Through the Eyes of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: A New Class of Refugee/Asylum Status

  • What is the Basis for Asylum Status?

There are five qualifying categories:

  1. Race
  2. Religion
  3. Nationality
  4. Membership in a particular social group
  5. Political opinion
  • What is the Distinction Between Refugee and Asylum Status?

People outside of the United States must apply for refugee status.

People who have already made it to the United States border or the interior can apply for asylum status.

  • New “Kids on the Block”

Domestic violence represents a relatively new basis for asylum based on the constantly evolving category of “membership in a particular social group.”

LGBT refugee and asylum applications are rooted most frequently in the “membership in a particular social group” category noted above. There are many jurisdictions that recognize that homosexuals may constitute a particular social group; this also may extend to bisexuals and transgender individuals, albeit less commonly.

Federal circuit courts In the U.S. have ruled consistently that individuals persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are protected under the Refugee Act.

  • Note However

Would-be immigrants fleeing criminal violence generally are not eligible for political asylum.

  • New Precedent for Relief?

Given the dramatic surge in crossings, the UN has been pushing for changes in refugee designation. Of the more than 52,000 unaccompanied children apprehended since October, three-fourths are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Known as Central America’s Northern Triangle, these countries are plagued by rampant violence, drug trafficking, gangs and criminal enterprises, extreme violence, and a host of human rights violations.

As troubling as the huge increase in crossings has been, consider that “immigration experts in the U.S. and Central America say the flow of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador is likely to rise as the two countries experience more gang-related violence.” See:

The U.S., of course, is not bound by any United Nations resolutions, but the criteria for “membership in a particular social group” seem to be satisfied. In this case the “social group” consists of a group of people who fear for their lives because of criminal groups that the government is unable or unwilling to control.

See a very good primer, Asylum Basics: Elements of Asylum Law:


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