Jeff Sessions says domestic violence is not grounds for asylum in the U.S.
On Monday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that immigrants will not be able to seek asylum on the grounds of domestic or gang violence. The decision met fierce and quick condemnations for its insensitivity.
As the Trump administration enforces nationalistic immigration policies with multiple workplace raids, the separation of families at the border, and the detainment of immigrant Muslims, asylum seekers have become the next target to decrease the number of immigrants.
The law states that asylum seekers can base their claim on the basis of persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.” The last clause, “membership in a particular social group,” has been open for legal interpretation, and has allowed victims of domestic abuse entry into the US on these grounds.
In the past, the Board of Immigration Appeals had decided since victims of domestic and gang violence can be classified by social groups, marital status and sex in the case of domestic violence, they have the legal right to be granted asylum.
Jeff Sessions has stated multiple times that this interpretation has allowed immigrants to “abuse the system.” Sessions blames the Obama administration for creating “powerful incentives” for people to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return.”
His decision states, “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.”
“An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances,” Sessions added, “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”
However, the New York Times reports that in 2016, “for every applicant who succeeded, more than 10 others also sought asylum.” Few asylum seekers live in the United States and even fewer are granted permanent entry.
Many have noted the implications the decision will have on specific groups, such as LGBTQ people and victims of domestic and/or gang violence if the perpetrator is a non-governmental actor or the state does not provide the appropriate protections.
Sessions had overturned an immigration appeals court ruling that ruled in favor of an El Salvadoran woman fleeing domestic abuse from her husband. The court ruled that since the state did not provide protections for the woman, she should be granted asylum. The case had set the precedent for asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence to be granted entry.
Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, condemned the decision, arguing, “What this decision does is yank us all back to the Dark Ages of human rights and women’s human rights and the conceptualization of it.”