Immigration judges generally cannot consider domestic and gang violence as grounds for asylum, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday in a ruling that could affect large numbers of Central Americans who have increasingly turned to the United States for protection.
"Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-government actors will not qualify for asylum," Sessions wrote in 31-page 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."
The widely expected move overruled a Board of Immigration Appeals decision in 2016 that gave asylum status to a woman from El Salvador who fled her husband. Sessions reopened the case for his review in March as the administration stepped up criticism of asylum practices. Sessions took aim at one of five categories to qualify for asylum - persecution for membership in a social group - calling it "inherently ambiguous."
The other categories are for race, religion, nationality and political affiliation. Domestic violence is a "particularly difficult crime to prevent and prosecute, even in the United States," Sessions wrote, but its prevalence in El Salvador doesn't mean that its government was unwilling or unable to protect victims any less so than the United States. Sessions said the woman obtained restraining orders against her husband and had him arrested at least once. "No country provides its citizens with complete security from private criminal activity, and perfect protection is not required," he wrote.
The government does not say how many asylum claims are for domestic or gang violence but their advocates said there could be tens of thousands of domestic violence cases in the current immigration court backlog.
So what do you think, should the government drop asylum protections for victims of domestic violence?
With files from the Associated Press
Bill Hing, immigration law expert; professor of law and director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, a program at University of San Francisco School of Law that represents unaccompanied immigrant children and women with children who arrive at the southern border