On June 11, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a precedent decision in a case that he referred to himself. In the decision, he vacated the Board of Immigration Appeal's (BIA) decision in Matter of A- B and announced that in his view, domestic violence victims and other victims of crimes perpetrated by private, non-government actors do not generally qualify for asylum. With this move, the Attorney General has stated he has unfettered authority to rewrite asylum law however he sees fit, further undermining the independence of the Immigration Court and the Board.
In a press release, the leadership of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) denounced this decision and vowed to continue advocating for the rights of immigrants. Annaluisa Padilla, AILA President, stated,
The Attorney General is turning back the clock on nearly twenty years of asylum law and undermining access to protections for bona fide asylum seekers who have suffered domestic violence, gang violence, or other forms of persecution by private actors. He blatantly ignores the conditions in countries that our own asylum law demands be taken into account when deciding these cases. This decision must also be examined in light of the Central American women and families who are now coming to our borders seeking protection from the uncontrolled, extreme levels violence in their home countries. These women are not safe in their own countries because the government cannot or will not protect them. Furthermore, today's decision has made the arduous path to asylum even more difficult for those who are pursuing protection on their own without legal representation.
AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson added,
This decision by the nation's top law enforcement officer further underscores that this administration does not respect the fundamental right to due process and the protections enshrined in our Constitution and asylum laws. The Attorney General is inappropriately pre-judging these cases and disregarding the principle that every single asylum case must be carefully considered on its own merits. Additionally, while he is pointedly going after domestic violence victims, his opinion could have more far-reaching implications for anyone who is the victim of violence committed by a private actor, such as violence targeting LGBTQ individuals, which are overwhelmingly committed by non-government actors. Matter of A- B- however is not the last word. This case will certainly be litigated and we will turn to the independent federal courts to step up and rectify this shameful chapter in our country's history.
How does this decision affect refugees and asylum-seekers?
As noted above by AILA leaders, this decision has far-reaching implications for extremely vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as women and children fleeing domestic and gang violence in their home countries. This decision has raised the asylum bar even higher for individuals with viable claims, but have no access to legal representation or information.
Immigration advocates and legal organizations foresee very negative consequences for asylum-seekers. According to Lenni B. Benson, a professor at New York Law School and director of its immigration clinic, this decision’s most immediate impact could come long before asylum seekers get to an immigration judge. When would-be immigrants arrive at the U.S. border with an asylum claim, they typically first go through a screening interview with border officials. Sessions’ decision sends a clear signal to those officials to reject requests for a hearing from people seeking asylum who say they are trying to escape violent gangs or spouses, Benson said. Similarly, The American Bar Assn. warned that ending the asylum eligibility for victims of domestic violence “would further victimize those most in need of protection.”
For asylum-seekers in the United States, this decision highlights the importance of seeking legal assistance or counseling from an experienced immigration attorney before filing an asylum application, especially if the applicant's claim is based on membership in a particular social group.
If you have any questions about the asylum application process or how this development affects you, please contact us. We are here to help. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Tumblr for up-to-date immigration news.
Rasoulpour Torregoza is the law firm for immigrants, by immigrants. We are founded on the motto of LegalEase: we do away with the legal jargon and make law easy to understand, so you can focus on what’s important to you – going for your American Dream.
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