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An emerging issue in U.S. asylum claims based on "membership in a particular social group" is the relevance of social visibility in determining whether such a group exists. Of the five protected grounds for asylum, "membership in a particular social group" has always generated the most debate. In 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued guidelines that present the "protected characteristic" and "social perception" approaches as alternative ways of establishing a particular social group, instructing States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention (the "Convention") to determine first if there is a protected characteristic and, only if no such characteristic exists, to determine whether the group is recognized by society.

The author argues that adjudicators should reject the "social visibility" approach because it destroys Acosta's principled framework, represents an abdication of U.S. obligations under the 1967 Protocol, cannot be applied in a consistent way, and ignores the complex relationship between visibility and power.

Publication Citation

27 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 47 (2008).