification" power, had wide-reaching implications for immigrants seeking to stay in the U.S.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a memo Wednesday that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are involved in a rulemaking process to "determine the circumstances in which a person should be considered a member of a 'particular social group.'"

Until then, Garland and Gupta advised, immigration judges should rule as they did before the orders were issued.

Immigration courts, unlike the rest of the federal court system, fall under the direction of the Justice Department, and attorneys general have the power to reverse immigration judges' decisions and set precedent.

The Trump administration's attorneys general used certification to alter large parts of the immigration system without writing new laws or regulations, issuing more than 10 such decisions in four years.

Vacating the two Trump-era orders is Garland's first use of the certification power.

Adiel Kaplan contributed.