Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a room full of immigration judges last October that America’s asylum system was “being terribly abused” and that immigration courts were “overloaded with fake claims.”
He went on to say that the U.S. needed “significant asylum reform” and made a call to “elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews.”
Well, now we know he actually meant: Sessions wants to make it harder for women fleeing domestic violence to seek asylum in the U.S.
The Marshall Project reported on Tuesday that the Trump administration is “moving to curtail or close the legal avenues to protection for abused women.” From the Marshall Project:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, from his position as the top official in charge of the immigration courts, is leading a broad review to question whether domestic or sexual violence should ever be recognized as persecution that would justify protection in the United States.
During his speech in October, Sessions said, “our asylum laws are meant to protect those who because of characteristics like their race, religion, nationality, or political opinions cannot find protection in their home countries.” He said asylum was never intended for “those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects.” Apparently, domestic violence falls under those “generalized” categories.
From the Marshall Project:
Since the immigration courts are part of the Justice Department rather than the independent federal judiciary, the attorney general has the authority to reach in and pick out cases he will decide on his own. If upheld on appeal, the attorney general’s decisions become binding precedents for the immigration courts.
One case Sessions assigned to himself is a decision in 2016 by the immigration appeals court concerning a woman from El Salvador who was psychologically demeaned and sexually attacked by her husband, even after she divorced him. She presented statements from neighbors and a protective order from El Salvador. The appeals court, reversing a lower immigration judge, found she should be granted asylum.
Sessions said he would use the case to resolve a fundamental question: whether “being a victim of private criminal activity,” such as domestic violence, could ever fit the legal requirements for asylum.
Sessions’ words are even more chilling when you consider that his speech was delivered in front of a group of people who oversee immigration courts.
Almost 62 percent of asylum decisions in 2017 were denied, according to The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Asylum requests decisions often depend on the judge who hears your case. For example, TRAC found that in San Francisco, the odds of denial varied from 9.4 percent all the way up to 97.1 percent depending on the judge you had.
“This is the fifth year in a row that denial rates have risen. Five years ago the denial rate was just 44.5 percent,” according to TRAC.
I have reached out to the Justice Department for comment and will update if we hear back.
Update, April 18: This post originally cited a story from Politico. In fact, the story was originally produced by the Marshall Project and shared on Politico.