Matter of A-B-

En español aquí

27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018); 28 I&N Dec. 199 (A.G. 2021)

UPDATE: The Trump administration used Matter of A-B- as a vehicle to undermine protections for people seeking refuge from domestic violence and gang brutality. CGRS and our partners are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to immediately vacate Matter of A-B- and related Trump-era rulings while the Biden administration engages in a more thorough review of asylum policy and rulemaking in this area, as directed in President Biden's February 2, 2021 Executive Order.

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it?

In June 2018 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided Matter of A-B-, which overturned the applicant’s grant of asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and vacated an earlier BIA precedent that had confirmed that domestic violence survivors could qualify for asylum in the United States. In Matter of A-B-, Sessions proclaimed that “generally” domestic violence cases should not be approved. The week before President Biden's inauguration, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen again intervened in Ms. A.B.'s case, further attemping to shut the door on women fleeing gender violence.

We are defending Ms. A.B.’s right to seek asylum and to have her case heard in a fair process that is not tainted by misogynistic, anti-immigrant bias. The Matter of A-B- decisions harken back to a dark period when violence against women was seen as a “private” issue. It is out of step with the practice of other asylum countries as well as the guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In addition to defending Ms. A.B. herself, we successfully challenged the use of Matter of A-B- in the initial screening interviews for “credible fear” at the border in Grace v. Barr. We're also appearing as amicus (friend of the court) in several courts of appeals where domestic violence survivors’ cases have been denied on the basis of Matter of A-B-, where we have contributed to recent victories at the First and Ninth Circuits.

What’s the status of this case?

Following Attorney General Session’s intervention in Ms. A.B.’s case, it was remanded back to the same (notoriously hostile) immigration judge, who denied her request for asylum a second time. The case was then appealed, eventually to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals before Acting Attorney General Rosen intervened in the waning days of the Trump administration and sent her case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals where it is currently pending. 

Whose life is at stake?

Ms. A.B. is a domestic violence survivor from El Salvador who endured fifteen years of brutal violence at the hands of her then-husband. She sought to escape her abuser by moving to another city in El Salvador, but he tracked her down. She also sought police assistance, to no avail. When she obtained a divorce, this only exacerbated his threats. Finally, she had no choice but to flee to the United States. Click here to hear Ms. A.B. tell her story in her own words.

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel, and at different stages in the case have worked together with Ben Winograd of the Immigrant and Refugee Appellate Center LCC and Andres Lopez. Several organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs in this case including former immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals; the American Bar Association; Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Benedictine Sisters of the Federation of St. Scholastica, Conference of Benedictine Prioresses, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, HIAS, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, National Council of Jewish Women, National Justice for Our Neighbors, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Methodist Immigration Task Force, and World Relief; Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights First, and Kids in Need of Defense; Innovation Law Lab; National Immigrant Justice Center; Tahirih Justice Center, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, ASISTA Immigration Assistance, and Casa de Esperanza; and immigration law professors.  

How can you help?

  • Sign our petition urging the government to stop turning back domestic violence survivors and all other asylum seekers at the border.
  • Learn more about how you can support the struggle to restore protections for survivors of domestic violence at
  • You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information?

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator, at

Legal Documents

Attorney General Sessions Decision in Matter of A-B-, June 11, 2018

Respondent’s Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018

Amicus Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018

DHS Briefs to the Attorney General in Matter of A-B-, Spring 2018

Attorney General Rosen Decision in Matter of A-B-, January 14, 2021

Resources for Advocates

Press Releases

Federal Court Upholds Asylum for Domestic Violence Survivors | April 27, 2020

Groups Urge Trump administration to Halt Border Expulsions, Protect Domestic Violence Survivors | April 16, 2020

San Francisco, Los Angeles Leaders Call on Federal Government to Restore Asylum for Domestic Violence Survivors | November 22, 2019

CGRS Files Suit Seeking Information on Sessions’ Intervention in Matter of A-B-  | March 7, 2019

CGRS and HRW Release Video, Call on Government to Restore Protections for Domestic Violence Survivors | January 23, 2019

Attorney General Sessions Attempts to Close the Door to Women Refugees | June  11, 2018

Select Media Coverage

"As Trump Doubles Down, Courts Side with Immigrant Women Seeking Asylum," Blaine Bookey and Brianna Krong, Ms., August 21, 2020

“Trump administration claims victory in rulings on asylum restrictions, but courts differ,” Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 2020

“Here’s Why the Rejection Rate for Asylum Seekers Has Exploded in America’s Largest Immigration Court in NYC,” Paul Moses and Tim Healy, Daily Beast, December 2, 2019

“Woman Was Denied Asylum in U.S. While Fleeing Sexual and Physical Violence,” NowThis News, January 29, 2019

“As More Migrants Are Denied Asylum, An Abuse Survivor Is Turned Away,” Joel Rose, NPR, January 18, 2019

"They’re Refugees, Fleeing Gang Violence and Domestic Abuse. Why Won’t the Trump Administration Let Them In?," Laura Gottesdiener and John Washington, The Nation, November 28, 2018

“Trump Administration’s Limits On Asylum For Domestic Violence Put Guatemalan Women in Peril,” Cora Currier, The Intercept, November 2, 2018

Jeff Sessions Has Been Targeting Asylum-Seekers Fleeing Domestic Violence. It’s Been ‘Devastating,’” Noah Lanard, Mother Jones, July 26, 2018

“‘If they send me away, my life is gone’: Meet the U.S. asylum seekers at risk in new crackdown,” Matt Kwong, CBC News, June 13, 2018

“‘Back to the Dark Ages’: Sessions’s asylum ruling reverses decades of women’s rights progress, critics say,” Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, June 12, 2018

“Victims of Domestic Abuse, Gangs To Be Denied Asylum In U.S.,” Joel Rose, NPR, June 12, 2018

"This Salvadoran Woman Is At The Center Of The Attorney General's Asylum Crackdown," Joel Rose, NPR, May 22, 2018

"Her Husband Beat Her and Raped Her. Jeff Sessions Might Deport Her," Jane Fonda and Karen Musalo, New York Times, May 17, 2018

“A War on Women at the US Border,” Michelle Chen, The Nation, May 8, 2018