Attorney General Denies U.S. Benefits to Alien Persecutors

Press Releases

November 6, 2020

Agreeing with IRLI, upholds “persecution bar” to asylum

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the Attorney General overruled a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals that granted asylum to aliens who participated in the persecution of others in their home countries. Agreeing with an amicus brief filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the Attorney General kept in place the bar on granting asylum or similar relief to persecutors—the so-called “persecution bar”—and to reject the Board’s exception for those who only persecuted others under duress.

The alien in this case, a dual citizen of Eritrea and Ethiopia, was imprisoned by Eritrea, after being drafted into its military, because he refused to fight against Ethiopia. The alien claims that when he later became a prison guard for Eritrea, he tortured political prisoners by, among other things, making them stand in the sun for long periods, and that one man died from this treatment. The alien claims, however, that he acted under duress when he engaged in his acts of persecution.

The persecution bar has never been interpreted to have a duress exception. As IRLI showed in its brief, no such exception appears in or seems implied by the asylum statute. Nevertheless, the Board had relied on treaty interpretations by international bodies to read a duress exception into the statue. As IRLI pointed out, however, these international interpretations came decades after Congress passed the persecution bar, and so are useless in determining congressional intent.

IRLI also argued that, because asylum comes with generous benefits—including potential U.S. citizenship—persecutors, even those who acted under some degree of duress, do not deserve such relief, and because other laws already forbid the government to return even persecutors to countries where they will be tortured, creating a duress exception to the persecution bar is unnecessary.

“We are pleased with the Attorney General’s decision,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Our asylum system is meant to provide many aliens a refuge from persecution. It would turn that system on its head to grant asylum to those who have committed persecution, even if a degree of duress was involved. We’re not going to send wiling or unwilling prison camp guards back to be tortured, but we shouldn’t be giving them the privilege of U.S. citizenship, either.”

The case is Matter of Daniel Girmai Negusie, 27 I&N Dec. 481 (A.G. 2018). 

For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

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