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

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.

“Garland overturns two Trump-era rules that made it hard for immigrants to win asylum,” by Julia Ainsley, July 16, 2021. Available at:

Matter of A-B-, 28 I&N Dec. 307 (A.G. 2021) Interim Decision #4019. Available at:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE CIVIL DIVISION, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Associate Attorney General, Impact of Attorney General decisions in Matter of L-E-A- and Matter of A-B-, June 16, 2021. Available at:



Much too often, we hear about an undocumented victim who suffered from domestic or other abuse but never reported it to the authorities –  until it was too late and something far worse happened. And all because they were afraid that the authorities would deport them as soon as they told their story.

But if you’re an undocumented immigrant in Texas and the victim of a violent crime, there is no need for you to suffer alone. Thanks to a much-needed piece of legislation, Congress may have provided you with an opportunity to receive help and protection through the U-Visa.

In October 2000, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act and the Battered Women’s Immigrant Protection Act. With the passage of these two laws, the U-Visa was born and has since helped tens of thousands of migrant women and men to receive temporary legal status while U.S. law enforcement officers worked to investigate and prosecute the criminals who harmed them. It’s often a win-win situation for both victims and law enforcement agencies alike.

How the U-Visa Works

More technically known as the ‘U Nonimmigrant Visa’, the U-Visa was designed to protect non-citizen victims of criminal activity, regardless of what their immigration status is. So, even if you’re a completely undocumented immigrant, the U-Visa may still provide you with protection from deportation. In fact, you can even have a current deportation order and still apply for the U-Visa if you meet the eligibility requirements discussed below.

What the U-Visa does is provides you with temporary legal status for a four-year period. During that period, you’re expected to cooperate with law enforcement to help investigate the crimes against you. After three years, you can apply for permanent residence status, even if the crime has already been solved or the case against your perpetrator closed. If you don’t apply for permanent status by the end of the four-year period, then your temporary protection expires and you’ll be expected to return to your native nation. However, if you follow the rules and cooperate with law enforcement, there should be no need for that to happen.

The real benefit of the U-Visa is that it can provide you with several layers of protection.  If your perpetrator is your husband or significant other, for example, you will not be required by law to leave or divorce them in order to qualify for the U-Visa. Also, if the perpetrator is not convicted, your temporary legal status will still be protected. In other words, if the offender is found innocent or the charges are dismissed, your temporary legal status won’t just suddenly end. The entire point of the U-Visa is to protect you from deportation so that you can cooperate with and help the authorities. As long as you’re cooperating, regardless of the outcome of the case, your temporary status will stay intact for the full four years.

Your privacy will also be protected. Your application for a U-Visa won’t be public record so the offender won’t have any way of finding out that you have protected status. Additionally, if you have unmarried children under the age of 21 or a spouse who is not the offender, you can apply for U-Visa’s for them, as well, so that there’s no fear of your family being separated.

Finally, during the four-year period, you will receive work authorization so that your ability to find legal employment is also protected.

U-Visa Eligibility

Eligibility for the U-Visa is very specific and you have to meet all of the requirements.

  • You have to be the victim of one of the qualifying criminal activities (discussed below).
  • As a result of the crime, you had to have suffered from physical or mental abuse and there must be documented proof of this.
  • One of the most important requirements is that you cooperate with law enforcement to help bring your offender to justice. This means that you must have some helpful information about the criminal activity that will be useful to the authorities. (Please understand that there are many factors to consider when determining whether or not your information is helpful.)
  • Finally, the criminal activity had to have occurred within U.S. territory or violated U.S. law.

Eligibility is dependent on the type of crime that occurred. Congress included a very specific list of the crimes which includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Domestic violence
  • Blackmail
  • Incest
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Torture
  • False imprisonment
  • Stalking
  • Human trafficking, and
  • Murder

It’s important to note here that indirect victims can also qualify for U-Visa status. That means that if you were not the direct victim of a crime, such as murder, but you’re immediately related to the victim and it’s affected you mentally, then you may still qualify for a U-Visa. Indirect victims may also receive protection if their significant other, child, parent or guardian, or immediate family member was rendered permanently incompetent as a result of the violent crime against them. This can be incredibly beneficial to family members who were dependent on the victims and now have to rethink their survival and way of life.

How to Apply

As with all immigration applications, the process is tedious but possible to get through. Your application packet will include five key elements and documents:

  • A complete Form I-918, Application for U Nonimmigrant Status.
  • Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. This is basically a signed and notarized affidavit describing and confirming that you have information about the crime and that you have been, will be, or could possibly be helpful in the criminal investigation. This must be signed by a qualifying member of law enforcement.
  • A personal statement describing the circumstances of the crime against you.
  • Any additional evidence you may have to help prove that you were a victim of one of the qualifying crimes.
  • If you’re inadmissible, you’ll also need to submit the I-192 waiver.

Getting Help

Very few immigration matters are quick and easy. It’s highly recommended that you contact our office for help and guidance if you’re an immigrant who’s the victim of a violent crime. Not only is your status in the U.S. at stake but so is your well-being and safety. The team of attorneys at Dallas Immigration Lawyers can advise you on your rights, prepare the application packet for you, and represent you during the application and review process. Inquire about our services for more information.