In what surely is a direct attack on immigrants from Central America, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday reversed a ruling by an immigration court, making it more difficult for those who seek asylum here to claim fears of domestic abuse or gang violence as legitimate reasons to gain entry into the United States.
Of course, like much of the policy set during the Trump administration, Sessions’ decision overturns a precedent set during the Obama era, when more women could claim fear of domestic violence as a reason to be granted a stay in the U.S. The previous administration created “powerful incentives” for people to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return,” Sessions wrote in his 31-page opinion (pdf).
“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 wrote in his ruling. “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”
According to the New York Times, immigration courts are housed under the Justice Department, not the federal judiciary, and so Sessions has the authority to overturn their decisions. This case in particular affects asylum seekers from Central America.
According to a 2015 United Nations report, a “surging tide of violence” has swept over countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, forcing thousands of women and children to leave their homes every month, Glamour magazine reports. “As part of the report, women told the UN they faced violence—such as rape, assault, extortion and threats by gangs—on a daily basis. Escaping to the U.S. and asking for asylum was often a final recourse for such victims.”
In his speeches, Donald Trump keeps harping on the dubious fact (i.e., lie) that violent gang members are storming the country’s gates and using the immigration system to do so, but the facts do not back up those claims.
The Times reports that “since 2014, when Central Americans started surging into the United States, people seeking asylum from gang violence have only rarely succeeded. Those who were granted entry often argued their cases on multiple grounds.” Also, the number of illegal immigrants caught at the border last year was the lowest in 47 years, U.S. Border Patrol statistics show.
Still, it’s another symbolic blow to those brown people whom the Trump administration has villainized, and has drawn condemnation from both immigrant-rights and women’s-rights groups.
“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,” said Karen Musalo, a defense lawyer at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, according to the Times.
Sessions did not say why he intervened in this particular case, but one judge was not happy with the outcome, saying that it intruded on the sovereignty of the judiciary.
The attorney general’s ability to “exercise veto power in our decision-making is an indication of why the court needs true independence” from the Justice Department, said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.