Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that fear of domestic abuse alone is not enough to qualify for asylum, a ruling that could affect thousands of migrants from Central America who say they are fleeing violence in their home countries.
Sessions’ legal opinion reverses a 2014 ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals that granted asylum to a woman from El Salvador who had been raped by her husband, in a case known as “Matter of A-R-C-G-.” That ruling established a precedent under which so-called “personal crimes” could be considered grounds for an asylum claim.
The BIA decision was “wrongly decided and should not have been issued as a precedential decision,” Sessions countered in his opinion. He argued that personal violence alone was not enough to meet the standard for a valid asylum claim under U.S. law.
“An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances,” he wrote.
“Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”
Sessions’ opinion comes as the Trump administration seeks to close what it calls “loopholes” in immigration law that encourage migrants to cross the border illegally.
Administration officials have particularly criticized the asylum process, arguing it is easily abused by migrants presenting spurious claims and contributes to a massive backlog of in the immigration court system.
Because immigration courts are overseen by the Justice Department, Sessions, as attorney general, has the authority to refer cases to himself and overrule previous immigration appeals court decisions.
His ruling in the Matter of A-B- echoed remarks he gave to immigration judges earlier Monday, saying that asylum was “never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world.”
Sessions’ opinion raises the bar for victims of crime to qualify for asylum protections. Simply coming from a country where crime is rampant is not enough, he said, and asylum applicants must prove their home governments “condoned the private actions or demonstrated an inability to protect the victims.”
The tighter standards bring the asylum process in line with that prescribed by the Immigration and Nationality Act, Sessions argued.
The INA allows the government to grant asylum to people who have been persecuted on account of their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
“Although there may be exceptional circumstances when victims of private criminal activity could meet these requirements, they must satisfy established standards when seeking asylum,” Sessions wrote.
“Such applicants must establish membership in a particular and socially distinct group that exists independently of the alleged underlying harm, demonstrate that their persecutors harmed them on account of their membership in that group rather than for personal reasons, and establish that the government protection from such harm in their home country is so lacking that their persecutors’ actions can be attributed to the government.”
Read the full opinion here.
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