The Trump administration will stop granting asylum to victims of gang violence and domestic abuse, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in his decision.
“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,” he continued.
The ruling came hours after Sessions announced that he would issue a new interpretation of asylum law.
He told the judges — administrative employees of the Department of Justice, rather than part of the judicial branch — that the asylum system was being “abused to the detriment of the rule of law.”
Sessions’s ruling came under the attorney general’s review powers over immigration cases.
He came to the decision by overturning a case known as the Matter of A-B-, a Salvadoran woman granted asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals on the grounds that her husband had abused her and the police had done nothing to stop it.
“In reaching these conclusions, I do not minimize the vile abuse that the respondent reported she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband or the harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world,” Sessions said in the decision.
But, Sessions added, quoting an earlier decision, “the ‘asylum statute is not a general hardship statute.’ “
In overturning the A-B- appeal, Sessions also overturned a prior decision that allowed for women fleeing domestic violence without state protection to be considered a “particular social group.”
Under asylum law, migrants seeking asylum can claim to be part of a particular social group that is fleeing persecution.
The ruling overturned by Sessions allowed women under those circumstances to qualify for asylum.
That has riled up activists, as security conditions in the Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — remain dismal.
“The Trump administration just handed a death sentence to thousands of women and families fleeing domestic and gang violence by barring them from accessing asylum in the U.S.,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“Trump, Sessions and the Trump administration jeopardize the safety of the women they are ignoring who need help. This administration is no better than neighbors who ignore cries and pleas from a woman being assaulted next door,” she added.
In his speech to immigration judges, Sessions said the asylum system was being abused
as migrants without a real case were claiming credible fear to remain in the United States.
Once a border agent hears a credible fear claim, asylum seekers cannot be returned to their country of origin until an immigration judge has heard the case.
Immigration courts have been backlogged for years, but the backlog has grown with the influx of cases stemming from the Trump administration’s harsher enforcement measures, plus cases added on as new immigrants come in.
“This decision will provide more clarity for you. It will help you to rule consistently and fairly,” Sessions told judges.
The announcement drew criticism from lawmakers as well.
“Attorney General Sessions: their blood is on your hands,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement.
Updated at 5:31 p.m.