Social Group Semantics: The Evidentiary Requirements of 'Particularity' and 'Social Distinction' in Pro Se Asylum Adjudications

49 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2015 Last revised: 4 Dec 2016

See all articles by Nicholas Bednar

Nicholas Bednar

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: April 2, 2015


An applicant applying for asylum on the basis of membership in a particular social group must produce evidence showing that their particular social group (1) shares an immutable characteristic, (2) is defined with particularity, and (3) is socially distinct. On February 7, 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) clarified its definition of particularity and social distinction in Matter of M-E-V-G-. According to the BIA, particularity defines the “outer limits” of the group’s boundaries. Social distinction requires the particular social group to be “perceived as a group by society.” Despite the BIA’s supposed goal, M E V G has done little to clarify the particular social group standard. This Note argues that a pro se asylum applicant cannot show both particularity and social distinction. If the applicant defines her group too discretely, the group may fail to satisfy the element of social distinction. But, an amorphous particular social group is certain to fail the requirement of particularity. It is unreasonable to expect a pro se applicant to play this game of semantics. Furthermore, social distinction requires the applicant to produce sociological evidence — mostly in the form of expert witnesses. This implicit requirement of sociological evidence prevents pro se applicants from defining a satisfactory particular social group. In order to protect pro se applicants, this Note proposes a system of precedential fact-finding — drawing upon the United Kingdom’s Country Guidance System — to alleviate some of the burdens of particularity and social distinction.

Keywords: immigration, law, asylum, refugees, particular social group, evidence, pro se, immutable characteristic, particularity, social distinction, social visibility M-E-V-G-, S-E-G-, A-R-C-G-, W-G-R-

Suggested Citation

Bednar, Nicholas, Social Group Semantics: The Evidentiary Requirements of 'Particularity' and 'Social Distinction' in Pro Se Asylum Adjudications (April 2, 2015). Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 100, 2015, Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Bednar (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

United States

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