Attorney General Jeff Sessions just told tens of thousands of domestic violence victims that the abuse they’ve endured isn’t a good enough reason for the United States to grant them asylum if they are forced to flee their home countries.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in a shocking ruling released Monday. “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.”
In other words: If your country’s government won’t protect you from violence, why should we have to?
Sessions’ ruling overturned a major 2014 immigration case, in which an unnamed Salvadoran woman was granted asylum because her husband violently abused her and the police didn’t do enough to stop him.
Before Sessions gutted it, that ruling was hailed by advocates as a major victory for women’s rights. Under U.S. immigration law, refugees can apply for asylum if they have been persecuted based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “particular social group.”
There are no explicit protections based on gender, which is the kind of thing you’d need if you’re a woman oppressed by systemic misogyny in your home country.
Instead, women who face horrors like female genital mutilation, child marriage, or unchecked domestic violence get lumped into the “particular social group” category of asylum law — or at least they did, before Sessions gutted even those meager protections.
Sessions, by the way, was one of 22 Republican senators who voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2012. Sessions accused Democrats of including protections “that almost seem to invite opposition.”
Now, however, Sessions is invoking the same twisted logic to argue against asylum for oppressed women worldwide that opponents of the original legislation in 1994 used. Because domestic violence is “private” and not overtly state-sponsored, he argues, the United States has no obligation to shelter citizens of other countries from it — even if the reason victims are fleeing is because their government refused to protect them.
If you’re wondering why Sessions, the attorney general and part of the executive branch, is overturning a court ruling, the reason for that is also pretty twisted. U.S. immigration courts aren’t part of the judicial branch; their decisions are subject to review by the Department of Justice, and even by the attorney general himself.
But as Vox’s Dara Lind reported in May, while Sessions technically has the power to overturn immigration court rulings, he’s using this power in an “unprecedented” manner.
No other attorney general before Sessions has stepped in as many times as he has to set precedents on immigration law — and thanks to those precedents, thousands of human beings fleeing brutal oppression may suffer for decades to come.
Published with permission of The American Independent.