Jeff Sessions Just Ordered That US Can Reject Asylum Claims Based on Domestic or Gang Violence

Jun 11, 2018
4:38 PM

In a new Department of Justice order by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he directed Monday to immigration judges (yes, the AG has that power), here is what he has decided:

Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum. While I do not decide that violence inflicted by non-governmental actors may never serve as the basis for an asylum or withholding application based on membership in a particular social group, in practice such claims are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution that the government is unable or unwilling to address. The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes —such as domestic violence or gang violence— or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.

That paragraph is part of Sessions’ 31-page response that essentially overruled a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals to grant asylum to a Salvadoran woman (know as “Ms. A.B.”) who was fleeing domestic violence in her country. Apparently, Sessions is super interested in this case.

Last month, NPR featured Ms. A.B.’s story:

As expected, immigrant rights groups are condemning the decision:

“From its earliest days, the United States has opened its doors to individuals fleeing oppression and persecution,” Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, said in a statement. “Today’s decision by the Attorney General is yet another attempt to close our doors. Through our work serving detained mothers and children in Dilley, Texas, we see firsthand the trauma of domestic and gang violence and the desperate need for protection. The Attorney General’s decision—if permitted to stand—will no doubt result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs. Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration.”

“The Trump administration just handed a death sentence to thousands of women and families fleeing domestic and gang violence by barring them from accessing asylum in the U.S. Trump, Sessions, and the Trump Administration jeopardize the safety of the women they are ignoring who need help,” Jess Morales Rocketto, Chair of the We Belong Together campaign and Political Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said. “This administration is no better than neighbors who ignore cries and pleas from a woman being assaulted next door. Our country cannot lock the door and draw the shades on women. Nothing this administration does is about our nation’s security; it’s about advancing Trump’s anti-women and anti-immigrant agendas. Trump and Sessions will not rest until women are stripped of our rights and there are no immigrants left.”

Earlier on Monday, Sessions’s prepared remarks in a speech said this about the asylum process:

The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law, sound public policy, and public safety— and to the detriment of people with just claims. Saying a few simple words—claiming a fear of return—is now transforming a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process, where an alien may be released from custody into the United States and possibly never show up for an immigration hearing. This is a large part of what has been accurately called, “catch and release”.

Beginning in 2009, more and more aliens who passed an initial USCIS credible fear review were released from custody into the United States pending a full hearing. Powerful incentives were created for aliens to come here illegally and claim a fear of return. In effect, word spread that by asserting this fear, they could remain in the United States one way or the other. Far too often, that rumor proved to be true.

The results are just what one would expect. The number of illegal entrants has surged. Credible fear claims have skyrocketed, and the percentage of asylum claims found meritorious by our judges declined.

That’s because the vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid. For the last five years, only 20 percent of claims have been found to be meritorious after a hearing before an Immigration Judge. In addition, some fifteen percent are found invalid by USCIS as a part of their initial screening.

Further illustrating this point, in 2009, DHS conducted more than 5,000 credible fear reviews. By 2016, only seven years later, that number had increased to 94,000. The number of these aliens placed in immigration court proceedings went from fewer than 4,000 to more than 73,000 by 2016—nearly a 19-fold increase—overwhelming the system and leaving legitimate claims buried.

Now we all know that many of those crossing our border illegally are leaving difficult and dangerous situations. And we understand all are due proper respect and the proper legal process. But we cannot abandon legal discipline and sound legal concepts.