In a comprehensive decision to change the United States’ law on asylum, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled individuals seeking shelter from domestic abuse and gang violence will not be granted asylum in America.
The decision could also bar people feeling their home countries due to, what Sessions called, “private actions,” after their government and authorities have failed to protect them.
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” Sessions wrote. “An applicant seeking to establish persecution based on violent conduct of a private actor must show more than the government’s difficulty controlling private behavior….[and] that the government condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.”
The ruling came as another blow for immigrants seeking refuge from violence and crimes in their home countries amid an on-going crackdown on refugees by the Trump administration. Sessions resorted to invoking his little-used statutory authority to refer cases to himself to change asylum laws, which had previously granted shelter to asylum seekers from domestic abuse, most of whom are women and children.
Sessions also wrote that claims “pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” But he left a little gray area in his decision.
“While I do not decide that violence inflicted by non-governmental actors may never serve as the basis for an asylum….in practice such claims are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution that the government is unable or unwilling to address,” he wrote.
However, DHS Watch’s Ur Jaddou thinks the move to leave some wiggle-room in the decision is to prevent anyone challenging this policy in the future.
“He can’t say, ‘there will never be a case,’ ‘there is no particular social group for gang or domestic violence cases,’ because that would be creating a law and he can’t do that,” Jaddou said. “But what he’s signaling to his judges is to keep a really high bar, don’t try to fit some facts in to make it anything less than a very high bar.”
The announcement for the change in law was also uniquely timed after Sessions made the declaration in a speech at the annual training conference of the Executive Officer for Immigration Review (EOIR) in Virginia. The conference seated almost every immigration judge in the country, making them an audience Sessions particularly wanted as he emphasized on his ruling to shrivel asylum protections for refugees.
“It will be your duty to carry out this ruling,” Sessions told his audience.
While announcing the amended law, the attorney general insisted the change was necessary because too many people were trying to get into the United States making wrongful claims of persecution. In order to back this claim, he shared a statistic claiming judges found only 20 percent of the asylum claims to be truthful. That stat, however, is misleading. What these numbers show is the percentage attained by comparing the formal immigration court rulings of merit to the total claims filed but what Sessions has “forgotten” to mention is that many of total claims never get a final ruling. In fact, in 2017, whenever a judge ruled on these filings, they found them meritorious in almost 50 percent of the cases.
But Sessions' true reason behind the ruling was eventually stated by him, when he insisted the asylum law “was never meant to alleviate all problems— even all serious problems— that people face every day all over the world,” which basically means domestic and gang violence may pertain to “serious problems” but they are not worthy of American assistance.
Michelle Brané, the director of the Women's Refugee Commission's Migrants Rights and Justice Program, blasted Sessions’ decision.
"Attorney General Sessions’ decision to limit the reasons why people can claim asylum is a devastating blow to families who come to our country seeking protection and safety,” Brané said in a statement. "This administration continues to swiftly deconstruct America’s moral code and values by doing everything possible to limit access to asylum. What this means in practical terms is that the United States is turning its back on our commitment to never again send people back to a country where their life is at risk. Women and children will die as a result of these policies.”
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts