The American Civil Liberties Union has launched another sweeping challenge to President Donald Trump's administration, this time in a federal lawsuit over the administration’s “gutting of asylum protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality.”
The case, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., takes aim at a June 11 decision from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stating that, in general, victims of gang violence and domestic abuse do not qualify for asylum in the United States.
“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 wrote. Immigration advocates were quick to condemn the decision, saying it upends decades of precedent. The decision is part of the Trump administration's efforts to systematically narrow the path to refuge in the United States, experts say.
Immigration attorneys working with migrants in detention facilities in Texas and across the country say the decision has had major impacts on asylum-seekers in the months since it was handed down.
Katy Murdza, who works with asylum-seekers in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention through the Dilley Pro Bono Project, told The Texas Tribune last month that far more of her clients are being denied at the first stage of the asylum process, the “credible fear” interview.
In general, asylum-seekers must demonstrate that they face persecution in their home countries due to “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Before Sessions’ decision, that generally included victims of gang violence or domestic abuse.
In the new lawsuit, the ACLU claims that Sessions’ decision “unlawfully [changes] the credible fear standard,” making it more difficult for asylum-seekers to state their claims. Migrants who are apprehended near the U.S.-Mexico border may be placed into what’s called the “expedited removal” process, allowing immigration officials to deport them more quickly. Migrants can delay or avoid deportation by demonstrating a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, the first step toward attaining asylum in the United States.
The ACLU claims the new standards do not give migrants sufficient opportunity to argue their case and argues asylum protections have historically included “women fleeing gender-based persecution.”
“This is a naked attempt by the Trump administration to eviscerate our country’s asylum protections,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, a managing attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It’s clear the administration’s goal is to deny and deport as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”
“Our nation’s immigration laws provide for asylum to be granted to individuals who have been persecuted, or who have a well-founded fear of persecution, on account of their membership in a ‘particular social group,’ but most victims of personal crimes do not fit this definition — no matter how vile and reprehensible the crime perpetrated against them,” a Justice Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement Tuesday night. “The Department of Justice remains committed to reducing violence against women and enforcing laws against domestic violence, both in the United States and around the world.”