Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week has left thousands of domestic abuse and gang violence victims at a near dead end by invalidating asylum protections they relied on for entering the United States, describing the acts of violence as “private violence.”
A Salvadoran woman who was sexually and physically abused by her husband for 15 years had her asylum grant overturned by Sessions, a fate that many with similar experiences now fear will be theirs.
Of the 711,000 cases being brought before U.S. immigration courts, at least 230,000 involve asylum petitions from individuals coming from Mexico and Central America, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Most of the cases have to do with domestic or gang violence.
Under asylum law in which claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, individuals hoping to escape domestic violence can make claims that their persecution was based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “particular social group” which has broadly encompassed those who share common characteristics of endangerment and do not have government protection.
Some successful asylum seekers who qualified under the “particular social group” category have before been victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
In his Monday, June 11 ruling, Sessions said that asylum would generally not be granted to those who survived “private” crimes.
Narrowing the definition of who would get asylum, Sessions said, “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence of gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum chain,” he added.
Individuals must now prove that their government “condoned the private actions or demonstrated an ability to protect the victims.”
Now that the decision has closed off one of the most hopeful paths for domestic-violence victims, many immigration lawyers are quickly looking at what other actions can be taken.
Reuters reported of an immigration lawyer, Rebecca Kitson, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who had six pending cases now affected by the decision.
One of the cases involves a teenager whose father died in his arms after being shot down and killed by gang members. The father was a minister in El Salvador who often traveled within gang territories. The gangs then went on to target the young boy.
“Can’t change that they are based on gang violence,” Kitson told Reuters. “The plan is to keep fighting and hope that appeals and the federal courts will sort it out.”
Another immigration attorney Matt Cameron from Boston said that his office had a hearing scheduled Thursday for a woman who for years suffered physical abuse from the father of her children. Cameron said her case had good prospects of succeeding before Sessions made his decision.
“This person had been through a lot of counseling, a lot of preparation… It took a long time to get her to the point where she could actually talk about it,” Cameron told Reuters. “Now you have to tell them they don’t even have a case anymore.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center in a statement called Sessions’ decision “cruel and heartless.”
“This decision strikes at the heart of longstanding protections guaranteed to asylum seekers, and will condemn tens of thousands of men, women, and children to death,” reads the statement.
“Women and children from other parts of the world who might have been able to get protection under these claims may now be deported to dangerous situations where they could very well lose their lives,” it added.
For Erika Andiola, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and former press secretary for Bernie Sanders, the decision was personal, which she shared in a tweet the same day of the decision.
“My mother was a victim of domestic violence. We had to cross the border to be safe so that my mom, my siblings and I could be free from pain and suffering,” tweeted Andiola who moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 11.
“I know exactly what it takes to migrate as a domestic-violence survivor, and it hurts so much to see this happening,” said Andiola.
Sessions promised in May to reduce court backlog containing those 711,000 cases. A Department of Justice spokesman said Monday’s decision would allow cases “to be more effectively and quickly adjudicated.”
Most vulnerable to the decision are those fleeing domestic and gang violence in Mexico and Central America.
Immigrants from the Philippines have throughout the past several years been less likely as an ethnic group to enter the U.S. refugees or asylum, accounting for 0.1 percent of individuals granted asylum from years 2002 to 2011.
There have though been cases of individuals seeking asylum or United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) protections in regards to the Philippines current war on drugs.
The U.S. government has also been receiving increasing criticism lately towards its separating of families seeking asylum in the U.S. by illegally crossing the border. A Honduran father recently killed himself in a detention cell after being separated from his child.
A first draft of a “compromise” immigration bill called the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act” was released Thursday night, June 14 by the House GOP and is slated to reach the House floor next week. Republicans say it will prevent family separation, but critics say otherwise. (Rae Ann Varona / AJPress)