In a move that has surprised few people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned a decision issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). This decision could negatively affect other people seeking asylum in the United States because of domestic violence or gang violence.
The facts of the case are easy enough to understand. An El Salvadoran woman applied for asylum in the U.S., alleging that she had suffered more than a decade of abuse in her home country at the hands of her husband. Even when she tried to get away, her husband followed her and raped her. In 2015, a Charlotte, North Carolina asylum judge denied Ms. A-B’s claim for asylum, consistent with this judge’s very low approval rate.
In December of 2016, the BIA overturned the immigration judge’s decision, finding that it was clearly erroneous. According to the BIA, Ms. A-B had shown that she suffered group-based persecution. In particular, she was an El Salvadoran woman who could not leave a domestic relationship because she had children in common with her abuser.
Usually, BIA decisions end the matter. However, Attorney General Sessions referred the case to himself, giving him the power to either reverse or affirm the BIA’s decision. As soon as Sessions issued the referral, observers expected him to overrule the BIA, which is exactly what he did.
According to Sessions, domestic violence and gang violence are crimes, but the fact that they are not effectively policed in foreign countries does not provide sufficient reason to grant asylum. In fact, he disparaged awarding asylum to those suffering from “private violence.” “The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” he continued.
Sessions’ decision did not pass unnoticed by practitioners and experts in immigration law. According to NBC News, a group comprising 15 former members of the BIA and other immigration judges have denounced the decision. Calling it “an affront to the rule of law,” they emphasized that awarding asylum to victims of domestic violence was the result of over 15 years of litigation and should not be overturned so breezily. They also called on appellate courts or Congress to change Sessions’ decision and reinstate asylum for people like Ms. A-B.
The United States can grant asylum to those suffering persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, and political opinion. There is also a catch-all category for those persecuted because they belong to a “particular social group.” This last category is undefined and leaves some leeway for the government to give asylum to a wider range of people—such as those suffering domestic violence or gang activity.
With the Attorney General’s intervention, however, immigration judges are less likely to find that domestic violence victims will qualify under the “particular social group” category. This, unfortunately, could lead to denials of worthy asylum applications—at least for the duration of the Trump Presidency.
At Kriezelman Burton & Associates, we handle asylum claims and are here to discuss your situation. We have decades of combined experience and are anxious to put it to work for you. Please contact us for your consultation.
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