A ruling by the U.S. attorney general that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence may no longer qualify for asylum could “close the door” on the most vulnerable, warned a refugee official with the U.S. bishops’ conference.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a 31-page ruling which overturned a 2016 decision granting asylum to a woman who had been “emotionally, physically and sexually” abused by her husband in El Salvador. For the sake of anonymity, the woman is known as Ms. A-B in court papers.
Sessions said that domestic abuse and gang violence claims alone should not be considered grounds for an asylum claim, unless there is also evidence of persecution by government actors based on one’s social group.
The decision “strips life-saving protection from Ms. A-B herself, and also potentially many other women who lack adequate protection and will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country,” said Ashley Feasley, the director of policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migrant and Refugee Services.
“Similarly, this decision could close the door on those fleeing gang violence in their home country from escaping persecution,” Feasley told CNA, adding “this action also overrides extensive prior legal precedent.”
Currently, individuals can seek asylum in the U.S. if they fear persecution in their home country on the basis of race, political opinion, nationality, religion or social group. The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals found that Ms. A-B qualified for asylum under the “social group” definition, but Sessions overturned the ruling, saying it was “inherently ambiguous,” according to the BBC.
“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems — even all serious problems — that people face every day all over the world,” said Sessions on June 11, according to NPR.
“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Sessions continued, who stressed the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy.
The case of Ms. A-B was sent back to an immigration judge to order her deportation, although her lawyers said they have plans to challenge Sessions’ decision in federal court.
The BBC reports that around 10,000 people annually receive asylum in the U.S. due to domestic abuse or gang violence in their home countries, and the New York Times reports that credible fear claims reported at the border have skyrocketed 1,700 percent from 2008-2016. Sessions’ ruling could mean that many of these asylum cases will be blocked moving forward.
Many groups voiced their concern over the attorney general’s decision, saying it will only harm the already vulnerable.
“Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration,” said Beth Werlin of the American Immigration Council, saying the decision will “no doubt result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs.”
The ruling is most strongly affect asylum seekers from Latin American countries, where gang violence has been rampant in recent years. The U.N. has said these countries have some of the worst rates of violence against women in the world.
Thousands of asylum seekers are waiting for legal entry into the U.S. and have camped near border crossings, although authorities have told them to continue waiting in Mexico before applying for asylum.
An immigration spokesman said the entry delays are expected to be “temporary,” according to the New York Times, but many of the asylum-seekers are running out of resources as they wait in limbo at the U.S-Mexican border, according to reports.