Jeff Sessions Moves to Block Asylum for Victims of Domestic, Gang Violence

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the California Peace Officers’ Association at the 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day, Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Sessions told law enforcement officers at the conference Wednesday that the Justice Department sued California because state laws are preventing federal immigration agents from doing their jobs. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence and other crimes to receive asylum in the U.S. could fuel a backlash that the Trump administration already faces over its immigration crackdown.

The 31-page decision narrows the grounds for asylum for victims of “private crime” and will cut off an avenue to refuge for women fleeing to the United States from Central America.

“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions said in the opinion.

The legal guidance is the latest step in a broader drive to rein in undocumented immigration under President Donald Trump. In early May, the administration began to refer all people suspected of crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution, a controversial move that increased the likelihood of family separation.

Trump and top officials frequently describe the asylum system as rife with “loopholes” that draw migrants to the U.S. from Central America. The administration seeks to revise human trafficking laws and override court decisions that prevent the swift removal of thousands of children and families who arrive at the southwest border each month.

From his perch atop the Justice Department, Sessions has also sought to tighten immigration laws. The attorney general has personally intervened in several cases before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which falls under the aegis of his department.

In his ruling Monday, Sessions brushed aside critics who argued that he should recuse himself because as a senator and attorney general he’s been a vocal public advocate for a crackdown on undocumented immigration and for limiting grants of asylum.

“If policy statements about immigration-related issues were a basis for disqualification, then no attorney general could fulfill his or her statutory obligations to review the decisions of the Board,” Sessions wrote.

The decision issued Monday, in a case known as the Matter of A-B, addresses whether a person who is the victim of private criminal activity qualifies as a member of a “particular social group” eligible for asylum in the U.S.

Asylum seekers must prove they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country, but that fear must also be based on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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SOURCE: Politico, Ted Hesson and Josh Gerstein