Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled this past week that victims fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence from other countries will no longer qualify for asylum under federal law – a decision that advocates agree will endanger tens of thousands of foreign nationals seeking safety in the United States. Sessions’ 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, although the attorney general has the power to assign cases to himself and set precedents.
Sessions told immigration judges that his decision “restores sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law.” He said it will help reduce the growing backlog of 700,000 court cases – more than triple the number in 2009. Sessions said, “In my judgment, this is a correct interpretation of the law.” To qualify for asylum, foreign nationals must establish 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. In his ruling, Sessions stated that such cases would be less common going forward. Attorney General Sessions’ decision effectively creates insurmountable barriers to safety and overturns decades of legal efforts to protect abused women.
At HELP of Door County, we believe that dropping these asylum protections for some of the worlds most vulnerable populations – the survivors of domestic and gang violence is simply not acceptable. We believe that Sessions’ decision to turn our backs on victims of violence and deport them to situations of incredibly grave danger should not be the legacy sought by this or any administration. Domestic violence is in fact a human rights issue and survivors deserve our support and safety. We need to ask our government leaders for understanding and compassion – especially for these victims. Our nation is better than this and our elected officials need to understand the deadly situations faced by these victims. We urge people of good will to reject these uncompassionate and often inhumane attitude toward victims and vulnerable people from other countries.
Steve Vickman, Executive Director, HELP of Door County
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.