US court rul­ing on vi­o­lence vic­tim asy­lum seeker draws re­bukes

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A rul­ing by US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions that may make it nearly im­pos­si­ble for do­mes­tic abuse and gang vi­o­lence sur­vivors to seek asy­lum in the coun­try drew im­me­di­ate re­bukes from dozens of im­mi­gra­tion rights ad­vo­cate groups and lawyers.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral on Mon­day over­turned a grant of asy­lum to a Sal­vado­ran do­mes­tic abuse vic­tim, po­ten­tially ex­clud­ing im­mi­grants seek­ing refuge from sex­ual, gang and other forms of vi­o­lence in their home coun­tries.

The de­ci­sion to refuse asy­lum to the Sal­vado­ran woman, whose for­mer hus­band raped and beat her for 15 years, nar­rows who can qual­ify for asy­lum when they be­come vic­tims of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, as op­posed to govern­ment per­se­cu­tion, Reuters re­ported.

Ses­sions’ find­ing fol­lowed his un­usual move to in­ter­vene per­son­ally in the case known as the “Mat­ter of A-B-.” The woman, who is only iden­ti­fied by her ini­tials, had won an ap­peal to the Board of Im­mi­gra­tion Ap­peals, which had over­turned a lower im­mi­gra­tion court judge’s de­nial of her asy­lum pe­ti­tion.

“In reach­ing these con­clu­sions, I do not min­i­mize the vile abuse that the re­spon­dent re­ported she suf­fered at the hands of her ex-hus­band,” Ses­sions wrote in his or­der.

“I un­der­stand that many vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence may seek to flee from their home coun­tries to ex­tri­cate them­selves from a dire sit­u­a­tion or to give them­selves the op­por­tu­nity for a bet­ter life,” he con­tin­ued. “But the ‘asy­lum statute is not a gen­eral hard­ship statute,’” he said, cit­ing an ear­lier im­mi­gra­tion case.

Some said the de­ci­sion could have wide-rang­ing im­pacts on im­mi­grants flee­ing gang vi­o­lence and gen­der­based vi­o­lence.

“This is not just about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” said Musalo. “What Ses­sions is do­ing is a broader, frontal as­sault on women’s’ rights.”

An at­tor­ney for A-B-, Karen Musalo, called the de­ci­sion “dev­as­tat­ing” and said it had been an­guish­ing for her client.

“You have a woman who barely sur­vived more than a decade of hor­rific vi­o­lence, who fi­nally feels that she se­cured safety ... and now she’s thrown into to­tal tur­moil again,” said Musalo, who di­rects the Cen­ter for Gen­der and Refugee Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of California Hast­ings’ law school.

The woman could still po­ten­tially ap­peal the case again to the Board of Im­mi­gra­tion Ap­peals, then a fed­eral ap­peals court and ul­ti­mately the US Supreme Court.

Michelle Brané, di­rec­tor of the Women’s Refugee Com­mis­sion’s Mi­grant Rights and Jus­tice pro­gram head­quar­tered in New York, said, “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.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to swiftly de­con­struct Amer­ica’s moral code and val­ues by do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to limit ac­cess to asy­lum.”

US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi joined those de­nounc­ing the de­ci­sion.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­hu­man­ity and heart­less­ness know no bounds,” Pelosi said in a news re­lease. “Repub­li­cans in the White House have just con­demned count­less vul­ner­a­ble, in­no­cent women to a life­time of vi­o­lence and even death, just to score po­lit­i­cal points with their base.”

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how many cases the de­ci­sion could af­fect.

Un­like the fed­eral ju­di­ciary sys­tem, US im­mi­gra­tion courts fall un­der the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s ju­ris­dic­tion, and the at­tor­ney gen­eral can in­ter­vene.

In im­mi­gra­tion court, cer­tain opin­ions pub­lished by the Board of Im­mi­gra­tion Ap­peals, the high­est im­mi­gra­tion court, serve to set na­tional le­gal prece­dent. How­ever, as the United States’ chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, the at­tor­ney gen­eral can in­ter­cede in its de­ci­sions to shape law.

Ses­sions has been un­usu­ally ac­tive in this prac­tice com­pared to his pre­de­ces­sors by ex­er­cis­ing his in­ter­ven­tion author­ity to make it harder for some peo­ple to legally re­main in the United States.

In mak­ing his de­ter­mi­na­tion, he de­clared that a de­ci­sion in a 2014 case be­fore the Board of Im­mi­gra­tion Ap­peals, which al­lowed vic­tims of gen­der-based vi­o­lence to claim US asy­lum, “was wrongly de­cided and should not have been is­sued as a prece­den­tial de­ci­sion.”

He re­manded the case of A-B- back to Judge Stu­art Couch in Char­lotte, North Carolina, for fur­ther pro­ceed­ings. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Reuters last year found that Couch or­ders im­mi­grants de­ported 89 per­cent of the time.

Mon­day’s de­ci­sion marks Ses­sions’ lat­est ef­fort to greatly re­strict im­mi­gra­tion. Crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and tight­en­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion were ma­jor themes of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign.

Ear­lier this year, Ses­sions de­clared he would at­tempt to en­sure that ev­ery per­son who crosses the bor­der il­le­gally would be pros­e­cuted, and he has staunchly de­fended a new pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing women and chil­dren at the bor­der, in­clud­ing those seek­ing asy­lum.

REUTERS

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