Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision on who does not qualify for U.S. asylum could affect women trying to flee the sort of men who President Trump has previously said make Latin American countries unsafe.
Sessions signaled Monday that victims of domestic abuse generally will not qualify for asylum. Under federal law, foreign nationals seeking asylum have had to establish that they face persecution in their homeland based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group.”
Experts had long debated whether asylum could be granted on the basis of violence perpetuated in the "private" sphere (a person's home). But in 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that women fleeing domestic violence were eligible to apply for U.S. asylum.
As a result, asylum requests from Central America were granted at a much higher volume in 2014 and 2015, mostly because of increases in applications from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — countries that experienced a spike in violent crime and, thus, a sharp increase in asylum claims during that time.
Sessions's ruling reversed that 2014 decision. He disagrees with the idea that battered partners are members of an identity group. In his ruling, which was released Tuesday, he wrote:
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum. [...] 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.”
Sessions probably thinks that his decision will help keep Americans safe. As someone who advocates for hard-line immigration policies, limiting new migrant arrivals is a priority for him.
But protecting the most vulnerable people also has to be a priority for the administration, said critics of the policy, noting that Sessions's tough approach does further harm to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
The Washington Post previously reported on a Central American migrant caravan crossing into U.S. territory.
Many migrants say they face threats to their lives in their native lands. Karina Gomez Cruz, 16, who said she had left Nicaragua with her mother because of domestic violence and gang threats, spent the night at the border crossing and was wondering Monday what her future would hold.
“I’m bored of waiting, anxious to arrive and nervous because they don’t let us through,” Gomez Cruz said.
Many Americans want authorities to protect the nation from bad actors seeking to enter the United States to cause harm while also helping desperate women and children who are fleeing danger. The administration's efforts to curtail even legal forms of immigration don't allow for that balanced approach.