Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday struck down two immigration opinions penned by his predecessors under the Trump administration, reversing limits on who is eligible for asylum.

Garland’s post gives him the power to review decisions made in the immigration court system housed within the Department of Justice (DOJ), a power attorneys general used frequently under the Trump administration.

Orders he signed Wednesday vacate earlier decisions from former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr that limited asylum for victims of domestic violence as well as those seeking asylum based on ties to persecuted family members — something that could be particularly important to those from countries with serious gang violence.

“By rescinding these opinions from the Trump-era attorneys general, Merrick Garland is restoring asylum protections to people who are victims of domestic abuse and gang persecution where we have seen increasing numbers request protection here in the United States in recent years,” Greg Chen with the American Immigration Lawyers Association told The Hill.

“This is such a critical step, both in practice to protect these people, but also symbolically in that the administration is looking carefully at the U.S. commitment to humanitarian law and protecting those in flight from danger.”

The move follows pressure from immigration advocacy groups to review all of the 17 attorney general-level immigration court decisions made under the Trump administration. 

Both the decisions vacated by Garland limited who could qualify for asylum as a persecuted member of a “particular social group,” setting a precedent in immigration courtrooms across the country where such cases are weighed.

In one case, Barr blocked asylum claims for those who sought it based on a family member’s persecution.

But Garland wrote that Barr’s decision was “inconsistent with the decisions of several courts of appeals that have recognized families as particular social groups.”

Jennifer Quigley, senior director of government affairs with Human Rights First, said the measures could help those whose families have been targeted by gang violence.

“Say they want your brother or your father but they can’t get that person. They were the target, but brother or dad has since fled. They want to get them back in the country or out of hiding, so you end up being targeted,” Quigley said.

“That is very much a target of Central American gangs — if they can’t get the person they want, go after a family member.”

Garland also nixed a Sessions decision with regard to domestic violence victims that he said “threatens to create confusion and discourage careful case-by-case adjudication of asylum claims.”

Chen said the Sessions decision made things much more difficult for victims.

“The purpose was to put a forceful thumb on scale of justice against asylum-seekers that may have been abused by partners, subjected to rape or severe violence in domestic relationships and the state was unable to step in and protect them,” he said.

Under the Trump administration, DOJ in a joint rule with the Department of Homeland Security sought to limit asylum protections for both groups through regulation — something Chen hopes the Biden team will soon rescind.

In striking down the Trump-era decisions Wednesday, Garland pointed to an order from President Biden directing the two agencies to make their own regulation determining who should qualify for asylum based on their membership in particular a social group.

Tags Asylum Immigration immigration court immigration policy Jeff Sessions Joe Biden Merrick Garland William Barr

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