Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that domestic violence and gang violence aren’t strong enough grounds for the U.S. to grant asylum to immigrants seeking protection.
Sessions reversed a decision of a Justice Department immigration appeals court that offered asylum to a women who had been raped and abused by her husband while in El Salvador. The decision effectively limits the number of immigrants who can be granted asylum in the U.S.
“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Sessions wrote in his decision. “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”
While Sessions didn’t decide that the U.S. would never grant asylum to victims of gang and domestic abuse, he wrote that “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.”
The move comes hours after Sessions made a speech to an immigration review training program, in which he promised “a decision that restores sound principles of asylum.” In that speech, he said, “The asylum system is being abused to the detriment of the rule of law… because the vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid.”
The Obama Administration and Democratic senators had favored a policy that protected immigrants seeking asylum because of the threat of harm not only at that hands of governments, but also of spouse’s and gangs in their asylum seekers’ home countries.
Harry Reid, a former Senate Minority Leader, has told Congress, “Deportation means death for some of these people.” Similarly, Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts told the press, “We should not be sending families back to situations where they can be killed…. That’s just un-American.”
In his speech, Sessions acknowledged the severity of those threats, but maintained “Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems — even all serious problems — that people face every day all over the world.”