Judge strikes down bulk of Trump asylum policy

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down most of the policies former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsNikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' Time magazine: Trump threatened reporter with prison time Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing MORE issued that made it almost impossible for victims of domestic and gang violence to seek asylum.

Judge Emmet Sullivan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the policies, which created a stricter test to satisfy the “credible fear” standard for asylum claims, were unlawful.

He also ordered the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported under the policy.

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The policy changes came in an immigration case in which Sessions reversed a grant of asylum for a Salvadoran woman who claimed to have fled years of abuse by her then-husband. In that case, Sessions said victims of domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors generally will not qualify for asylum.

In a policy memo two days after the ruling, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said victims of domestic and gang violence have to show that the government of their home nation was "unwilling or unable to control” the harm and either “condoned the behavior or demonstrated a complete helplessness to protect the victim."

Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, said Sessions’s ruling created an arbitrary and capricious general rule. He said “there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims.”

He also found that the rule violated federal immigration law, which requires credible fear claim determinations to be made on an individual basis. If an immigrant is found to have a credible fear, they are removed from expedited removal proceedings to pursue their asylum claims in immigration court.

“Many of these policies are inconsistent with the intent of Congress as articulated in the [Immigration and Nationality Act]” Sullivan wrote.

“And because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the Executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the Court finds that those policies are unlawful,” he wrote.

Sullivan upheld two provisions of the new policies, which plaintiffs argued changed the standards of asylum review for these cases. The judge found they did not.

Jennifer Chang Newell, who manages ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, and represented the challengers in this case, called the ruling a defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers.

“The government’s attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives,” she said in a statement.

Sullivan is the same judge who on Tuesday admonished Michael Flynn for committing a “serious offense” by lying to the FBI about his discussions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while serving in a high-level role at the White House. Flynn, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time MORE's first national security adviser, later Tuesday asked for his sentencing to be postponed until his cooperation with federal prosecutors is complete.

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In his speech to immigration judges earlier this year, Sessions said the asylum system was being abused as migrants without a real case were claiming credible fear to remain in the United States.

"This decision will provide more clarity for you. It will help you to rule consistently and fairly," Sessions told judges.

The former attorney general's announcement drew criticism from lawmakers and activists at the time.

"Attorney General Sessions: their blood is on your hands,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), for example, said in a statement.

“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 a statement late Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed the ruling.

"Today, a court has, once again, overridden and undermined United States immigration law," she said in a statement.

"Today’s ruling is only the latest example of judicial activism that encourages migrants to take dangerous risks; empowers criminal organizations that spread turmoil in our hemisphere; and undermines the laws, borders, Constitution, and sovereignty of the United States," she continued. "We will continue to fight for the rule of law and against these reckless rulings."

Kyle Balluck contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:25 p.m.