U.S Attorney General, Jeff Sessions in a 31-page ruling announced the latest changes in immigration reform. He announced that from now on, victims of domestic violence and gang violence will not qualify for asylum.
He argued that these are “private” matters and countries should be able to deal with them on their own. He also called into question the victims’ claims that governments and police were not protecting them in their home countries.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum. 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” – he wrote in his ruling.
In his speech with immigration officials, he further explained his reasoning. He said “asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems – even all serious problems – that people face every day all over the world”.
Asylum rules have been debated for the past decade. Those who seek it in the U.S must prove that they were persecuted due to different reasons. This includes race, nationality, religion, political opinion or because they are part of a particular social group. Recently, relatives of dissidents, LGBTQ+ people, and victims of domestic violence became included in this definition.
This was part of the Obama administration which tried to pass more inclusive legislature. This was especially aimed at domestic violence cases from Central America. These countries have had internal problems including extreme domestic abuse.
Domestic violence was cited to be a valid reason for seeking asylum in the U.S in a 2014 case. A woman from Guatemala sought asylum in the U.S because of severe domestic violence from her husband. She had suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her husband. This included acid attacks and beatings while she was 8 months pregnant. That led to a premature birth, where the baby was born with bruises.
This case made a precedent in many asylum cases from that point forward. However, the Attorney General cited a recent much-debated case of a woman from El Salvador. The woman with the initials A.B sought asylum due to being a victim of domestic abuse. An immigration judge denied the case, but the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that the woman had a valid case and granted her asylum.
Through this ruling, Sessions reversed that decision and stopped victims from seeking asylum. Their cases will not be able to go to immigration lawyers or officials, but most of them will be returned at the border. The Attorney General has veto power in these cases and even if immigration lawyers and experts try to appeal, it will take many years until the case is decided.
This decision has sparked a lot of debate from Democrats and immigration advocates. Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader issued a statement saying that the Trump administration “just condemned countless vulnerable, innocent women to a lifetime of violence and even death, just to score political points with their base. This act of staggering cruelty insults our nation’s values”.
The office of the U.N high commissioner for refugees stated that they had advised Sessions against this ruling. This would violate international agreements about refugees that the U.S had entered. The American Bar Association also commented saying that denying asylum “would further victimize those most in need of protection”.
General Attorney Sessions did not take this advice into account but cited increasing asylum seeker numbers. He stated that asylum seekers jumped from only 5,000 people in 2009 to 94,000 people in 2016. In his opinion, the previous domestic abuse cases failed to provide compelling arguments why they should be considered for asylum in the U.S.
He wrote, “When an applicant has suffered personal harm at the hands of only a few specific individuals, internal relocation would seem more reasonable than seeking refuge in the U.S”.
Karen Musalo, a defense lawyer who directs the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law stated that this ruling is returning the country to a time when domestic violence was not seen as the responsibility of the government, but a private family matter. She said this ruling is bringing the U.S to “the Dark Ages of human rights and women’s human rights”.
This is an additional move from the Trump administration to tighten immigration rules. The administration recently announced its “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal immigrants, stating that anyone who attempts to cross the U.S border illegally will be prosecuted.
For more information about the U.S visa for victims of crime visit this article.