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Laws current as of December 17, 2020

Is being a woman enough to prove I am part of a "particular social group?"

In order to prove membership in a “particular social group,” it is important to know that our asylum system does not consistently acknowledge “women” and “gender” as “social groups.” Courts in different parts of the country disagree on whether “women in [country]” can be recognized as a particular social group for the purpose of asylum. You should talk to your lawyer about what the law in your area requires to demonstrate your membership in a particular social group.

Alternatively, victims of abuse may show they are in a smaller “social group” than all women in their country; but our asylum system keeps changing its mind on what people must show to be in a “social group.” This makes it very hard to do an asylum application on your own, and it is one reason why you must work with an attorney who is up-to-date on the latest government policies and federal cases. It is also why you may want to talk to your lawyer about whether you were abused or raped because of, for instance, your political opinion, race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.1 Even if you can show this, however, you will also have to show:

  • how your identity or opinion was known to the perpetrator;
  • that this is why you were abused or sexually assaulted; and
  • that your government would not or could not protect you. Note: This last requirement is an example of a requirement that was added by our government and is not in the statute.

Note: Despite the disagreement about whether “women” can establish a particular social group, courts and the asylum system agree that LGBTQ+ identity or “imputed identity” is a sufficient basis for a particular social group.2 This is important because sexual violence is a common type of persecution faced by members of these groups. For more information about your rights as an LGBTQ+ or HIV-positive asylum seeker, see the Immigration Equality website.

1 Compare Perdomo v. Holder, 611 F.3d 662 (9th Cir. 2010) (upholding gender based particular social group of “women in Guatemala”) with Chavez-Chilel v. Att’y Gen, 20 F.4th 138 (3d Cir. 2021) (rejecting “Guatemalan women” as a particular social group)
2 See Matter of Toboso-Alfonso, 20 I&N Dec. 819 (BIA 1994)