Debevoise and HRF Secure Withholding of Removal and Asylum for Central American Clients, a Significant Win for Victims of Domestic and Gang-Related Violence and Their Family Members Post Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A-

31 December 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, with support from Human Rights First, successfully obtained withholding of removal for Ms. F, a 29-year-old woman from a Central American country, and asylum for Ms. M, her eleven-year old daughter. 

Ms. F suffered verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her ex-partner, a member of a notorious Central American gang.  Her attempts to extricate herself from the situation resulted in her ex-partner and his fellow gang members threatening her and her family members’ lives, including her then three-year-old daughter Ms. M.  After first being turned away from the U.S. border in 2014, Ms. F decided in the summer of 2015 to make the journey to the U.S. yet again, this time taking Ms. M with her.

Human Rights First referred the case to Debevoise in 2016, when the legal team filed an application for withholding of removal for Ms. F, due to the fact that she was precluded from asylum because of her past deportation, and an asylum application for Ms. M.  After years of waiting for their claims to be heard due to procedural and Covid-related delays, the merits hearing finally took place in December.

At the hearing, the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) found that Ms. F had demonstrated both past persecution on account of her membership in a particular social group (“PSG”)—women from the relevant Central American country claimed as property by a major gang—as well as a credible fear of future persecution on the same basis.  The IJ accordingly granted Ms. F withholding of removal.  Additionally, Ms. M was granted asylum after finding that she had sufficiently demonstrated past persecution on account of her membership in a PSG—immediate relatives of Ms. F—and also a credible fear of future persecution for the same.  Notably, these outcomes would have been unlikely under the past administration’s precedent, as the holdings in Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A- made it more difficult to obtain relief based on domestic or gang-related violence by a non-governmental actor or familial ties, respectively.  Attorney General Garland reversed those decisions in June 2021, and Ms. F and Ms. M’s cases demonstrate the real-life implications of those reversals. 

The Debevoise team was led by associates Taylor Norton, Christel Y. Tham, Erica Lewis, Raimundo Vives López, Sergio Torres, and Harold Williford, and supervised by partner William H. Taft and pro bono counsel Jennifer Cowan