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Immigrants Rights Attorney Discusses Changes To Asylum Rules Related To Family Ties


The Justice Department has changed the rules for asylum-seekers. Before, migrants could file for asylum if they feared persecution because of family ties. Now people can be sent back to their home countries, even if they have a legitimate fear that someone will kill them because of who they're related to. To talk more about the impact of this decision, we are joined by Andrea Lino. She is a staff attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, and she represents many asylum-seekers.



SHAPIRO: Can you start by explaining what this family ties category means for asylum claims? We often hear about people seeking asylum because of their religious beliefs or political affiliation or race. What is this category of family ties?

LINO: Yes. So basically, when you apply for asylum, you need to show that the persecution - so the harm that you suffer - was on account of one of the protected grounds. And one of these protected grounds is particular social group, and family has been recognized as a particular social group over the years - has been since 1985. And the federal court of appeals had recognized that. And that is just one of the elements. Everyone has a family. You need to show that the harm was on account of that family membership.

SHAPIRO: So this family group status had been a protected category for more than 30 years. On Monday, the attorney general announced that it would no longer be. And then Tuesday, the day after - just yesterday - you were in immigration court, representing a client who planned to make an asylum claim based on family ties.

First, tell me about that case. And then what actually happened when you were in court yesterday?

LINO: So I cannot talk specifically about the case because this is still ongoing...

SHAPIRO: I understand.

LINO: But one of our legal arguments is that my client suffered persecution on account of her relationship with one of her family members. It was the gang wanted to harm her because of her relationship with some of her members of her family.

And we lost yesterday. We don't know the exact reasons. But based on the line of questionings that the judge was asking my client, it seems that he is pretty much seeing that family as a particular social group has changed per the attorney general decision on Monday, which is very problematic because it's ignoring years of years of precedent recognizing family as a particular social group.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you. A lot of people suffer all kinds of harm for all kinds of reasons, and asylum has always been limited to certain groups. Not everybody who is suffering death threats will be granted asylum.

Why do you think it's so important that one of those groups include family status?

LINO: So that's a good question. This is international treaty, right? For human rights purposes, someone who is suffering persecution based on their race or their religion, that's just such a human right that these people should be protected. But then people who are homosexuals or transgender or people who have testified in court, they're not protected in many, many, many countries around the world.

So with this particular social group definition, we can include small groups of people. And that's why family has been recognized under the law for many years because people suffers in many places because of their family membership.

SHAPIRO: When you heard about this policy change on Monday, knowing that you had a case in court on Tuesday where you were going to try to make an argument of family membership, what went through your head?

LINO: It's just, like, bad luck. It's just - every day, something can happen with this administration. Every day, we come to the office, and we find that another decision was made or that there's another new policy that the president is trying to do in another country to try to affect asylum-seekers.

So it's just - if this hearing would have been two days ago, the outcome might have been different. And this is just - when we are talking about someone's life, it's devastating.

SHAPIRO: Andrea Lino is a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

LINO: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.