Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his latest immigration policy change just as the president’s Group of Seven fiasco and Singapore summit were sucking up all the media oxygen. That might not have been purely coincidental.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled Monday that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law, a decision that advocates say will endanger tens of thousands of foreign nationals seeking safety in the United States.
Sessions’s ruling vacated a 2016 decision by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals that said an abused woman from El Salvador was eligible for asylum. The appeals board is typically the highest government authority on immigration law, but the attorney general has the power to assign cases to himself and set precedents.
To qualify for asylum, seekers must show that “they have a fear of persecution in their homeland based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or ‘membership in a particular social group,’ a catchall category that has in the past included victims of domestic violence and other abuse.” But no longer — Sessions has chosen to disregard basic humanity. Consider the case that the administration argued did not warrant asylum: “Monday’s ruling by Sessions centers on an asylum case filed by a Salvadoran woman who entered the United States illegally in 2014. She said she was escaping from an ex-husband who had physically and emotionally abused her for years, even after she moved elsewhere in El Salvador. The woman said that her ex-husband had raped her and that his brother, a police officer, had also threatened her.” How does that not merit asylum and protection?
In justifying the decision, Sessions pointed to a backlog of asylum cases, but it is far from clear that victims of domestic violence are responsible for the problem. Moreover, why not hire more immigration judges?
Left-leaning groups blasted the decision. “We now are a country that is purposefully condemning countless thousands of women and children to violence and death,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, in a written statement. He continued, “And for what reason? None of this keeps us safer, strengthens our economy or rebuilds our communities. None of this reflects the values we hold dear. None of this is true to the American creed. This is gratuitous cruelty. This is radical and extreme. This is evil.” People for the American Way excoriated the attorney general: “Jeff Sessions’ decision to make it harder of for thousands of individuals to escape violence, including sexual violence, is reprehensible. It’s yet another attack in Donald Trump’s war on immigrants in general and on the Latino community in particular.”
What was missing? Any complaints from the evangelical Christians who lecture us on “family values.” Absent were the pro-life forces who will go to the barricades for an unborn child. Hmm, I suppose their pro-life views don’t cover ripping kids from their parents’ arms or telling abused women to go back to their abusers.
The GOP apparently has decided that aside from abortion, the only real “family value” is keeping out brown and black children, even at the cost of their lives. Next time a right-wing lawmaker or a pro-life advocate raises family values or protection of women, ask them why they are comfortable with the latest Sessions decision. We could use some elected officials with family values. And we could use a court challenge to Sessions’s ongoing crusade against vulnerable women and children.