Violence Against Women

Sessions Reverses Asylum Protection for Immigrants Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that a 2014 Board of Immigration Appeals decision protecting victims of gang or domestic violence was “wrongly decided.”

“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote. “The applicant must show that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.”

Advocates say tens of thousands of people are endangered by the change, which will make the application process much more complicated for asylum seekers who fall into this category, a majority of whom are women.

“Such applicants must establish membership in a particular and socially distinct group that exists independently of the alleged underlying harm, demonstrate that their persecutors harmed them on account of their membership in that group rather than for personal reasons, and establish that the government protection from such harm in their home country is so lacking that their persecutors’ actions can be attributed to the government,” Sessions wrote. “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.”

Sessions’ ruling centered on reversing a decision made during an asylum case filed by a Salvadoran woman who entered the United States in 2014, fleeing from an ex-husband who raped and physically and emotionally abused her for years, even after she moved elsewhere in El Salvador. His brother, a police officer, had also threatened her. Immigration courts ruled that because women in Central America face societal norms and restraints that do not allow them to escape their abusive partners, they qualify for asylum under the law. Sessions disagreed and overturned the decision in Monday’s announcement.

Organizations that provide legal aid for women asylum-seekers, like UN Women, will be significantly impacted by the number of asylums granted and denied. Advocates have also pointed out that some of the most dangerous gangs in Central America grew out of U.S. based groups.

“Our clients are dependent on our justice system to grant them protections from severe crimes that originated in the United States, like gang violence that inflicts extreme abuse on women such as rape and murder,” the Assistant Director of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, Vania Llovera, said. “Now this administration is turning its back on victims and closing their doors to life.”

U.S. Department of Justice 06/11/2018; The Washington Post 06/11/2018; CNN 06/11/2018; Center for the Advancement of Human Rights Assistant Director Statement 06/12/2018; LA Times 6/14/2018